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

    December 20, 1620 - The Puritans begin to establish settlement in Plymouth. They form the Mayflower Compact, which established a government and legal structure. During the next winter, half of the colonists would perish. Site of the settlement had previously been the location of an Indian village that had been wiped out in 1617 by a plague.

    Plimoth Plantation

    It had been on December 11, 1620, that the party of explorers from the Mayflower at Provincetown had found the area of Plymouth Rock and the former settlement of the Wampanoag that they now decided would make the proper location for their colony. Over the next months, with some debate on the exact dates of their movement, the men and women were transported on the ship to the new location. The Mayflower Compact, signed on board the ship while docked in Provincetown, would govern them. It would not be easy. Establishing a settlement in the harsh winter of New England when they had thought they were heading to the Colony of Virginia. That would not be easy at all.

    Finding the Location of the Settlement, William Bradford's Journal

    The month of November being spente in these affairs, and much foule weather falling in, the 6. of Desemr: they sente out their shallop againe with 10. of their principall men, and some sea men, upon further discovery, intending to circulate that deepe bay of Cap-codd. The weather was very could, and it frose so hard as the sprea of the sea lighting on their coats, they were as if they had been glased; yet that night betimes they gott downe into the botome of the bay, and as they drue nere the shore they saw some 10. or 12. Indeans very busie aboute some thing. They landed aboute a league or 2. from them, and had much a doe to put a shore any wher, it lay so full of flats. Being landed, it grew late, and they made them selves a barricade with loggs and bowes as well as they could in the time, and set out their sentenill and betooke them to rest, and saw the smoake of the fire the savages made that night. When morning was come they devided their company, some to coaste along the shore in the boate, and the rest lnarched throw the woods to see the land, if any fit place lnight be for their dwelling. They carne allso to the place wher they saw the Indans the night before, and found they had been cuting up a great fish like a grampus, being some 2. inches thike of fate like a hogg, some peeces wher of they had left by the way; and the shallop found 2. more of these fishes dead on the sands, a thing usuall after storms in that place, by reason of the great flats of sand that lye of. So they ranged up and doune all that day, but found no people, nor any place they liked. When the supe grue low, they hasted out of the woods to meete with their shallop, to whom they made signes to come to them into a creeke hardby, the which they did at highwater; of which they were very glad, for they had not seen each other all that day, since the morning. So they made them a barricado (as usually they did every night) with loggs, staks, and thike pine bowes, the height of a man, leaving it open to leeward, partly to shelter them from the could and wind (making their fire in the midle, and lying round aboute it), and partly to defend them from any sudden assaults of the savags, if they should surround them. So being very weary, they betooke them to rest. But aboute midnight, they heard a hideous and great crie, and their sentinell caled, "Arme, arme"; so they bestired them and stood to their armes, and shote of a cupple of moskets, and then the noys seased. They concluded it was a companie of wolves, or such like willd beasts; for ove of the sea men tould them he had often heard shuch a noyse in New-found land.

    So they rested till about 5. of the clock in the morning; for the tide, and ther purposs to goe from thence, made them be stiring betimes. So after praisr they prepared for breakfast, and it being day dawning, it was thought best to be carring things downe to the boate. But some said it was not best to carrie the armes downe, others said they would be the readier, for they had layed them up in their coats from the dew. But some 3. or 4. would not cary theirs till they wente them selves, yet as it fell out, the water being not high enough, they layed them downe on the banke side, and carne up to breakfast. But presently, all on the sudain, they heard a great and strange crie, which they knew to be the same voyces they heard in the night, though they varied their notes, and one of their company being abroad carne runing in, and cried, "Men, Indeans, Indeans"; and withall, their arrwes carne flying amongst them. Their men ran (sp) with all speed to recover their armes, as by the good providente of God they did. In the mean time, of those that were ther ready, tow muskets were discharged at them, and 2. more stood ready in the enterance of ther randevoue, but were ocomanded not to shoote till they could take- full aime at them; and the other 2. charged againe with al] speed, for ther were only 4. had armes ther, and defended the baricado which was first assalted. The crie of the Indeans was dreadfull, espetially when they saw ther men rune out of the randevoue towourds the shallop, to recover their armes, the Indeans wheeling aboute upon them. But some running out with coats of malle on, and cutlasses in their hands, they soone got their armes, and let flye amongs them, and quickly stopped their violente. Yet ther was a lustie man, and no less valiante, stood behind a tree within halfe a musket shot, and let his arrows flie at them. He was seen shoot 3. arrowes, which were all avoyded. He stood 3. shot of a musket, till one taking full aime at him, and made the banke or splinters of the tree fly about his ears, after which he gave an extraordinary shrike, and away they wente all of them. They left some to keep the shalop, and followed them aboute a quarter of a mille, and shouted once or twise, and shot of 2. or 3. peces, and so returned. This they did, that they might conceive that they were not affrade of them or any way discouraged. Thus it pleased God to vanquish their enimies, and give them deliverance; and by his spetiall providence so to dispose that not any one of them were either hurte, or hitt, though their arrows carne Glose by them, and on every side them, and sundry of their coats, which hunge up in the barricado, were shot throw and throw. Aterwards they gave God sollamne thanks and praise for their deliverance, and gathered up a bundle of their arrows, and sente them into England afterward by the mr of the ship, and called that place the first encounter. From hence they departed, and costed all along, but discerned-no place likly for harbor; and therfore hasted to a place that their pillote, (one Mr. Coppin who had bine in the cuntrie before) did assure them was, a good harbor, which he had been in, and they might fetch.it before night; of which they were glad, for it begane to be foule (sp) weather. After some houres sailing, it begane to snow and raine, and about the mdle of the afternoone, the wind increased, and the sea became very rough, and they broake their rudder, and it was as much as 2. men could doe to steere her with a cupple of oares. But their pillott bad them be of good cheere, for he saw the harbor; but the storme increasing, and night drawing on, they bore what saile they could to gett in, while they could see. But herwith they broake their mast in 3. peeces, and their saill fell over bord, in a very grown sea, so as they had like to have been cast away; yet by God's mercie they recovered them selves, and having the floud with them, struck into the harbore. But when it carne too, the pillott was deceived in the place, and said, the Lord be mercifull unto them, for his eys never saw that place before; and he and the mr mate would have rune her ashore, in a cove full of breakers, before the winde. But a lusty seaman which steered, bad those which rowed, if they were men, about with her, or ells they were all cast away; the which they did with speed. So he bid them be of good cheere and row lustly, for ther was a faire sound before them, and he doubted not but they should find one place or other wher they might ride in saftie. And though it was very darke, and rained sore, yet in the end they gott under the lee of a smalle iland, and remained ther all that night in saftie. But they knew not this to be an iland till morning, but were devided in their minds; some would keepe the boate for fear they might be amongst the Indians; others were so weake and could, they could not endure, but got a shore, and with much adoe got fine, (all things being so wett,) and the rest were glad to come to them; for after midnight the wind shifted to the north-west, and it frose hard.

    But though this had been a day and night of much trouble and danger unto them, yet God gave them a morning of comforte and refreshing (as usually he doth to his children), for the next day was a faire sunshining day, and they found theni sellvs to be on an iland secure from the Indeans, wher they might drie their stufe, fixe their peeces, and rest them selves, and gave God thanks for his mercies, in their manifould deliverances. And this being the last day of the weeke, they prepared ther to keepe the Sabath. On Munday they sounded the harbor, and founde it fitt for shipping; and marched into the land, and found diverse cornfeilds, and litle runing brooks, a place (as they supposed) fitt for situation; at least it was the best they could find, and the season, and their presente necessitie, made them glad to accepte of it. So they returned to their shipp againe with this news to the rest of their people which did much comforte their harts.

    On the 15. of Desemr: they wayed anchor to goe to the place they had discovered, and came within 2. leagues of it, but were faine to bear up againe; but the 16. day the winde carne faire, and they arrived safe in this harbor. And after wards tooke better view of the place, and resolved wher to pitch their dwelling; and the 25. day begane to erecte the first house for commone use to receive them and their goods.

    The Mayflower Compact

    The men had thought it necessary to come up with some official document that could govern them, as they would not be governed by the Colony of Virginia, having settled north of it. Therefore, they had no patent, and a new document, written and signed on November 11, 1620 while they anchored off Cape Cod and still searched for their eventual location of settlement, would suffice as such. The original document is no longer around; it was first published in a pamphlet that described the first year in Plymouth called Mourt's Relation that was written in 1622. It was reportedly signed by forty-one of the men.

    IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience. IN WITNESS whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620.

    Confusion on some of the dates can be explained by the use, of England, at the time, of the Julian calendar. Thus, the date of its signing under that calendar was November 11, 1620. England did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752. The date under the Gregorian calendar would be November 21, 1620.

    John Carver was chosen as the Governor of the colony during the first winter. Myles Standish was named commanding officer.

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    The First Winter

    The area of Plymouth (Plimoth, Plimouth) plantation was a former settlement of the Wampanoag tribe, which had been abandoned. For the first months of the Pilgrim arrival at Plymouth, they remained living on ship during the night while traveling from the Mayflower by day to build their homes and fort. Twenty men would stay on shore at night to secure the settlement. It would take until March for all of the necessary construction to be completed. During that winter, nearly half (forty-five of one hundred and two) of the Mayflower settlers died from the cold and disease (scurvy) of the area. Many of the Wampanoag had also succumbed prior to abandoning the area to an unknown sickness. The entire area of today's New England had seen a ninety percent decline due to disease in the Indian population over the three years prior. This lack of a large Indian presence has been noted as assisting the Pilgrims in establishing their colony over its duration.

    The settlement would be constructed with the village on Cole's Hill and the fort, actually a wooden platform for five cannon, on Fort Hill. Nineteen structures were planned; seven residences and four other structures were built. Provisions were brought from the Mayflower by the end of January 1621. There had been some minor tensions with the tribes of the area in the first several months, with first formal contact on March 16, 1621. Wampanoag Indian chief Massasoit, headquartered forty miles away in the area of Rhode Island, was apprehensive of the Pilgrims; English sailors had killed several tribe members. The Wampanoags had lived in the area for thousands of years, living on a seasonal cycle of farming, hunting, and fishing. Governor John Carver held a peace conference with Massosoit and other tribe leaders one week later, achieving a formal peace treaty and agreement for mutual defense. The Wampanoags were looking for alliances that might assist in their tensions against the Narragansett, a rival tribe.

    Peace Treaty Between Wampanoag and Plymouth, William Bradford's Journal

    1. That neither he nor any of his, should injurie or doe hurte to any of their peopl.

    2. That if any of his did any hurte to any of theirs, he should send the offender, that they might punish him.

    3. That if any thing were taken away from any of theirs, he should cause it to be restored; and they should doe the like to his.

    4. If any did unjustly warr against him, they would aide him; if any did warr against them, he should aide them.

    5. He should send to his neighbours confederats, to certifie them of this, that they might not wrong them, but might be likewise comprised in the conditions of peace.

    6. That when ther mea carne to them, they should leave their bows and arrows behind them.

    By the end of March, the majority of the settlement was completed. The Mayflower sailed for England on April 5, 1621.

    Source: Plimoth Plantation, 2002. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Image below: Painting of the Signing of the Mayflower Compact, 1899, Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Info source: "Of Plymouth Plantation," William Bradford's Journal, Early America's Digital Library; Plimoth Plantation; Pilgrim Hall Museum; Wikipedia.

    Signing of the Mayflower Compact

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