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The Pilgrims were a group of English settlers who left Europe in search of religious freedom in the Americas. They established the Plymouth Colony in 1620.
Map of New Plymouth and Cape Cod Source: Wikimedia Commons
Why did the Pilgrims travel to America?
The Pilgrims traveled to America in search of a new way of life. Many of the Pilgrims were part of a religious group called Separatists. They were called this because they wanted to "separate" from the Church of England and worship God in their own way. They were not allowed to do this in England where they were persecuted and sometimes put in jail for their beliefs. Other Pilgrims were hoping to find adventure or a better life in the New World.
The Pilgrims initially set sail aboard two ships; the Speedwell and the Mayflower. However, not long after leaving England, the Speedwell began to leak and the Pilgrims had to return to port. Once back at port, they crowded as many of the passengers as possible onto the Mayflower and set sail once again for America on September 6, 1620. They managed to fit 102 total passengers on the Mayflower, but they had to leave 20 of the original Speedwell passengers behind. In addition to the 102 passengers, there were between 25 and 30 crewmen onboard the ship.
Voyage on the Mayflower
The voyage across the Atlantic Ocean was long and difficult. The extra people on the ship made the trip even worse. They ran out of fresh water and many people became sick. Storms also hit the ship very hard causing one of the main beams to crack. Two people died during the voyage. At one point, they considered turning back, but decided to stick it out. After two long months at sea, the Pilgrims finally reached land.
Signing the the Mayflower Compact by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris
When the Pilgrims arrived in New England, they decided they needed to make an agreement on how issues would be settled and the colony would be run. They signed a document that is today called the Mayflower Compact. The compact declared that the colonists were loyal to the King of England, that they were Christians who served God, that they would make fair and just laws, and that they would each work for the good of the colony. The Mayflower Compact was signed by 41 of the Pilgrim men (the women were not allowed to sign). The men also voted John Carver to be the first governor of the colony.
After arriving in America, the Pilgrims searched the coast of New England for a good place to build a settlement. They eventually found a location called Plymouth. It had a calm harbor for their ship, a river for fresh water, and flat lands where they could plant crops. It was here that they built their village and established the Plymouth Colony.
A Hard Winter
The Pilgrims were happy to finally be in America, but things didn't get any easier for them. They were not prepared for the cold winter. They quickly built a main common house and then began to build small houses for each of the families. For a time, some people slept on the Mayflower.
Many people got sick and died over the first winter. At one point there were only around six people well enough to continue working. By the end of winter, only 47 out of the original 102 settlers were still alive. Governor John Carver died that that Spring and William Bradford was elected the new governor.
Map of Plymouth Colony by Samuel de Champlain
Squanto and the Wampanoag
The Native Americans that lived in the same area as Plymouth Colony were the Wampanoag peoples. The chief of the Wampanoag, Massasoit, made contact with the Pilgrims. They established a peace treaty and agreed to trade for animal furs.
One Wampanoag man, Squanto, had traveled to Europe and could speak some English. He agreed to stay with the Pilgrims and teach them how to survive. He taught them how to plant corn, where to hunt and fish, and how to survive through the winter. Without Squanto's help the colony probably wouldn't have survived.
The Pilgrims held a feast after their first harvest in 1621. They invited some of the local Wampanoag people to join them. This feast is sometimes called the first Thanksgiving. They continued this tradition and, in 1623, when they were celebrating the end of a long drought, they began to call the feast "Thanksgiving."
Interesting Facts about the Pilgrims
The "Separatists" often referred to the other members of the colony as "Strangers."
The Mayflower was around 106 feet long and 25 feet wide. That's not a lot of space for 102 people to live for two months!