A Brief History
On November 11, 1620, while anchored in Provincetown Harbor (off Cape Cod), the male passengers of the Mayflower wrote and signed a document known as The Mayflower Compact. Of the 101 people aboard the ship, 41 men signed the famous pact. Known today as “Pilgrims,” the settlers aboard were actually in two main groups, the first group calling themselves “Saints” that were religious separatist Congregationalists and a group of tradesmen, adventurers and the like called “Strangers” by the separatists.
The religious crowd on the Mayflower was fleeing religious persecution in England because of their extreme beliefs (they were themselves quite intolerant). The idea was to sail to the Virginia colony and settle there, but with the sorry state of navigation and ships at that time, ended up in what is now Massachusetts, what became the Plymouth Colony. The Mayflower Compact in fact became the first governing document of the Plymouth Colony.
With provisions growing low, the settlers could not afford to waste time looking for their intended landing point in Virginia, and decided to stay put. The Mayflower Compact created a form of government under which they agreed to live, since they would not be under the laws of Virginia. Of course, given the era, women and children had no right to vote.
The Mayflower Compact was signed and dated under the old Julian Calendar, so there is about a 10 day variation from our modern Gregorian Calendar. This simple agreement among some of the first English settlers of what is now the United States has become an important part of our National Heritage. People that can trace their lineage back to those people aboard the Mayflower are often afforded a certain special place in modern American society, as if this ancestry somehow makes them special.
Unfortunately for History, no original copy of the Mayflower Compact exists today, and the best we have are 3 copies made 2, 3, and 46 years later. With the lack of modern reproduction machines, these copies were made by hand and differ from each other in minor ways. Below is a representation of the modern version:
In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc.
“Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.”(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayflower_Compact)
Below is a list of the signers of the Mayflower Compact
Question for students (and subscribers): Were any of your ancestors on the Mayflower? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Raum, Elizabeth. The Mayflower Compact (Documenting U.S. History). Heinemann, 2012.
Yero, Judith Lloyd. American Documents: The Mayflower Compact. National Geographic Children’s Books, 2006.