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The Pilgrims left England in the first place to escape religious persecution at the hands of the Anglicans, they believed that the Church of England was still too Catholic in its practices and wanted a complete overhaul of the entire English church. More will be said about their beliefs in the Puritan section of this article. The Pilgrims left England in the year of 1609 as refugees fleeing to the relatively welcoming Netherlands, the Dutch being fellow Calvinists at the time. However, when they arrived they found the Netherlands to be a strange place, their hometown of Scrooby was rural, while the city of Leiden was a big trade center at the time. Their children began adopting Dutch customs and the Dutch language, even enrolling in the Dutch army. However, even here they were not safe from the ravages of the Anglican Church, as in 1618 English authorities came to arrest William Brewster for publishing content critical of the English crown and the Anglican Church. Brewster escaped, but they realized even in the Netherlands they weren't safe, and so they endeavored to get as far away from England as humanly possible.
They managed to obtain a land patent from the Plymouth Company in 1619 to settle in the New World. They declined the opportunity to settle south of Cape Cod in New Netherland because of their desire to avoid Dutch influence. This patent allowed them to settle at the mouth of the Hudson River. They financed their venture from a group of businessmen called the "Merchant Adventurers" who saw the colony as an opportunity to make a profit, upon arriving in America the Pilgrims began to pay off their debts to the merchants in question.[note 1]
When the Pilgrims arrived at Cape Cod they realized they had no "patent" to settle there, which in the eyes of some of the colonists provided no legal basis for the colony to begin with. In response to these rumors and suspicions, the leaders of the colony drafted and signed the Mayflower Compact, which retroactively served as the legal backing for the colony. The Compact itself guaranteed little other than that the colony would be governed just like any other English town, but it served as a morale boost because it alleviated many of the concerns the colonists had about the questionable legal authority for their little venture.[note 2]
The Colony itself
The First Winter
Once at the colony things got off to a rocky start, the first winter was especially terrible. At first women, children, the elderly, and the infirm had to stay on the ship because the first structure of the colony, a simple wattle and daub hut, was in the process of being built. Many fell to diseases such as scurvy as well as to the bitter cold itself. Roughly half of the colonists died at this time, and fortifications were built due to repeat skirmishes with the local Native Americans. By January enough of the settlement had been built to begin offloading provisions from the ship, which helped matters immensely.
On March 16, 1621, the first formal contact with Native Americans ensued. Samoset, an Eastern Abenaki sagamore who spoke some English he learned from English whalers and fishermen camping in Eastern Maine, barged into the settlement and shouted "Hello, Englishmen!" Samoset stayed the night and in good spirits asked for some beer. It was here that the pilgrims learned what had happened to the previous residents of Patuxet, the Wampanoag name for Plymouth Rock, they had all died of smallpox. Samoset in return agreed to arrange a meeting with Massasoit, the sachem of the local Wampanoag tribe, and they also learned about Squanto, or Tisquantum, who spoke good English.
Massasoit and the Puritans agreed to what was essentially a mutual defense treaty, with both groups agreeing to not harm the other and to come to each other's defense in times of war. The Mayflower finally set sail for England on April 5, 1621, after being anchored for almost five months in Plymouth Harbor.
The first Thanksgiving was actually a rather solemn ceremony dedicated to God for the colony's "good fortune" when additional colonists and supplies arrived, and it was probably celebrated sometime in July. There was most likely very little revelry and merrymaking in light of the Pilgrims' Puritan beliefs. The event we typically remember as the First Thanksgiving is more properly called a "harvest festival." The event was celebrated by all 53 colonists and by Massasoit and 90 of his men, featuring waterfowl, corn, and several deer brought by the Wampanoag.
As mentioned before, the Pilgrims fled England to escape religious persecution, but when they arrived in the New World they proceeded to do the exact same thing here they fled from over there, leading to the minister and dissident Roger Williams to flee Plymouth and set up the colony that would eventually become Rhode Island, Williams argued for religious tolerance and was an anthropologist who recognized the Natives as equals rather than as inferior heathens to be converted or slain, even preserving some of their language for posterity, he was also an advocate of the separation of church and state and was one of the world's first abolitionists.
The Puritans in New England were even more fundamentalist than their Puritan brethren in England proper, and the last vestiges of Puritanism in New England only died out in the 19th century, some two centuries after the Pilgrims first arrived at Plymouth Rock.
The first major military struggle that involved the Plymouth Colony was the Pequot War of 1637, which essentially started due to a mutual attempted land grab of Pequot territory by both the Dutch and English settlers of New Amsterdam and Plymouth Rock respectively. The war was a huge clusterfuck, effectively serving as a sign of things to come with the Narragansett people and the Mohegan siding with the English, both of whom were the traditional enemies of the Pequot, the Dutch for their part sided with the Pequots, but it did shit for them in the end.
Formal hostilities began with the raiding of a boat and the murder of its captain, a Mr. John Oldham, that was blamed on the Pequot and their allies. The English raided a Pequot village in retaliation, which was responded to by a raid by the Pequot themselves on Plymouth that lead to the deaths of 30 English colonists. The response to this was quick and brutal, with the Englishmen John Mason and Captain John Underhill burning a Pequot settlement to the ground and massacring around 300 Pequot people.
The war would otherwise be a minor footnote in history if it weren't for the fact that the war in question lead to a mutual defense pact being formed among the then-nascent New England colonies, the "United Colonies of New England," this union served as a pivotal cornerstone in the development of the Thirteen Colonies and eventually the United States itself. John Adams himself credited this union as the first attempt at the national government of American history, which would eventually lead to the Articles of Confederation and more importantly the damn United States Constitution itself. How's that for a cool history lesson?
- "Puritanism in England"
- Addison, Albert Christopher. The Romantic Story of the Mayflower Pilgrims And Its Place in the Life of To-day. Published 1911.
- Philbrick, Nathaniel (2006). Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War. New York: Penguin Group. ISBN 0-670-03760-5.
- Rothbard, Murray (1975). ""The Founding of Plymouth Colony"". Conceived in Liberty. 1. Arlington House Publishers.
- "Samoset Biography".
- "Fast and Thanksgiving Days of Plymouth Colony"
- "First Thanksgiving - Primary Sources"
- "God, Government, and Roger Williams' Big Idea" - Smithsonian Magazine
- "Puritanism in New England"
- "Perspectives: The Pequot War"