History Timelines 1620s

Image above: Lithograph by Sarony and Major, 1846, of the landing on Plymouth Rock by William Bradford and the pilgrims with the Mayflower in the distance. Courtesy Library of Congress. Right: Painting of the Signing of the Mayflower Compact, 1899, Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Mayflower Compact

Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1600s


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  • 1620 Detail

    November 11, 1620 - The Puritan expedition which left England for the New World on September 6, reaches Cape Cod near Provincetown, not their original destination of Virginia. They explore the coastline for an appropriate settlement location.

    Pilgrims on ship Speedwell

    They had left England two months before and had been blown off course. The coast they were searching around was New England, not the Mid-Atlantic coastline below New York, and the eventual destination of Plymouth Rock had not yet been found. They were at Cape Cod. Yes, we know they came for religious freedom. We know they came for expected riches in this new land and new colonial gains, even if they thought they'd be closer to their relative British in the Colony of Virginia further down the coast. But just what exactly had prompted these Puritans to journey to the New World.

    William Bradford had been influenced by a preacher to believe that the Church of England was still too tied to the vestiges of Catholicism, and that it needed to purify itself. When King James I came to the thrown, he chaffed at the efforts to reform the Church of England and began to squash any efforts at reform. What became known as the Scrooby congregation of Puritans now thought that reform was impossible and that a total break, including emigration to the Netherlands was the answer. This was accomplished, although not easily, with imprisonment on their first attempt. In 1908, they, about four hundred strong, and Bradford, only eighteen at the time, succeeded, locating in Leiden.

    By 1917, the Scrooby congregation began planning emigration from the Netherlands to America, dissatisfied with the Dutch influence on their culture, even though they had been granted religious freedom. They sought the right to emigrate to the northern part of the Colony of Virginia, which extended to the Hudson River. They, around fifty in number would take the journey first, and left the Netherlands in July 1620 on the ship Speedwell. That ship would prove unworthy. They met the second ship Mayflower, who would transport an additional fifty colonists to America. After a first attempt for both the Mayflower and Speedwell to take the journey west on August 5, the expedition had to return to port. They abandoned the Speedwell, making the Mayflower the only ship to continue on the journey. Yes, it was now a crowded ship with some of the Speedwell passengers on board. It included Bradford, his wife Dorothy, and their son John. It was led by Edward Winslow. The captain, or master, of the ship was Christopher Jones.

    The Mayflower Voyage

    The Puritan expedition left Plymouth, England on September 6, 1620, packed with one hundred and two passengers and thirty crew. It was a small ship, at one hundred and eighty tons and one hundred feet long, and not before used for an ocean voyage. While calm seas saw the first days of voyage, heavy storms saw the second half. It took two months to make the passage. These storms blew them off course (there are also reports that a northerly course had been set due to an attempt to avoid pirates), and when sighting land, it was the land of Cape Cod, where they anchored on November 11, 1620. Several days had been spent attempting to go further south to the northern Colony of Virginia destination, but difficult seas forced them back to the harbor.

    No, this was still not their eventual Plymouth Rock location for the colony. Their anchor in Provincetown Harbor enabled landing parties, including William Bradford, to explore the land and water nearby on three excursions. By the end of their third exploration of December 6, 1620, they found Plymouth Harbor and decided to plan their settlement on a hill above the harbor where a fort would be wisely located.

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    Excerpts from William Bradford's Journal

    BFING thus arrived at Cap-Cod the 11. of November, and necessitie calling them to looke out a place for habitation, (as well as the maisters and marinera importunitie,) they having brought a large shalop with them out of England, stowed in quarters in the ship, they now gott her out and sett their carpenters to worke to trime her up; but being much brused and shatered in the shipe with foule weather, they saw she would be longe in mending. Wherupon a few of them tendered them selves to goe by land and discovere those nearest places, whilst the shalopp was in mending; and the rather because as they wente into that harbor ther seemed to be an opening solee 2. or 3 leagues of, which the maister judged to be a river. It was conceived ther might be some danger in the attempte, yet seeing them resolute, they were permited to goe, being 16, of them well armed, under the conduct of Captain Standish,having shuch instructions given them as was thought meete.

    They sett forth the 15. of Novebr: and when they had marched aboute the space of a mile by the sea side, they espied 5. or 6. persons with a dogg coming towards them, who were salvages; but they fIed from them, and ranne up into the woods, and the English followed them, partly to see if they could speake with them, and partly to discover if ther might not be more of them lying in ambush. But the Indeans seeing them selves thus followed, they againe forsooke the woods, and ran (sp) away on the sands as hard as they could, so as they could not come near them, but followed them by the tracte of their feet sundrie miles, and saw that they had come the same way. So, night coming on, they made their randevous and set out their sentinels, and rested in quiete that night, and the next morning followed their tracte till they had headed a great creake, and so left the sands, and turned an other way into the woods. But they still followed them by geuss, hopeing to find their dwellings; but they soone lost both them and them selves, falling into shuch thickets as were ready to tear their cloaths, and armore in peeces, but were most distresed for wante of drinke. But at length they found water and refreshed them selves, being the first New-England water they drunke of, and was now in thir great thirste as pleasante unto them as wine or bear had been in for-times.

    Afterwards they directed their course to come to the other shore, for they knew it was a necke of land they were to crosse over, and so at length gott to the sea-side, and marched to this supposed river, and by the way found a pond of clear fresh water, and shortly after a good quantitie of clear ground wher the Indeans had formerly set torne (corn), and some of their graves.And proceeding furder they saw new-stuble wher torne (corn) had been set the same year, also they found wher latly a house had been, wher some planks and a great ketle was remaining, and heaps of sand newly padled with their hands, which they, digging up, found in them diverce faire Indean baskets filled with torne (corn), and some in eares, faire and good, of diverce collours, which seemed to them a very goodly sight, (haveing never seen any shuch before). This was near the place of that supposed river they came to seeck; unto which they wente and found it to open it selfe into 2. armes with a high cliffe of sand in the enterance, but more like to be crikes of salte water then any fresh, for ought they saw; and that ther was good harborige for their shalope; leaving it further to be discovered by their shalop when she was ready. So their time limeted them being expired, they returned to the ship, least they should be in fear of their saftie; and tooke with them parte of the coree, and buried up the rest, and so like the mee from Eshcoll carried with them of the fruits of the land, and showed their breethren; of which, and their returne, they were marvelusly glad, and their harts incouraged.

    After this, the shalop being got ready, they set out againe for the better discovery of this place, and the mr of the ship desired to goe him selfe, so ther went some 30. men, but found it to be no harbor for ships but only for boats; ther was allso found 2. of their houses covered with matts, and sundrie of their implements in them, but the people were rune away and could not be seen; also ther was found more of their corve, and of their beans of various collours. The torne (corn) and beans they brought away, purposing to give them full satisfaction when they should meete with any of them (as about some 6. months afterward they did, to their good contente). And here is to be noted a spetiall providente of God, and a great mercie to this poore people, that hear they gott seed to plant them torne (corn) the next year, or els they might have starved, for they had pone, nor any liklyhood to get any till the season had beene past (as the sequell did manyfest). Neither is it lickly they had had this, if the first viage had not been made, for the ground was now all covered with snow, and hard frozen. But the Lord is never wanting unto his in their greatest needs; let his holy name have all the praise.

    Source: Pilgrims on board the boat Speedwell on journey from Leiden to England, 1844, Robert W. Weir. Courtesy Architect of the Capitol via Wikipedia Commons. Image below: Lithograph by Sarony and Major, 1846, of the landing on Plymouth Rock by William Bradford and the pilgrims with the Mayflower in the distance. Courtesy Library of Congress. Info source: "Of Plymouth Plantation," William Bradford's Journal, Early America's Digital Library; Plimouth Plantation; Pilgrim Hall Museum; Wikipedia.

    Mayflower at Plymouth Rock

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