Plymouth Plantation
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English Separatists, later known as Pilgrims, fled to North America in 1620 in order to escape persecution from civil and religious authorities.

They experienced many problems throughout their voyage and settlement. One of their two ships, the Speedwell, experienced a leak. This left only one remaining ship, the Mayflower, to leave England on September 6th. After a difficult journey across the Atlantic, the settlers wound up far north of their intended location in Virginia. Non-Separatists who traveled with them were angered over not landing farther south. In order to pacify them, the passengers signed the Mayflower Compact, which provided for a civil government in the new colony. They decided to stay in New England, where they established Plymouth Plantation. Immediately after their establishment, they experienced a brutal winter from 1620-1621 marked by food shortages and death.

Although cherished in American mythology, Plymouth Plantation had harsh beginnings.
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In 1617, clergyman John Robinson and layman William Brewster conceived a plan to settle in North America their congregation of Separatists, who had expatriated from England to Leiden. The ostensible purpose of this migration was religious liberty, but it should be noted that this was a highly circumscribed form of religious freedom, which applied only to themselves, who sought to purify the church. Robinson’s congregation agreed to plan, and they decided collectively to settle in Virginia. The Virginia Company approved this plan of settlement in 1617, which was followed by the tacit permission of King James I. However, factionalism within the Virginia Company forced the Separatists to look elsewhere for support.

They found such backing from Thomas Weston, an English investor, who supported the Separatists’ voyage in 1620, with royal approval to settle in modern-day New Jersey. Although the received this new support, most of Weston’s investment group was Puritan, not Separatist, which set the stage for future tensions with the settlers. Also, a number of Separatists expressed concerns over the dangers of the trans-Atlantic voyage. One half traveled with Brewster to North America, and the other half stayed behind in Leiden with Robinson.

The settlers planned initially to sail on two ships, the Mayflower and the Speedwell. However, they encountered problems with the latter ship, forcing 102 settlers to make the journey on the Mayflower; half of this group was Separatist. After a difficult journey across the Atlantic on the Mayflower, the settlers were blown off-course by autumn storms and wound up far north of their intended location in Virginia and actually landed in Cape Cod. Before disembarking and as a means of pacifying non-Separatists who were distressed over not landing farther south, the passengers signed the Mayflower Compact, which provided for a civil government in the new colony. Instead of attempting another journey, the Separatists sought and gained permission to stay in New England, where they established Plymouth Plantation.

The Separatists turned initially to William Bradford and the soldier Miles Standish to lead the colony through the first winter of 1620-1621, which was exceedingly harsh. Half of the hundred colonists who reached Plymouth died. In addition to fortifying the colony in 1622 to defend against feared Indian attacks, the Separatists sought from the outset to recreate their church in Leiden. However, this was very difficult since the colony had no ordained ministers; the non-Separatists investors made it difficult for John Robinson to migrate to Plymouth. Religious disputes between Puritans and Separatists emerged in 1624, which culminated in William Bradford (who served as Plymouth’s governor for 30 years and whose memoir, Of Plymouth Plantation, described the colony as a new Israel) exiling the leaders of the Puritan faction. This led the London investors to withdraw their financial support, leaving the Separatists solely in control of Plymouth in 1626.

The investment group then decided to settle a group of non-Separatist Puritans in a new Massachusetts Bay Colony. However, far from crushing the Plymouth Colony, the Separatists used this opportunity to reach out to the new Puritan settlers. The Plymouth colonists played an important role in influencing the Massachusetts colonists’ establishment of a church at Salem, and Bradford and other Separatist leaders worked to foster personal and religious contact between the colonies. The Plymouth group on Cape Cod merged with the much larger Puritan movement around Boston Harbor in 1691.

Religious Groups
Timeline Entries for the same religious group Congregationalists (UCC)
Congregationalists (UCC): Other ARDA Links


Landing at Plymouth- Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-3461

Plymouth Colony 1622- Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-4992

Signing the Mayflower Compact- Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-07842

Pilgrims public worship- US History Images

Plymouth Thanksgiving- LIbrary of Congress, LC-USZC4-4961
Book/Journal Source(s)
Navin, John, 2010. John Billington and His Family (c. 1582-1630): Doomed 'Knave' of Plymouth Plantation. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc..Notes: In Karen Racine and Beatriz G. Mamigonian, eds., The Human Tradition in the Atlantic World, 1500-1850: 13-26.)
Wachal, Barbara Schwarz, 2014. Bradford, William (1590-1657). Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.Notes: In Jeffrey H. Hacker, ed., Colonial Roots: Settlement to 1783: 18-20.)
Winship, Michael P., 2012. Godly Republicanism: Puritans, Pilgrims, and a City on a Hill. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Web Source(s)
The Plymouth Colony Archive Project
Web Page Contributor
William S. Cossen
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in History

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