Women on the Mayflower
The Ship Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor
By William Halsall
The passengers on the ship Mayflower were the earliest permanent European settlers in New England. They were referred to as the "First Comers" and they lived in perilous times. With their religion oppressed by the British government and the Church of England, the small party of Separatists who comprised almost half of the passengers on the ship sought a life where they could practice their religion freely.
Freedom We Seek
On September 6, 1620, the ship Mayflower set off from Plymouth, England on its journey to the New World. There were 102 passengers, which included 41 English Separatists (who would become known as the Pilgrims), who were seeking a new life of religious freedom in America. The Separatists had obtained a Patent from the London Company, which indentured them into service for the Company for seven years after they arrived.
The Mayflower was a merchant ship made for carrying cargo like barrels of food or cloth, large pieces of wood and casks of wine. This cargo was stored in the lower decks of the ship in one large, open area with very low ceilings and no windows. A little water always leaked in, making it cold, damp and dark. This is where the 102 passengers lived for 66 days.
Seas of Horror
In October the ship Mayflower encountered a number of Atlantic storms that made the voyage treacherous. Several times, the seas were so rough they had to drift wherever the winds took them. It was not safe to use the sails. Men, women and children were crowded together below deck.
After two months, the crew of the Mayflower saw the shores of America, but they had been driven far off their course. The crew determined that they were at Cape Cod, an area already granted to the Plymouth Company. They had no legal right to settle there, and decided to sail southward to find the Hudson River, where they intended to establish their plantation.
Soon they found themselves in dangerous seas. Fearing their ship would be destroyed, they turned back. When they reached the shelter of Cape Cod harbor, they vowed to settle there, hoping they could make things right with the Plymouth Company later. They entered Cape Cod in the early morning of November 11, 1620 and anchored in what is now Provincetown Harbor.
The Mayflower Compact
Before going ashore, the Pilgrims held a meeting in the little cabin of the Mayflower and drew up rules for the government of the colony. Forty-one men signed the Mayflower Compact, which was modeled after a Separatist church covenant, and agreed to be bound by its laws:
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 England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, e&c.The Pilgrims decided to call their settlement Plymouth, the name of the last town they had seen in England. Then they all went ashore, choosing as a landing place a flat rock. Mary Chilton Winslow has the distinction of being the first woman to step foot on Plymouth Rock as the Pilgrims descended from the Mayflower.
Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the 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 into a civil Body Politick, 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 eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini, 1620.