The Pilgrims were a small group of British people in the early 1600s that intended on exploring the New World, which would come to be known as the Americas, nearly four hundred years ago. They felt oppressed by the majority for holding “different” religious beliefs, though their beliefs only differed slightly from the Catholic ruling body. In fact, they were Protestant worshipers who wanted to practice their religion separately from the majority. Unfortunately, their dissenting viewpoints led them straight to intolerance, persecution, and an ever-growing desire to leave England once-and-for-all. In 1620, the Pilgrims requested permission from King James to venture across the Atlantic Ocean to “the Americas.” King James granted their request with optimism that the Pilgrims would set up a colony in his name after exploring the New World. The Pilgrims planned to depart during the summer of that year, and hoped to avoid the ravaging sea and storms. They did depart from London that summer in two vessels; however, the smaller boat filled with water almost immediately. This forced the Pilgrims to return and set out to sea once again in a larger boat called the Mayflower.
The Mayflower, a large wood vessel, carried one hundred and two Pilgrims, including men, women, and children. It originally functioned as a cargo ship between England and several European countries. The Mayflower voyage consisted of twenty-five to thirty crew members who manned the ship. Itsdimensions paled in comparison to modern shipping standards; however, it was considered to be one of the largest ships of that era. Life on the Mayflower was difficult to endure: the food was cold, there were no bathrooms, and everybody had to rest in tight sleeping quarters. Imagine life on the Mayflower as uncomfortable and unsanitary as a prison cell. In addition, these people remained at sea for more than two months. Truly, the conditions on board yielded little privacy for women and children. Finally, the voyage came to an end in December of 1620 when the crew members spotted the shore. Although the Pilgrims planned to land near northern Virginia, a storm had thwarted their navigation as they neared land. The land they spotted was actually the shores of Cape Cod, an area located in Massachusetts. On December 21, 1620, the Pilgrims set their feet on land near Plymouth rock. The one hundred and two pilgrims made it to their destination with nearly no casualties. Only two men lost their lives while on their way to exploring the New World.
Upon arriving in America, the Pilgrims fell to their knees while thanking God for sparing their lives from the ferocious ocean and storm. They felt overwhelmed and full of joy; however, then reality started to sink in for the settlers. The Pilgrims had no shelter, stored food, or knowledge of the New World. They only knew the myths about its “cannibalistic” inhabitants. They endured a brutally cold winter, and felt almost hopeless while staring at the sea that separated them from “civilization.” They knew that England would not offer them help until the Mayflower returned. The ship’s captain felt eager to dump the colonists on shore. He also said he only brought enough food for the return back to England, which meant he would let the colonists starve.
Although the colony at Plymouth only existed from 1620 to 1691, it became one of the most important in the history of America. As the colony grew, it eventually encompassed the majority of what is now southern Massachusetts. Today the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts sits on the site where the Pilgrims founded this colony. It is truly a mark of the bravery and courage that led to what we now know as the United States of America.
Follow these links to learn more about the Mayflower Voyage:
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