During the reign of James I, the religious persecution in Protestant England was rampant and a group of English separatists fled the mother country to America, for the freedom to practice their religion. They established the second English colony, Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, in the New World, and became known as The Pilgrim Fathers. Many of the separatists had previously moved to Holland, due to the country’s religious tolerance, but felt that remaining there would result in them losing their English identity. They made a deal with a group of English investors to make the dangerous crossing of the Atlantic and help them create a profitable colony in the New World.
The journey began on September 16, 1620, when the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth. During the voyage one of the ship’s main beams cracked and the pilgrims considered turning back. They were able to repair it using a great iron screw and pressed on. While they were at sea, they experienced one birth and two deaths. Land was sighted on November 20, 1620 and the following day the ship was anchored in what is now known as Provincetown Harbor.
The historical charter of the new colony, known as the Mayflower Compact, allowed for self-rule and established the precedence that political rights were God-given. It was a brief contract signed on November 11, 1620 while the ship was still at sea, in response to mutinous speeches. The charter promised cooperation amongst the settlers ‘for the general good of the colony unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.’ The document was signed by 41 adult male passengers and ratified by majority rule. John Carver was then chosen as the colony’s first governor.
Even after they had arrived in the New World, many of the passengers had to remain aboard as they were gravely ill. Those that were well enough began exploring the area and on December 29, 1620 a place to set up the colony was chosen. Construction began immediately, with each family being given a plot to create their own dwelling. The settlement was mostly complete by early February 1621, but only 47 colonists remained alive in March, due to the disease they had contracted.
The pilgrims developed a good relationship with the Native Americans in the area. They signed a peace treaty with the Massasoit and Wampanoag people shortly after their arrival. After the death of Carver in 1621, William Bradford had become governor and served for 11 years until his passing. After their first harvest Bradford invited the Native Americans to join in a feast of Thanksgiving, which is now celebrated as a major holiday in The United States.
The journey of the pilgrims, and their perseverance to overcome the hardships of early travel, resulted in the birth of the United States. The way they risked their lives for the freedom to practice their religion, also became enshrined in the First Amendment, guaranteeing the right of all men to practice their religion freely.