Pilgrim Story

Pilgrim Story





The Story of the Pilgrims

The story of the Pilgrims and their Indian neighbors is familiar to most Americans, and many foreign visitors as well. It evokes powerful images of strength in the face of adversity, of ships on storm-tossed oceans and winters on bleak New England shores, yet also of harvest plenty, of Thanksgiving gatherings and golden autumnal afternoons. However, the historic reality which underlies this greeting card imagery is far more complex. The colonists who arrived in 1620 brought not only European tools and technology, but also hopes, dreams and a Christian faith reflecting a decidedly seventeenth-century English view of the world. The native people, the Wampanoag, had their own complex society which did not comfortably coexist with that of their new English neighbors. Plimoth Plantation, through its innovative living history programs, brings the fascinating story of these two very different societies to life.


The people we know as the Pilgrims have become so surrounded with legends that we tend to forget that they were real people. Against great odds, they courageously made the famous 1620 voyage and founded the first New England colony, but they were still ordinary English men and women, not super heroes. If we really want to understand them, we must try to look behind the legends and see them as they saw themselves.

They were English people who sought to escape the religious controversies and economic problems of their time by emigrating to America. Many of the Pilgrims were members of a Puritan sect know as Separatists. They believed that membership in the Church of England violated the biblical precepts for true Christians, and that they had to break away and form independent congregations which were truer to divine requirements. At a time when Church and State were one, such an act was treasonous and the Separatists had to flee their mother country. Other Pilgrims remained loyal to the national Church but came because of economic opportunity and a sympathy with Puritanism as well. They all shared a fervent and pervasive Protestant faith that touched all areas in their life.

As English people, the Pilgrims also shared a vital secular culture, both learned and traditional. They lived in a time which accepted fairies and witches, herbal remedies and astrological virtues, seasonal festivals and folklore as real parts of their lives. They looked at the world they lived in not as we do today, through the eyes of Einstein and Freud, but through the folklore of the countryside and academic traditions that stretched back to antiquity. They were both the thorough Protestants of the recent Reformation and the inheritors of the Medieval world picture that infused the imaginations of Shakespeare and Jonson.

They were not people just like ourselves dressed in funny clothes, or a primitive folk deprived of our technology, but a vital and courageous people who embodied the best elements of their exciting society. They brought their own culture to the New World and attempted to establish a citadel of English society on the edge of the alien continent. They were not pioneers self-consciously blazing a trail through the trackless wilderness to the future. They were English men and women doing their best to continue the lives they knew back home in spite of the unfamiliar surroundings.

They brought with them familiar customs, among which were an autumn secular harvest celebration and a Puritan religious Thanksgiving holy day. As we shall see, these two events were totally separate and independent in their minds. It is we, today, who have blurred the differences and merged the two events into one. A secular celebration such as a harvest was an annual event which would of course include the giving of religious thanks to God; acknowledgement of God's Providence was part of most days of their lives. A true Day of Thanksgiving was a completely separate observance.

When the Puritans rejected the old Medieval ecclesiastical calendar of Christmas, Ester and Saint's days, they submitted three allowable holy days: The Sabbath, the Day of Humiliation and Fasting, and the Day of Thanksgiving and Praise. The latter two were never held on a regular basis but only in direct response to God's Providence. When things went well, signaling God's pleasure with the community, then it was proper to declare a Day of Thanksgiving in His praise. But when God's displeasure was evident and events were unfortunate, it was an indication that the community should repent and declare a Day of Fasting and Humiliation. Each of these days were held on weekdays and meant an extra day of church services and devotion in addition to the Sabbath. The Day of Thanksgiving was often concluded with a feast, while the fast days saw voluntary privation.

The harvest celebration of autumn, 1621, was quite plainly neither a fast day nor a thanksgiving day in the eyes of the Pilgrims. Rather it was a secular celebration which included games, recreations, three days of feasting and Indian guests. It would have been unthinkable to have these things as part of a religious Thanksgiving. The actual first declared Thanksgiving occurred in 1623, after a providential rain shower saved the colony's crops.

It was only in the later 19th-Century, when looking back for a precedent for the modern, more secular Thanksgiving of family feasts and football games which had evolved after the decline of Puritanism, that people discovered this first harvest celebration and dubbed it the "First Thanksgiving." They were not interested in what that famous festival meant to the Pilgrims; they were concerned with what it could mean to Victorians like themselves.

Ever since, the Pilgrims have been the symbolic originators of our familiar November holiday. Legends about the feast have turned it into a mythic event worthy of our emulation. It is a good story, and an important part of our cultural tradition. It helps us remember those hardy English men and women who braved dangers far greater than we have to face today to follow their own consciences and give glory to God. But if we really want to understand them, we must go beyond the legend, important as it is, and try to see the real Pilgrims and the celebration they enjoyed so many years ago.

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Scrooby Church


The Pilgrim story begins in the small north Nottinghamshire village of Scrooby. In about 1606, a group of English religious dissidents, whom we know as "the Pilgrims," formed their own church independent of the national Church of England and its head, King James I. William Brewster, Richard Clifton, William Bradford and John Robinson and their families felt that their Christian faith required a greater degree of church reformation than was possible in the King's established Church. They therefore decided to gather themselves into a church of their own under a separate covenant. Such a move was considered treasonous at a time when church and state were united, and the Separatists, as they were called, were forced to flee the country lest they be imprisoned or even executed for their beliefs. After a disastrous false start at Boston in Lincolnshire -- where they were discovered and imprisoned -- and a more successful attempt near Immingham, on the Humber River, the little company was able to emigrate by 1609 to the tolerant haven of the Netherlands.

Leiden City Hall


After a brief stay in Amsterdam, where they were dismayed by the discord within other immigrant English congregations, the Pilgrims were granted permission to settle in the cloth manufacturing city of Leiden. They lived there under the religious leadership of Pastor John Robinson for twelve years gathered openly as a church. However, life in a foreign country was not without problems. The only occupations open to most immigrants were poorly paid, and they found themselves growing old in poverty. The twelve-year truce between Holland and Spain was to end in 1621, threatening a resumption of hostilities. Also troublesome to the Separatists were the hardships endured by their young people, who were forced by circumstance to work at exceptionally hard jobs. Others were assimilated into the Dutch culture, leaving their parents and their community profoundly disturbed.

Although they were made welcome in Leiden and found no barriers to the practice of their faith, the Pilgrims still could not find peace and security. Their poverty, as foreigners at the bottom of the economic ladder, promised hardship in old age. Their living conditions made it difficult for the congregation to recruit additional English immigrants. They feared the loss of their English traditions as their children were growing up Dutch and there was a threat of renewed war between the Dutch and the Spanish. In 1618, the little congregation made the momentous decision to emigrate yet again.

But where could they go? England, their old home, was still closed to them. They discussed settling in South America, but decided that the hot climate would "not well agree with our English bodies". There was also the menace of the neighboring Spanish. On the other hand, the Pilgrims were dubious about joining the English colony of Virginia for fear of suffering religious persecution once again. A later offer to settle under the auspices of the Dutch Government in New Amsterdam was also rejected. In the end they decided to trust their countrymen in Virginia - but at the farthest remove possible. Their goal would be the northernmost boundary of the Virginia Company grant, at the mouth of the Hudson River.


A group of English investors known as the "merchant adventurers" financed the voyage and settlement. They formed a joint-stock company with the colonists in which the merchants agreed to "adventure" (risk) their money, and the settlers to invest their personal labor, for a period of seven years. During that time, all land and livestock were to be owned in partnership; afterwards the company would be dissolved and the assets divided.

To help insure the colony's success the merchants recruited additional emigrants to join with the Leiden contingent. Although strangers to the Leiden congregation, the newcomers were equal partners in the new colonizing venture. The Leiden group bought a small ship, the Speedwell, for the voyage and later use in America. They sailed to England in July 1620, where they met the other colonists and a larger hired vessel, the Mayflower, at Southampton. Preparations and negotiations with the London merchants were completed by August 5th when the two ships set sail for the New World. Unfortunately, the Speedwell leaked badly, forcing the ships to turn back twice. Leaving the Speedwell behind at Plymouth, England, the Mayflower went on alone on September 6th. The colonists were headed for the mouth of the Hudson River, near the northern boundary of the Virginia colony.

The Mayflower Voyage

Departure to America:

It was not possible to just go to the New World and settle. A patent or license to colonize was necessary and it took a sizable investment as well. The English claim in America, called "Virginia" in its entirety, was divided between two chartered companies which were established to promote settlement and manage the resulting "plantations" or colonies for the English Crown. The London Virginia Company had jurisdiction over the land from what is today North Carolina to New Jersey, and the Plymouth (Devon) Virginia Company from New York to Maine. In 1618, the Pilgrims began negotiations with the Virginia Company of London, with hopes of getting some assurance from the King that they would be left alone to practice their religion in America. Although the King would not formally promise this, the Pilgrims decided to accept what they viewed as his implicit assent and go ahead with their plans.

The Pilgrims were unable to acquire a patent from the moribund Virginia Company of Plymouth. Instead they accepted a patent and permission to settle in the Virginia territory from the London Company. The needed capital to finance the venture was promised by a London merchant, Thomas Weston, who offered to organize a group of "merchant adventurers" (speculators) who would invest the money necessary for a voyage to America. The Pilgrims sent two agents, Robert Cushman and John Carver, to England to work with Weston to prepare for the expedition. The Leiden congregation decided which of the group would go on the first voyage and which would wait until the plantation had been established. They also bought a small 60 "tun" (tun barrels it could hold, rather than tons of water displaced) vessel called the Speedwell. The first emigrants left the port of Delftshaven, amid tears, prayers and farewells on July 22, 1620.

The Pilgrim group sailed to Southampton, a city on the English south coast, where they were joined by additional immigrants recruited by Weston and the merchant adventurers on a 180 tun ship out of London, Christopher Jones master. This ship was the MAYFLOWER. Following a five week dispute over the contract with the adventurers, the passengers on the two ships set sail for America on August 5. Their voyage was soon interrupted when the smaller Speedwell was discovered to be leaking badly. They put into the port of Dartmouth, Devonshire, and repairs were made, but the condition re-occurred once they were under sail again. The two ships were forced to make port a second time, in neighboring Plymouth.

There it was decided to leave the defective Speedwell behind, and continue with the MAYFLOWER alone. Some of the Speedwell's passengers and cargo were transferred to the larger ship, and on September 6, 1620, the MAYFLOWER set sail across the North Atlantic and its famous 102 passengers, into history.

The Ocean Crossing:

The beginning of the crossing was pleasant "with a prosperous wind which continued divers [many] days together," although many of the passengers were seasick. There then followed a period of many storms and crosswinds, which cracked a main beam in `tween decks and caused the upper works to leak badly. The conditions were severe enough to raise questions about the capacity of the MAYFLOWER to make the voyage. After much debate it was decided to go on as they were nearly halfway across the ocean and the ship was fundamentally sound.

There were only two casualties during the voyage. A sailor (who had greatly harassed the passengers) died before they were half way over, and William Butten, a servant of Samuel Fuller, died just before they sighted land. John Howland came close to being the third fatality when he was swept overboard during a storm, but he was able to seize a trailing topsail halyard and was rescued. There was one birth during the time at sea; Elizabeth Hopkins had a son, who was named appropriately "Oceanus."

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The Mayflower sighted land on November 9, 1620. It proved to be Cape Cod, which although the right latitude, was well east of their original destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. However, an encounter the following day with the shoals which lie off the outer Cape, as well as the lateness of the year, persuaded them to remain in the Cape area. The Mayflower came to anchor in what is today Provincetown harbor on November 11, after 66 days at sea. That day the male passengers signed the famous agreement we now know as the "Mayflower Compact."


"In ye name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyall subjects of our dread soveraigne Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britaine, Franc, and Ireland king, defender of the faith, etc.

Haveing undertaken, for ye glorie of God, and advancemente of ye Christian faith, and honour of our king & countrie, a voyage to plant ye first colonie in ye Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly & mutualy in ye presence of God, and one of another, covenant & combine our selves togeather into a civill body politick, for our better ordering & preservation & furtherance of ye ends aforesaid; and by vertue hearof to enacte lawes, ordinances, acts constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet & convenient for ye generall good of ye Colonie, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witnes wherof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cap-Codd ye 11th. of November, in ye year of ye raigne of our soveraigne lord, King James, of England, France, & Ireland ye eighteenth, and of Scotland, ye fiftie fourth. Ano: Dom. 1620."

The text is taken from Gov. Bradford's Of Plimoth Plantation, as the original document no longer exists. Nathaniel Morton, Bradford's nephew and Plymouth Colony's first published historian, gives the following names as signers of the document:

John Carver, Edward Tilly, Digery Priest, William Bradford, John Tilly, Thomas Williams, Edward Winslow, Francis Cooke, Gilbert Winslow, William Brewster, Thomas Rogers, Edmund Margeson, Isaac Allerton, Thomas Tinker, Peter Brown,Miles Standish, John Rigdale, Richard Bitteridge,John Alden, Edward Fuller, George Soule,Samuel Fuller, John Turner, Richard Clark,Christopher Martin, Francis Eaton, Richard Clark,William Mullins, James Chilton, John Allerton,William White, John Craxton, Thomas English,Richard Warren, John Billington, Edward Doten, John Howland, Moses Fletcher, Edward Leister, Stephen Hopkins, John Goodman.


Morton follows quite closely the order of names given in Bradford's list, which in itself offers a fair argument for his having copied from Bradford and not from the original sheet on which the compact had been written and signed. A few variations may be laid to errors in copying or in printing. As to names in the Bradford list which are not to be found in that of Morton, they represent servants who may have been under age or closely bound by articles of indenture, and members of families whose head had already signed.

A popular conception that originated in the early nineteenth century was that the agreement signed on board the Mayflower in 1620, (which received it's modern name of the "Mayflower Compact" in 1731, was the beginning of constitutional government in this country. In 1802, John Quincy Adams had invoked contemporary ideas on social order to invest the 1620 agreement with an importance it did not have for its originators: "This is perhaps the only instance in human history of that positive, original [Rousseaunian] social compact which speculative philosophers have imagined as the only legitimate source of government. Here was a unanimous and personal assent by all the [male] individuals of the community to the association, by which they become a nation." It was common thereafter to see the Compact not as a temporary measure but as a proto-Constitution, prefiguring the one that had been adopted by the new nation. Actually, as William C.P. Breckinridge (in his oration at Plymouth in 1889) so aptly noted, this document was "..not a constitution, nor yet a charter; nor yet in a true sense a social compact," but rather "...the complete demonstration that they were planting the seeds of the old truths, not attempting to make some new and unknown harvest from untried seed". The agreement was not a revolutionary departure from English precedent but a pragmatic application of it.

Samuel Elliot Morison let Governor Bradford himself speak for the meaning of the document, in his very perceptive The Pilgrim Fathers, Their Significance in History: "...the unpleasant tribe of professional historians refuses to find in the Compact anything more than what Bradford says it was, 'a combination made by them before they came ashore...occasioned partly by the discontented and mutinous speeches that some of the strangers amongst them had let fall...That when they came a shore they would use their owne libertie; for none had power to command them, the patente they had being for Virginia, and not for Newengland, which belonged to an other Government, with which the Virginia Company had nothing to doe.'"2 The agreement signed on board the Mayflower on November 11, 1620, made but a small impact on history, but as the "Mayflower Compact", it became a vital element in the Pilgrim Story and served as the symbol of all of the democratic institutions that would evolve in the United States in the future.

1 Matthews, Albert. The Term Pilgrim Fathers ..., p.295

2 Morison, Samuel Elliot.The Pilgrim Fathers, Their Significance in History 1937, p.9

While the Mayflower remained in the harbor at the tip of Cape Cod, the people went ashore to shake off the months of travel, to wash their linen and to explore what they perceived to be a wilderness. A shallop -- a small coastal craft -- had been stowed below decks in sections. The pieces of the shallop were unshipped and brought ashore to be put together. This took 16 or 17 days. While the Pilgrims were waiting for the shallop to be reassembled, sixteen armed men set out on November 15 under the command of Captain Myles Standish to explore the immediate area.

The explorers saw some Native Americans from afar, but were unable to catch up with them. They discovered a buried cache of Indian corn and a kettle, which they took (but paid for the following June), and the remains of a fortification. As the wandered William Bradford was caught in the noose of a deer trap. A second expedition, in which 34 men took part, used the shallop to proceed further along the inner Cape. They found many signs of the native population which had fled at their approach, more corn and the burial of a European man.

Plymouth Founded

It was on a third expedition that the exploring party arrived in Plymouth harbor, where they finally found a suitable place for their permanent habitation. On December 6, ten men braved the frigid winter weather to take the shallop once again along the coast. They found a Native American burial ground and some unoccupied dwellings before camping for the night. At daybreak on December 9 they were attacked by the local inhabitants in a brief exchange of arrows and musket shot, but no one was harmed. The party then proceeded in the shallop only to be caught in a rising storm. First the heavy seas broke the rudder hinges; then their mast split into three pieces. It was all they could do to maneuver the shallop into a nearby harbor and land on an island where they spent a cold and rainy night. The following day being the Sabbath, they did little but explore the island. It was later named "Clark's Island" apparently after Thomas Clarke, the mate of the Mayflower.

On Monday, the 11th of December, they went ashore in Plymouth where they found cleared fields and plenty of fresh running water. It was at this time that the famous landing on Plymouth Rock was presumed to have occurred, although there is no record of it in the original accounts. The explorers then returned to the Mayflower to say that they had, at last, found a suitable place to build their new community. The Mayflower arrived in Plymouth harbor on December 16, 1620, and construction on the settlement began on the 23rd.

The First Winter at Plymouth:

The Mayflower remained in New England with the colonists throughout the terrible first winter. Although the ship was cold, damp and unheated, it did provide a defense against the rigorous New England winter until houses could be completed ashore. Nevertheless, exposure, malnutrition and illness led to the death of half the group, both passengers and crewmen. There were four deaths (and one birth - Peregrine White) during the month they spent at the tip of Cape Cod. The remainder of the winter saw the deaths of another 40 or 41 colonists. At the lowest ebb, only seven people were healthy enough to tend the sick. On January 14, a fire destroyed the thatched roof on their first structure or "rendezvous" but fortunately none of the sick people that lay within were hurt. A second fire a month later was put out without incident. Despite all of the tragedies and hardships, the Pilgrims persevered in building their new settlement. The Village street was laid out with two rows of plots for their houses and gardens. A platform was erected on the top of the hill above the village, and six cannon installed for defense.

The colonists had observed Native Americans near the settlement in mid-February, but it wasn't until Friday, March 16, that the two peoples actually met. It was then that the famous encounter occurred when Samoset, an Abenaki Sagamore from what is now Maine, and another man entered the little village and said "Welcome, Englishmen." Samoset had learned English from the English fishermen who crossed the North Atlantic each year to fish for cod. He told the Pilgrims of the great plague which had killed all of the Patuxet people who had previously occupied the cleared farmland where the new colony sat, and of the ill-feeling the local Native Americans had towards the English following some kidnapping by Thomas Hunt, an English captain who had visited the area a few years before. During Samoset's visit, the colonists were busy planting their garden seeds.

On March 22nd, Samoset returned with another Native American, Squanto, who was one of the men who had been captured by Hunt. His adventures abroad, from slavery in Spain, escape to London and return to America as a guide in the employ of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, had taught him well about the ways of the Europeans. Squanto, or Tisquantum, became the little colony's chief interpreter and agent in their interaction with the Native Peoples. His arrival paved the way for a visitation by Massasoit, the regional leader among the native people, the Wampanoag. After an exchange of greetings and gifts, the two peoples signed a treaty of peace which would last over fifty years.

Departure of the Mayflower:

At the suggestion of Massasoit, fields on the south side of the brook were turned by hand and crops of wheat, barley, Indian corn and peas planted in early April. Work continued on the houses. The weather was improving. Spring was in the air and people were recovering from the winter illnesses. The surviving half of the crew were presumably eager to return home, and the colony was ready to bid farewell to the Mayflower. The little vessel left New Plymouth on April 5th, 1621.

The "First Thanksgiving": Facts and Fancies

The event we now know as "the First Thanksgiving" was in fact neither the first occurrence of our modern American holiday, nor was it even a 'Thanksgiving" in the eyes of the Pilgrims who celebrated it. It was instead a traditional English harvest celebration to which the colonists invited Massasoit, the most important sachem among the Wamapanoag. It was only in the nineteenth century that this event became identified with the American Thanksgiving holiday.

The association of the Pilgrims with the Thanksgiving holiday has a complicated history. The holiday itself evolved out of a routine Puritan religious observation, irregularly declared and celebrated in response to God's favorable Providence, into an single, annual, quasi-secular New England autumnal celebration. The first national Thanksgiving was declared in 1777 by the Continental Congress, and others were declared from time to time until 1815. The holiday then reverted to being a regional observance until 1863, when two national days of Thanksgiving were declared, one celebrating the victory at Gettysburg on August 6, and the other the first of our last-Thursday-in-November annual Thanksgivings. Although the Pilgrims' 1621 harvest celebration had been identified as the first American Thanksgiving as early as 1841 by Alexander Young, the common Thanksgiving symbolic associations in the 19th century centered on turkeys, Yankee dinners and an annual family reunion, not Pilgrims. Mention of the Pilgrims brought the Landings or Myles, Priscilla, and John to mind, not Thanksgiving.

Moreover, whenever a Pilgrim, or more accurately, a generic 17th-century puritan image appeared in popular art in connection with Thanksgiving during the nineteenth century, it was not the now familiar scene of English and Indians sitting down to an outdoor feast. On the contrary, the image almost always portrayed a violent confrontation between colonist and Native American. It was only after the turn of the century, when the western Indian wars were over and the "vanishing red man" was vanishing satisfactorily, that the romantic (and historically correct) idyllic image of the two cultures sitting down to an autumn feast became popular. By the First World War, popular art (especially postcards), schoolbooks and literature had linked the Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving indivisibly together, so much so that the image of the Pilgrim and the familiar fall feast almost ousted the Landing and older patriotic images from the popular consciousness. This alliance also deflated Forefathers' Day, which sank in to insignificance even in Plymouth itself.

The Pilgrims and the "First Thanksgiving"

During the second half of the nineteenth century, Thanksgiving was more commonly symbolized by its New England origins and its chief dinner constituent, the turkey, than by the Pilgrims' 1621 harvest celebration. In addition to the rural New England theme, there were a diversity of contemporary and historical illustrations and stories, including Thanksgivings on the battlefield, down south with African-Americans and in the urban slums, as well as a few generic colonial New England (and Old England) Puritan images. It is surprising to note that when the colonists are represented, they are less likely to be sharing their feast with their Native American neighbors, than illustrating European and Native American conflict, indicated by a hail of arrows! Apparently the very real dangers of the Indian Wars in the West produced a sense of fear and guilt which was expressed in this fashion, in graphic contrast with the familiar peaceful autumn pastorals that we associate with the holiday today. It was only after the wars were over that a sentimental regard for the satisfactorily "vanishing Red Man" provoked a national change of heart in which Jennie Brownscombe could create her idyllic "First Thanksgiving" (1914). Even then the image of the Thanksgiving "Pilgrim-puritan" fleeing a shower of arrows retained a popular appeal.

The association between Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims had been suggested as early as 1841 when Alexander Young identified the 1621 harvest celebration as the "first Thanksgiving" in New England, but their importance among the holiday's symbols did not occur until after 1900. It was then that the familiar illustrations of Pilgrims and Native Americans sitting down to dinner in peace and concord appeared widely in calendar art and on patriotic murals. The real New England Thanksgiving, as is shown in the 1777 proclamation, bore less of a resemblance to our modern holiday than the feasting and games of the Pilgrim harvest celebration. But when the Victorians were looking for the historical antecedent of the contemporary Thanksgiving holiday, the Pilgrim festival with its big dinner and charitable hospitality seemed the perfect match. The fact that the 1621 event had not been a Thanksgiving in the Pilgrims' own eyes was irrelevant. The Pilgrim harvest celebration quickly became the mythic "First Thanksgiving" and has remained the primary historical representation of the holiday ever since. The earlier Pilgrim holiday, Forefathers' Day (December 21st, the anniversary of the Landing on Plymouth Rock), which had been celebrated since 1769 faded in importance as the Pilgrims increasingly became the patron saints of the American Thanksgiving.

The Pilgrims were cast in their Forefathers role to provide an example of the close-knit, religiously inspired American community that people worried about the decline of basic values during the First World War period wished to instill in their descendants. While retaining their Victorian symbolic virtues, the Pilgrims became usable history for generations of school children, and played an important part in the Americanization of the Northern and Eastern immigrants entering the country. New elements and a new theme supporting this role were added to the Pilgrim Story as the Pilgrims acquired their most recent and important popular association: the Thanksgiving holiday. A modern image, the First Thanksgiving, showed Pilgrim families sitting down to a pastoral celebration with the Native Americans in eirenic harmony, thus symbolizing the potential for unity of different ethnic background.

Equally important at the turn of the century was the inspirational image of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans sharing their communal meal in harmony. The country was seriously concerned over immigration and the problems surrounding the integration of the new citizens into American culture. The Thanksgiving image of dissimilar ethnic communities co-existing amid peace and plenty was an irresistible symbol. The Pilgrims became the exemplary immigrants whose Protestant virtues made them the preferred model for all later arrivals. Americanization programs, which were intended to socialize the new immigrants by instilling in them the values and beliefs of "real" Americans, made good use of the symbols and ideals of Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims. By 1920, when the Pilgrims' 300th anniversary celebration elevated them to the pinnacle of their fame, their role as Thanksgiving icons and the "spiritual ancestors" of all Americans became permanently fixed in the American psyche.

Plymouth Colony 1622 - 1626

Colonists who arrived on the three subsequent ships, together with Plymouth births, swelled the colony's population to over 150 people by 1627, three times that of 1621. Many other changes occurred in the first seven years as well. The merchant adventurers broke up in 1624, leaving the colonists in debt and in need of alternative financial support. Unable to make their living through cod fishing as they had originally planned, the colonists turned to agriculture and trade instead. The Plantation's chief crop, Indian corn, was traded with the Native Americans to the north for highly valued beaver skins, These were profitably sold in England to pay the colony's debts and buy necessary supplies.

A Brief Chronology of Plymouth Colony from the Arrival of the Fortune (November 11, 1621) to the Wreck of the Sparrowhawk, Winter, 1626  Note: the dates are Old Style (Julian calendar), and the New Year begins on Lady Day (March 25).

November 11, 1621 Robert Cushman arrived with 35 persons on the Fortune.

December 13 The Fortune returned to England with Cushman, carrying the text of Mourt's Relation. By this time, 7 houses & 4 buildings had been built. Thomas Weston sold his shares of the Pilgrim venture to the remaining Adventurers.

February, Indian dangers motivated the Pilgrims to enclose their town with "pales".

February 17 Cushman reached London after his capture and detention at Ile d'Dieu.

March Town completely enclosed by palisade. Within the walls each family has a garden plot. First general militia muster against possible Indian attack. Bradford again elected governor.


April (beginning) Standish, 10 men, Squanto and Hobomock began a trip to the Massachusetts Indians for trade but they returned after hearing news of proposed Indian hostilities from Squanto.(These proved false. Massasoit wanted revenge for Squanto's lies but Bradford refused to hand Squanto over to him.) Men continued on their trip where they had good trade.

April 20 John Peirce received a new patent superseding the one of 1621. It was, in effect, a personal deed to Peirce and made without the knowledge and/or consent of his Pilgrim associates. Pierce's abortive attempt to bring this patent to New England on the Paragon resulted in his surrender of the document to the other Merchant Adventurers.

May (late) The Sparrow arrived with seven passengers, some letters but no provisions.

June Commenced building a fort after hearing of the Virginia Massacre of March, 1622.

June/July Arrival of the Charity and the Swan with 50 to 60 men and supplies for the Weston colony.

November Bradford and a party of men went to the Massachusetts Indians for grain. Squanto died on this trip. Weston arrived in Plymouth. The Pilgrims helped him.

February Weston's settlers at Wessagusset, short on food for the winter stole from the Indians and stirred them up against the white settlers.

February (?) First hanging. One of the Wessagusset settlers was found guilty of stealing corn. Winslow went to visit Massasoit who was sick.

March Bradford was again elected Governor. Bradford sent Winslow to Massasoit country to dissuade Dutch from interfering with the fur trade.


April "Hard Times". Decision is made to change the planting procedure. Settlers are each granted acre plots to plant their own corn instead of farming in common.

May Drought threatens most of the crop.

Summer The Pilgrims resorted to fishing or clam-digging for subsistence. One or two persons are appointed to get deer which are divided among the members of the community.

June (end) The arrival of the Plantation with Captain Francis West with his commission as Admiral of New England.

August The Anne and the Little James arrived with about 60 people plus ten who did not belong to the general body (probably John Oldham and his company) and a large amount of supplies.

September 10 Winslow returned to England on the Anne to inform the Adventurers of Plymouth's situation and procure needed provisions.

September (mid) Good harvest. Captain Robert Gorges came with settlers to begin a plantation in Massachusetts and settled at Wessagusset. (Grant from the Council of Affairs for New England.)

November Gorges returned to England. The Plantation scheme proved unsuccessful.

December 27 Enactment of the 1st law recorded in the Colony's records. (Jury trial for civil and criminal cases.)


The Paragon arrived with letters from the Adventurers. (One gave news of Peirce handing his patent over to the Adventurers and Plymouth Colony

January 1 Cushman and Winslow received a patent for Cape Ann from Edmund, Lord Sheffield. Each person was granted one acre of land near the town. The first ship of the Dorchester Company arrived - the company was sent to Cape Ann.

March *The first cattle were brought in the Charity. There was an election of officers. More Assistants were chosen and the Governor was to have a double voice in votes. Bradford was again elected governor. Lyford arrived on the Charity. The London Adventurers insisted on sending Lyford as Plymouth's first minister.

April 10 The Little James was sunk in the mud during storm.

Spring Lyford and John Oldham (one of the "particular planters") were called before the General Court due to their opposition to the government. (Oldham was to leave immediately; Lyford given six months to leave.)

March 1 John Robinson died in Holland. Cornelius May took 30 families to New Netherlands for the Dutch West India Company.


John Smith relates that Plymouth's population was about 180 persons and that 32 houses had been built.


Captain Wollaston came to Massachusetts to begin a plantation (Mt. Wollaston).


The first horses (i.e., jades or worn out horses) sent to Plymouth, but apparently did not arrive safely..

March 27 James I died; Charles I became King of England and tension for Puritans increased. Bradford is again elected governor.

Spring Oldham returned without permission. Oldham (for the second time) and Lyford are banished from Plymouth. Standish and some men are sent to Cape Ann to get the fishing stage back from West Country men. On returning to England, the Little James is captured by "the Turks." (It was filled with furs for the London Adventurers.)


March Bradford is again elected governor.

April Standish returned from England bringing news of Robinson's death.

July (early) Allerton sent to England with a commission to deal with the Adventurers.Peter Minuit bought Manhattan from the Indians for the Dutch West India Company.

Winter, 1626/1627 The "Sparrowhawk" is wrecked on Cape Cod, and its passengers are given refuge in Plymouth.


March: Bradford again elected governor.

Spring: Allerton returned with some goods. He brought a new agreement with the Adventurers (dated November 15,1626)

June: Allerton again is sent to England to conclude an agreement with the Adventurers. He was also ordered to get a patent for the trading post on the Kennebec River.

July:  Bradford and others (the "Undertakers") received a 6 year monopoly of the fur trade in return for assuming Plymouth's debt of 1800 pounds. Liquidation of the joint-stock company. Adventurers sold their interest in the plantation to the settlers for 1800 pounds. 58 men shared in the division of assets - called "The Purchasers" or the "Old Comers". (Single adult men received one share; head of family received one share for each member of his household.) Pinnace built at Manomet for fur trade.

August (early): Bradford was asked by New Netherlands's governor Peter Minuit to send representatives to discuss the fur trade issue.

January 3: Land divided by lots.

January 6: A general order issued that no building was to be covered with thatch due to the fire hazard.

Plymouth Colony - 1628 -1692

The years after 1627 are less well known than those of the earlier part of the decade. The land division which occurred in that year initiated the expansion of the colony beyond the original New Plymouth village. Following 1629, the great wave of Puritan immigration into Massachusetts Bay overshadowed the "Old Colony" and eventually absorbed the smaller colony in 1692.

A Brief Chronology of Plymouth Colony from 1629 until the demise of Plymouth Colony in 1692. Note: the dates are Old Style (Julian calendar), and the New Year begins on Lady Day (March 25).

1629 William Bradford elected governor.

Spring: The Reverend Ralph Smith arrives in Plymouth and is chosen as the colony's second minister.

May: A group of 35 colonists leave Leiden; arriving in Plymouth Colony in August.

Isaac Allerton returns from England, bringing Thomas Morton back with him.

1630: William Bradford elected governor.

January: Plymouth received its third charter, granted to William Bradford & Associates from the Council for New England.

May: The second (and last) group of colonists arrive from Leiden.

September: John Billington convicted and hanged for the murder of John Newcomen.

1631 March: William Bradford elected governor.

Edward Winslow sent back to England as the colony's agent.

June: French attack Plymouth's trading house on the Penobscot.

Josiah Winslow, younger brother of Edward, was sent over as the Colony's new accountant, replacing Isaac Allerton. Roger Williams arrived in Plymouth.

1632: William Bradford elected governor.

June: Edward Winslow returned from England with a supply of trade goods.

First mention in Bradford's history of additional settlements in Plymouth Colony. He made reference to people living across the bay in "Duxberie" and also about granting land in "Greens Harbor" [later Marshfield].

1633: January: Edward Winslow chosen governor. Stephen Deane given permission to set up a corn mill on Town Brook.

May: A plague of insects infested the Plymouth area.

Summer: An outbreak of plague caused the deaths of more than 20 people.

Plymouth established a trading house on the Connecticut River at Matianuck (Windsor, CT).

1634: January: Thomas Prence chosen governor. First mention of the "ward of Scituate." Plymouth's trading house on the Penobscot became an object of contention with Mass Bay. Two men are shot and killed. John Alden, who was there at the time delivering supplies, was arrested in Masachusett Bay. Captain Standish traveled to Boston with a letter from Governor Prence to secure Alden's release. The matter was finally resolved.

1635: January: William Bradford chosen governor. The French took over Plymouth's Kennebec trading house.

August: The area hit by a hurricane, the first since the colonists' arrival in 1620. Edward Winslow traveled back to England (this year or last) and was arrested and placed in the Fleet prison.

1636: January: Edward Winslow chosen governor. Ralph Smith laid down his ministry and was replaced by John Reyner. Plymouth lost its trading house on the Connecticut River to Massachusetts Bay colonists.

October: The Plymouth Court gathered its laws as "The General Fundamentals."

1637: January: William Bradford chosen governor.

March: The first mention of Cohannet, which became known as Taunton.

April: A group of ten men from Saugus in Massachusetts Bay Colony received permission to settle in Plymouth Colony. They chose the future Sandwich. Plymouth and Mass Bay disputed over the border between the two colonies. The line was finally established between Hingham and Scituate in June, 1640.

June: Duxbury was declared a township. The Plymouth Court declared that it would send a force to help the men of Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut against the Pequots, but the war was over before the force was sent out.

1638: March: Thomas Prence chosen governor.

June: The area was hit by an earthquake.

September: First mention of the inhabitants of "Mattacheese or Yarmouth". Arthur Peach was condemned and executed for the murder of an Indian, the second execution in Plymouth. Charles Chauncy was chosen to serve as minister with John Reyner, and served until 1641.

1639: William Bradford chosen governor.

March: Plymouth built its first house for a prison. Plymouth Colony had now grown so large that they institute a system of representative government.

May: Plymouth lost the Connecticut lands.

June: First mention of Barnstable in the Court Records.

September: Ussamequin (Massaoit) and Mooanam, his son, reconfirmed the ancient treaty with Plymouth.

1640: March through November: Bounds of the various townships of Plymouth Colony set.

June: William Bradford chosen governor. Prices of livestock fell drastically during the year.

1641: June: William Bradford chosen governor.

1642: June: William Bradford chosen governor.

August: First mention of Seekonk, which in 1645 became the town of Rehoboth.

1643: March: William Bradford chosen governor.

May: Plymouth joined with Massachusetts Bay, Connecticutt and New-Haven Colonies to form The United Colonies of New England, for mutual defence and settling of differences between them.

August: The Plymouth Court drew up orders for military discipline for Plymouth, Duxbury & Marshfield.

1644: March: William Bradford elected governor.

Plymouth Colony's religious leader, Elder William Brewster, died.

June:Edward Winslow chosen governor. Some colonists from New Plymouth moved to Nauset on Cape Cod.

1645: June: William Bradford chosen governor. Plymouth Colony finally settled its debt to the last creditor, John Beauchamp, for 291 worth of lands.

August: The towns sent out a company of soldiers in an expedition against the Narragansetts.

1646: Here ends Bradford's history. William Bradford continued as governor.

June: Timothy Hatherly and John Browne chosen commisioners for the United Colonies Nausett became a township.

October: Edward Winsow left Plymouth Colony for England, and never returned.

1647: June: William Bradford chosen governor. William Bradford and John Bowne chosen commisioners for the United Colonies.

1648: First meeting house built in Plymouth.

June: William Bradford chosen governor. William Bradford and John Bowne chosen commisioners for the United Colonies.

1649: March: Plymouth colonists purchased a tract of land from Ousamequin (Massasoit) which was later named Bridgewater.

June: Due to the "unsetled" state of affairs in England, the freemen of the colony decided to suspend elections of new officers for the coming year. The Kennebec trade was let to William Bradford, Edward Winslow, Thomas Prence, Thomas Willet and William Paddy for three years.

October: Plymouth Colony prepared for war against Natives to the west, in case it should occur.

1650: June: William Bradford elected governor. Thomas Prence and John Browne chosen commisioners for the United Colonies. Timothy Hatherly allowed to set up an iron mill between Namassakeeset and Indian Head River.

June: Massachusetts Bay Colony and Plymouth Colony appointed representatives to settle the bound between them.

1651: June: William Bradford elected governor. John Browne and Timothy Hatherly chosen commisioners for the United Colonies.

1652: March: The Court desired a public day of Thanksgiving be declared for the victory of the Parliamentarian army.

June: William Bradford elected governor.

1653: April: The towns of Plymouth Colony required to send deputies to Plymouth to agree on military orders in regards to the present variancebetween England and Holland.

June: William Bradford elected governor. Thomas Prence and John Brown chosen Commissioners for the United Colonies.

1654: June: William Bradford elected governor. Capt. Myles Standish and Capt. Thomas Willet organized a force to go against the Dutch at Manhatten.

August: Thomas Prence and John Brown chosen commissioners for the United Colonies. John Reyner ended his term as Plymouth's minister.

1655: May: Plymouth Colony leader Edward Winslow died at sea in the West Indies.

June: William Bradford elected governor.

1656: February: Members of the radical group, the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers, arrived in Plymouth Colony.

June: William Bradford elected governor. William Bradford and Thomas Prence chosen Commissioners for the United Colonies.

October: Plymouth Colony's military leader Myles Standish died.

1657: February: First complaints lodged concerning the people called Quakers.

May: William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony for many years, died.

June: Thomas Prence elected governor. Thomas Prence and James Cudworth chosen commissioners for the United Colonies.

October: Laws passed against Quakers

1658: June: Thomas Prence elected governor. Thomas Prence and Josiah Winslow chosen commissioners for the United Colonies. The Court ordered a house of correction to be added to the Plymouth prison.

October: Second earthquake hit Plymouth area.

1659: June: Thomas Prence elected governor. Josiah Winslow and Thomas Southworth chosen Commissioners for the United Colonies.

1660: Ousamequin (Massasoit) died sometime prior to the June Court.

June: Thomas Prence elected governor. Josiah Winslow and Thomas Southworth chosen Commissioners for the United Colonies.

1661: June: Thomas Prence elected governor. Elizabeth and Thomas Burse were divorced, the first such case in Plymouth Colony.

1662: June: Thomas Prence elected governor. Josiah Winslow and Thomas Southworth were chosen commissioners for the United Colonies. Court agreed to sell the Kennebeck trade.

August: Phillip, alias Metacom, sachem of Pokanoket, reconfirmed the treaty between himself and Plymouth Colony. Third earthquake hit Plymouth area.

1663: June: Thomas Prence elected governor. Thomas Prence and Josiah Winslow chosen commssioners for the United Colonies. Minister's house was built on lots donated by Bridget Fuller and her nephew, Samuel.

1664: June: Thomas Prence elected governor. The Plymouth Court ordered that the tracts of land commonly called Acushena, Ponagansett and Coaksett be made into a township to be called Dartmouth.

1665: June: Thomas Prence elected governor. Josiah Winslow and Thomas Southworth chosen commissioners for the United Colonies.

1666: June: Thomas Prence elected governor. Josiah Winslow and Thomas Southworth chosen commissioners for the United Colonies.

1667: April: A Council of War, headed by Thomas Prence, met in Plymouth and issued military orders for the towns in the colony.

June: Thomas Prence elected governor. Josiah Winslow and Thomas Southworth chosen commissioners for the United Colonies. John Cotton Jr. was called to become Plymouth's minister.

1668: March: Money was collected to help pay for the printing of Nathaniel Morton's New-Englands Memoriall. The township at Wannamoisett to be called Swansea.

June: Thomas Prence elected governor. Josiah Winslow and Thomas Southworth chosen commissioners for the United Colonies.

October: The Court orders a day of thanksgiving to be held

1669: June: Thomas Prence elected governor. Josiah Winslow and Thomas Southworth chosen commissioners for the United Colonies. The Plymouth Court granted township status to Namasakett; its name to be changed to Middleborough.

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