In 1606, a small group of villagers in Scrooby, England, formed a congregation separate from the Church of England, the English Separatist Church. It was a radical faction of Puritanism, and its members eventually came to be called Pilgrims. As Puritans , they sought to simplify the traditions and organization of the Church of England. However, unlike many of the Puritans, they decided to leave the Church of England entirely to establish an independent church. Neighbors rejected their extreme Puritan beliefs and their separatist church, and political authorities harassed them. Determined to pursue religious freedom, the Pilgrims emigrated to Holland in 1607.
Although their congregation continued to increase over the next decade, the Pilgrims were not happy. Their work was hard, their incomes small, and their economic outlook discouraging. By living in Holland, their children were losing touch with their English background. Members lacked the civil autonomy, or independence, they deemed necessary for their purity and proper growth.
In the winter of 1616, several members of the congregation decided to voyage to the New World to establish their own community. By 1619, they had received a charter from the Virginia Company to establish a colony in Virginia . They negotiated an agreement to set up the colony as a distinct body with its own government.
As the Pilgrims awaited a grant of religious toleration from England, a group of London merchant adventurers approached them. The merchants proposed a partnership that would enable the Pilgrims to receive the funding they needed for their plan. In exchange, the merchants would sail with the Pilgrims. After some negotiations and delays, in September 1620 a group of thirty-five Pilgrims from Holland joined sixty-six other passengers and forty-eight crew members from England to sail for the New World. Their journey aboard the Mayflower took sixty-six days.
Abandoning their charter for Virginia, the Pilgrims decided instead to settle at Massachusetts Bay at Plymouth Colony , where the Mayflower had landed. To manage conflict with the merchants, the Pilgrims drafted an agreement called the Mayflower Compact. Under its terms, the settlers agreed to establish a political body that would submit to majority rule in establishing and enforcing laws. Religious leader John Carver (1576–1621) was elected governor. By December, a site for the colony had been established, and work began. A new patent from the Council for New England created the Plymouth Plantation on June 11, 1621.
The winter of 1620–21 was mild, but the first year was still difficult for the Pilgrims. By April, forty-four Pilgrims, including Carver, had died from illness. The presence of the merchants challenged the Pilgrims’ desire for a pure Christian community. In November 1621, more colonists arrived, adding strain to already limited resources. Fortunately, the Wampanoag Indians, who had previously settled the lands, were friendly and helpful advisors in agricultural matters.
In 1624 Governor William Bradford (1590–1657) changed the communal system of agriculture that had been based on shared ownership of lands. Under the new system, every family was granted its own parcel of land. In 1626, the Pilgrims bought the merchants’ shares of land and claimed the colony for themselves. The Plymouth Colony remained independently governed by the Pilgrims according to their religious beliefs until 1691, when it became part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony .
The Pilgrims were Separatists (Protestants who separated from the Anglican Church to set up their own church). In 1609 they fled their home in Scrooby, England, in search of religious freedom, which they found in Holland. Fearing their children would lose contact with English culture, the group decided to voyage to the New World to establish their own community. In 1620 they arrived on the rocky western shore of Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts. Their trans-Atlantic crossing had taken 66 days aboard the Mayflower. Two babies were born during the passage, bringing the number of settlers to 102—only about 35 were Pilgrims, the rest were merchants.
On November 21 the Pilgrims drafted the Mayflower Compact, an agreement by which the 41 signatories (the men aboard the Mayflower ) formed a body politic that was authorized to enact and enforce laws. Religious leader John Carver (1576–1621) was voted governor. Though their colonial patent from the London Company specified they were to settle in Virginia, they decided to establish their colony at Cape Cod, well outside the company's jurisdiction. By December 25 the Pilgrims had chosen the site for their settlement and began building at New Plymouth.
The first year was difficult and the Pilgrims faced many hardships: Thirty-five more colonists arrived aboard the Fortune, and thereby put a strain on already limited resources. Sicknesses such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, and scurvy claimed many lives, including that of Governor Carver; and the merchants in the group challenged the purity of the settlement.
Having secured a new patent from the Council of New England in June 1621, the lands of the New Plymouth Colony were held in common by both the Pilgrims and the merchants. But this communal system of agriculture proved unsuccessful and in 1624, William Bradford (1590–1657), who had succeeded Carver as governor, granted each family its own parcel of land. The Wampanoag Indians, who had previously occupied the land settled by the Pilgrims, proved friendly and were helpful advisers in agricultural matters. In 1626 the Pilgrims bought the merchants' shares, and claimed the colony for themselves. Though they were inexperienced at government before arriving in America and had not been formally educated, the Pilgrims successfully governed themselves according to their religious beliefs; Plymouth Colony remained independent until 1691, when it became part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
See also: Agriculture, Colonies (Proprietary), Massachusetts, Puritans, Virginia
PILGRIMS. At the turn of the seventeenth century, a small group of English separatists sought to practice their religion free from the persecution of Henry VIII. By 1609, the congregation settled near Leiden, Holland. Soon dissatisfied, a small group of them sailed from Plymouth, England, aboard the Mayflower on 16 September 1620, carrying a charter for what would become the first permanent English settlement in North America. These Pilgrims arrived in Provincetown Harbor on Massachusetts Bay on 21 November and soon settled in neighboring Plymouth Harbor. Half the residents died in the first
harsh winter, yet the colony grew, and in 1691, was absorbed by the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Abrams, Ann Uhry. The Pilgrims and Pocahontas: Rival Myths of American Origins. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1999.
Bradford, William. Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620–1647: The Complete Text. New York: Knopf, 1963.
Dillon, Francis. The Pilgrims. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1975.