On September 16th of 1620, a ship called the Mayflower left the shores of Plymouth, England, on its merry way to the New World. The ship was aiming for Virginia, where a British colony had been founded at Jamestown in 1607. However, due to harsh weather conditions and numerous navigational errors, the Mayflower ended up ashore much further north on November 21st. The settlers had sailed ashore on the tip of Cape Cod in present day Provincetown, Massachusetts.
The Mayflower was the first ship to bring pilgrims from England to the New World, these days known as the United States of America. At some point during the voyage, the Mayflower Compact was drawn up and signed. It stated, among other things, that each member participates in helping the community. It established constitutional law and the rule of the majority. Some people say the Mayflower Compact signified the birth of democracy.
The ship held 102 passengers and a crew of about 30 men onboard. These early pilgrims founded the first permanent European settlement in New England. About a third of the passengers on the Mayflower were radical English separatists from the Church of England.
After coming ashore in Provincetown, a team of armed men were sent to scout the land and find a suitable area for settlement, with plenty of cleared fields and a lot of fresh, running water. While the men were gone, a boy named Peregrine White was born on the Mayflower. He became the first English child born in New England.
When the men returned, they announced that they had found an appropriate location for the ship's passengers to build a settlement. The men led the rest of the ship's passengers to a site called Plymouth. On December 21st, the Mayflower anchored in Plymouth harbor. The settlers allowed themselves a few days’ rest, but immediately after Christmas, they began working on the shelters that would protect them through that first, stone cold American winter.
Crossing the Atlantic had always been a difficult task, and the Mayflower had encountered rough seas along the way. Stories abound of death and survival in the harsh New England winter wilderness, but storytellers seem to forget that the pilgrims came from England, which has had quite a few cold winters of its own. But British civilization is thousands of years old, with many creature comforts to show for it. About half the settlers from the Mayflower, weakened from the trip, died from disease within a year of arriving in the New World.
In 1621, conditions had improved for the colonists so much that neighboring Indians were invited to partake of some of the season's harvest. Soon, other colonists were attracted to the settlement. By the mid-1640s, the population of Plymouth had climbed to about 3,000. However, an even larger Massachusetts Bay colony loomed to the north. These people were known as Puritans, and had settled there in 1629.
The term “pilgrim” was not used for describing early colonists until the 19th century.