Little Bits of History

This Isn’t the Hudson

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 11, 2013
Mayflower Compact

Mayflower Compact depiction

November 11, 1620: Forty-one passengers from the Mayflower sign the Mayflower Compact. The date is Old Style as the Gregorian calendar had not yet been accepted by England and her colonies. The Mayflower set sail from Southampton, England on September 6, again OS date. They were supposed to land near the mouth of the Hudson River at the northern edge of the Virginia colony. The trip was to have been made by two ships. The two ships left port on August 5 but soon the Speedwell developed a leak. They returned and repaired the ship, another leak became apparent, and finally only the Mayflower sailed with 102 passengers plus crew.

The trip took 66 days. The weather turned hostile and they were blown off course. Their charter with the London Company specified the location for the new colony. As they approached the harsher, wintry landscape near Cape Cod, Massachusetts, there was dissention in the ranks. In order to establish some sense of order and to stop the bickering among the passengers, the Mayflower Compact was written and signed. The ship was still anchored in Provincetown Harbor. They rowed in to shore and found snow covered ground with artificial mounds. They looted food stores from burial mounds.

The ship left the harbor and sailed down the coast, robbing caches of food and desecrating burial mounds. They lived this way through the winter, staying aboard the ship but foraging on land. The natives who were being robbed took action against the invaders, keeping them at bay. The people aboard the Mayflower were starving and affected with a mixture of scurvy, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. By spring, 49 passengers and half the crew were dead. They had settled near Plymouth to wait out the winter aboard ship. They built some rough huts and the weary travelers came ashore on March 21, 1621. The ship left the Pilgrims behind to return to England on April 5, 1621.

The original copy of the Mayflower Compact has been lost. William Bradford’s journal, Of Plymouth Plantation, and Edward Winslow’s Mourt’s Relation agree on the text of the document. The undersigned agreed to form just and equal laws to meet the general good. There were only male signatories. John Carver was the first to sign as the leader and first governor (elected that same day to a one-year term) of the Plymouth Colony. It was he who brokered a treaty with Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag tribe for the Plymouth Colony site. He died in the spring of 1621, apparently of sunstroke.

“I am glad my ancestors arrived on the Mayflower, but I am gladder that there are nine generations between us.” – William Lyon Phelps

“My ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but they were there to meet the boat.” – Will Rogers

“What we know today is that children all over America have the right to learn – whether their ancestors came to America on slave ships or the Mayflower.” – Mark Pryor

“It is a pity that instead of the Pilgrim Fathers landing on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock had not landed on the Pilgrim Fathers.” – Chauncey Depew

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The Mayflower was a Dutch Cargo fluyt, meaning it was built for transoceanic sailing. There were no armaments in this type of ship in order to increase cargo space. The Mayflower’s maiden voyage was some time before 1609 and her trip in 1620 is her most famous. She was usually crewed by 36-50 men. The upper deck was 80-90 feet with an overall length of 100-110 feet. There were probably four decks. It is known that for this particular journey there were 33 crew aboard along with the 102 passengers. She was rated at 180 tons which meant that the hold could accommodate 180 casks of rum or wine. Prior to the sailing in 1620, Captain Christopher Jones had repeatedly sailed across the English Channel taking English woolens to France and returning with French wine to London. Other items were also traded. In 1620 Captain Jones and Robert Child each owned a quarter share of the ship and it was from them that Thomas Weston chartered the ship for this historic trip.

Also on this day: The War to End All Wars – In 1918, World War I ended.
Mum’s the Word – In 1790, Chrysanthemums were introduced into England.
Cold – In 1930, Einstein’s refrigerator was patented.


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