In July, 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, England. The 102 men, women and children, called the Pilgrims, planned to sail to the New World for a better life. They were called Pilgrims because of their journey to practice their religion free from government control. The Mayflower was accompanied by another ship called the Speedwell. In a short time, the two ships turned back for repairs to the leaky Speedwell. Finally, on September 6, 1620, the Mayflower left England again, this time without the Speedwell.
Ship travel across the ocean was very dangerous in the 1600's. Passengers had to remain in the cargo holds which were damp and wet. People fell overboard or died from sickness. Storms could damage or sink a ship. The Pilgrims did run into a huge storm in the middle of their journey. A huge beam which supported the frame of the ship cracked. However, they were able to use a large screw to get the beam secured and travel on. Many of the passengers were sick, but only one died. A baby was born on the trip, and he was named Oceanus.
Although the ship was originally bound for the colony of Virginia, the passengers knew they didn't have enough food to go that far south. They arrived on Cape Cod, a long-curved peninsula sticking out from present-day Massachusetts on November 11, 1620. They moved on from there to establish a colony named Plymouth. They lived on the ship for several months until shelter could be built. Because the Pilgrims had left England about two months later than they had planned due to the problems with the Speedwell, they were not prepared to have to build in the wet, cold winter. During that first winter over half the colonists died. They finally did build shelters for those still alive. The Mayflower left in April to go back to England.
Some of the people were called Separatists because they had chosen to separate themselves from the official Church of England. Others remained true to the Church of England. When the colonists had left England, they had received permission from the King of England to settle on land farther south near the mouth of the Hudson River in modern-day New York. This was part of the Virginia colony. Because they settled farther north, they had to get a new patent, or permission agreement, to remain where they had landed.
On the day they landed on Cape Cod, on the ship, all of the adult men signed a document to establish the rules for an orderly way of living in the new settlement. This was called the Mayflower Compact. A compact is an agreement. It is thought by later Americans to have had an influence on the writing of the Declaration of Independence. The original document is not in existence, but a copy was found in a brochure written soon after. In 1669, Nathaniel Morton included the text in his book, New England's Memorial. There was a list of possible signers although no list had appeared before that time. The area where the Pilgrims landed was part of what was later named New England. Today it includes 6 states: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
In the Mayflower Compact, the writers indicated that they were loyal subjects of King James of England. They said that they had traveled to the northern parts of Virginia to found a colony to give glory to God and the king. They agreed to join together in one body to make laws for the good of the colony and pledged to obey whatever laws they decided to write.
The Mayflower Compact is important because it was the first establishment of a democratic form of government in the colonies.
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