Plymouth Colony was settled by the Pilgrims. These individuals were uncompromising in their protestant beliefs. They disagreed with the Anglican Church and chose to separate from it, thus they were called separatists. In 1607, they fled to Holland to avoid persecution by James I and Anglican officials in England.
The Pilgrims were allowed to live in Holland and practice their religion there. However, they were restricted by the Calvinist Dutch to unskilled laboring jobs. They also did not like the effect of being in Holland had on their children. After ten years there, they made a decision to start fresh in the New World.
Heading to the New World
Two joint-stock companies had been granted land in the New World:
- The London Virginia Company whose land included North Carolina and New Jersey and
- The Plymouth Virginia Company whose land spanned from New York to Maine.
They left from Southampton, Great Britain on two ships: the Mayflower and the smaller Speedwell in August 1620 but had to return to English port two times due to leaks aboard the Speedwell. Their second stop was at Plymouth, where they decided to leave the Speedwell and make the journey on the Mayflower. They left Plymouth on September 6, 1620. The passengers included 102 men, women, and children along with a crew of about 25 people including Captain Christopher Jones. Only half were religious separatists. The rest were settlers, indentured servants, and additional hired workers. Two of the most well-known of these individuals were John Alden, a cooper, and Miles Standish, a soldier.
Plymouth and the Mayflower Compact
While the Mayflower was headed for Virginia, they were blown off course and landed in near Provincetown, Massachusetts 66 days after starting their voyage on November 21, 1620. After a futile attempt to head south, they decided to stay near where they first landed, settling on a spot they called Plymouth. Because the Pilgrims landed in an area outside of either of the two joint-stock companies, they were not officially under any specific government charter. On November 21, 1620, they created their own government with the Mayflower Compact signed by 41 men. They elected a government that ordered both the political and religious aspects of life. All the signers agreed to follow the laws established by the new government. William Bradford was selected as the governor. William Brewster was the ruling elder and teacher. The Mayflower Compact was the beginning of consensual government in America.
The book A Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimoth in New England was written during the first year after the Mayflower landed. It provides us with the details of what happened at that time. The Mayflower provided shelter while the Pilgrims built houses. However, by the end of the first winter, more than half of the Pilgrims died. However, the Wampanoag Indians who lived nearby helped them survive the next summer. One of the Indians, Squanto, taught them how to grow maize (corn) which allowed them to survive and thrive. The huge feast they shared after the first harvest inspired our holiday of Thanksgiving.
Plymouth's population was never above 7,000. Non-separatists settled Massachusetts Bay Colony later in 1629 which grew into a much bigger colony. Plymouth was finally absorbed into Massachusetts Bay in 1691.
Famous Descendants From the Original Settlers
A number of famous Americans can trace their lineage back to the Mayflower. Some of these include Marilyn Monroe, Alan Shepherd, Jr., Clint Eastwood, Sarah Palin, Dick Van Dyke, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and General George B. McClellan.
Presidents Descended from Mayflower Passengers
- John Adams and John Quincy Adams - Descendants of John Alden
- Zachary Taylor - Descendant of William Brewster and Issac Allerton
- Ulysses S. Grant - Descendant of Richard Warren
- James Garfield - Descendant of John Billington
- Franklin D. Roosevelt - Descendant of Richard Warren, Issac Allerton, Degory Priest, Francis Cooke, John Howland
- George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush - Descendants of Francis Cooke, John Howland, and Henry Samson