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Who Were the Pilgrims?

The Pilgrims were a group of English people who came to America seeking religious freedom during the reign of King James I. After two attempts to leave England and move to Holland, a Separatist group was finally relocated to Amsterdam where they stayed for about one year. From there, the group moved to the town of Leiden, Holland, where they remained for about ten years, able to worship as they wished under lenient Dutch law.

Mayflower Ship IdentificationFearing their children were losing their English heritage and religious beliefs, the resumption of war and their inability as non-citizens to find decent jobs, a small group from the Leiden church made plans to settle in Northern Virginia – as New England was known at the time. In August 1620 the group sailed for Southampton, England, where other English colonists who hoped to make a new life in America met them.

They planned to make the crossing to America in two ships, the Speedwell and Mayflower. However, after many problems the Speedwell was forced to return to England where the group was reorganized. In their second attempt to cross the Atlantic, they boarded the Mayflower in September 1620 bound for the New World. They arrived as winter was settling in and endured significant hardships as they struggled to establish a successful colony at Plymouth.

Mayflower Children & the First New England Winter

There were a number of children among the passengers of the Mayflower. This was of great importance to the survival of Plymouth Colony. Many of the children had become accustomed to hard labor since they needed to work in Leiden to help support their families. As with many immigrant families in 17th century Holland, the Pilgrim Fathers were generally hired for the lowest paying occupations.

Pilgrim ChildrenWhen the struggling group of colonists faced the cruelties of the first New England winter with its illnesses and deaths, it was the children who many times stepped in to assist the adults. Undoubtedly, brave young souls were kept busy tending the sick, fetching firewood and water, helping to prepare food and doing whatever was necessary.

There were fewer deaths among the children that first cruel winter, which ultimately increased the chances of survival for the struggling colony.

Children on the Mayflower who left descendants with approximate ages:

Bartholomew Allerton (7)

Remember Allerton (5)

Francis Billington (14)

Love Brewster (13)

Mary Chilton (13)

John Cooke (13)

Mary Allerton (3) Cushman

Samuel Eaton (1)

Samuel Fuller (12) son of  Edward Fuller

Constance Hopkins (14)

Giles Hopkins (12)

Elinor More (8)

Jasper More (7)

Richard More (6)

Mary More (4)

Priscilla Mullins (17)

Joseph Rogers (17)

Elizabeth Tilley (13)

Peregrine White (born aboard)

Resolved White (5)

Mayflower Compact

The 1620 agreement (first called the Mayflower Compact in 1793) was a legal instrument that bound the Pilgrims together when they arrived in New England. The core members of the Pilgrims’ immigrant group were Separatists, members of a Puritan sect that had split from the Church of England, the only legal church in England at that time. Others in the group, however, had remained part of the Church of England, so not all of the Pilgrims shared the same religion.

Mayflower Compact PictureWhen the Pilgrims left England, they obtained permission from the King of England to settle on land further to the south near the mouth of the Hudson River (in present-day New York).  Because they chose to remain where they landed in New England, they needed a new permission (called a patent) to settle there. On November 11, 1620, needing to maintain order and establish a civil society while they waited for this new patent, the male passengers signed the Mayflower Compact.

In 1802, John Quincy Adams described the agreement as “the only instance in human history of that positive, original, social compact” and it is popularly believed to have influenced the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.


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 advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour 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 of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together in 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 hereunder 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. Anno Domini 1620.  (William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, ed. Samuel Morison, 75-6.)

The original document does not survive. It first appeared in Mourt’s Relation, a pamphlet about the first year of settlement at Plimoth. In 1669 Plymouth’s town historian, Nathaniel Morton, reprinted the agreement in his book, New England’s Memorial. Interestingly, he included a possible list of the men who signed it, even though these men’s names were not included in earlier copies of the Mayflower Compact. According to Morton, the document was signed by 41 of the male passengers – all but one of the freemen, three of the five hired men, and two of the nine servants.  (http://www.plimoth.org/learn/just-kids/homework-help/mayflower-and-mayflower-compact)