The Pilgrims were a group of people from Babworth, East Retford, and Nottinghamshire, England who came together around 1600.
What brought them together?
An aversion to the Church of England. Lead by Parson Richard Clyfton, these Separatists thought the Church of England had lost its way, so much so that they believed the Church was beyond repair. (In contrast the Puritans, also unhappy with the Church of England, kept their membership and allegiance with the Church.)
The Pilgrims wanted a fresh start, but their desires were considerably problematic and dangerous. In England, it was illegal to attend any church other than the Church of England. Each missed Sunday and holy day brought about fines. Conducting services brought imprisonment and fines. Two other men of the time, Henry Barrowe and John Greenwood, who led other separatist groups were executed for sedition. Knowing that their very lives were in peril, the Pilgrims held secret church services at Scrooby manor house. However, it was obvious the group would have to leave England.
William Bradford later recorded in his book, “Of Plymouth Plantation”,
“They also found two of the Indian’s houses covered with mats, and some of their implements in them; but the people had run away and could not be seen. They also found more corn, and beans of various colours. These they brought away, intending to give them full satisfaction (repayment) when they should meet with any of them, – as about six months afterwards they did.
“And it is to be noted as a special providence of God, and a great mercy to this poor people, that they thus got seed to plant corn the next year, or they might have starved; for they had none, nor any likelihood of getting any, till too late for the planting season.”
Mayflower arrived in New England on November 11, 1620 after a voyage of 66 days. Although the Pilgrims had originally intended to settle near the Hudson River in New York, dangerous shoals and poor winds forced the ship to seek shelter at Cape Cod. Because it was so late in the year and travel around Cape Cod was proving difficult, the passengers decided not to sail further and to remain in New England. It was here, in Cape Cod Bay, that most of the adult men on the ship signed the document that we know as the Mayflower Compact. It laid the foundation for the community’s government.
Although they occasionally caught glimpses of Native People, it wasn’t until four months after their arrival that the colonists met and communicated with them. In March 1621, they made a treaty of mutual protection with the Pokanoket Wampanoag leader, Ousamequin (also known as Massasoit to the Pilgrims). The treaty had six points. Neither party would harm the other. If anything was stolen, it would be returned and the offending person returned to his own people for punishment. Both sides agreed to leave their weapons behind when meeting, and the two groups would serve as allies in times of war. Squanto, a Wampanoag man who had been taken captive by English sailors and lived for a time in London, came to live with the colonists and instructed them in growing Indian corn.
A pilgrim is a person who goes on a long journey often with a religious or moral purpose, and especially to a foreign land. After the Mayflower arrived, the first baby born was a boy. His parents (William and Susannah White) named him Peregrine – a word which means travelling from far away and also means pilgrim.
The Mayflower actually carried three distinct groups of passengers within the walls of its curving hull. About half were in fact Separatists, the people we now know as the Pilgrims. Another handful of those on board were sympathetic to the Separatist cause but weren’t actually part of that core group of dissidents. The remaining passengers were really just hired hands—laborers, soldiers and craftsmen of various stripes whose skills were required for both the transatlantic crossing and those vital first few months ashore. Community leader John Alden, for instance, was originally a cooper, brought along to make and repair barrels on board the ship. Myles Standish, who would eventually become the military leader of Plymouth Colony, was a soldier hired for protection against whatever natives the settlers might encounter.
The Puritans, who settled the region north of Plymouth, were known for their strict approach to how religion was practiced within their borders. The Pilgrims, on the other hand, never made any attempts to convert outsiders to their faith, including the Native Americans they encountered in America and the nonbelievers who’d joined them as laborers in England. Generally speaking, they didn’t even try to impose their unique observances on their friends and neighbors. For instance, while the Pilgrims themselves didn’t themselves Christmas, they didn’t stop others from taking the day off and celebrating it as they wished. They also allowed men who were not part of their faith to hold public office, and they apparently had no problem with the intermarriage of believers and nonbelievers. As a matter of fact, they didn’t consider marriage to be a religious matter at all, preferring instead to view it as a civil contract outside the church’s jurisdiction.
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