HOW THEY SIGNED AN AGREEMENT
WHEN at last the Pilgrims really got under way for
America, it was in one small, poorly built ship,
which strained and cracked so badly in a fierce mid-ocean
storm that it would surely have gone to the bottom
if one of the passengers had not happened to have with him a big Dutch
screw which he had brought from Holland, and with which he screwed
together the pieces of the broken main beam. This rickety little ship was
called the Mayflower.
The Pilgrims had spent two good months in getting
started. It was not their fault, however. They had met with nothing but
disappointments and delays from the very
day they left Leyden.
They had sailed across to England in a good-for-
nothing craft called the Speedwell, which did not speed at all
well. When they reached Southampton they found that
their friends in England had
arranged with one of the trading syndicates—the London Company—to
assist the enterprise, and send over more colonists with them in another
ship, the Mayflower.
So the two little vessels sailed out of Southampton; 1but
the good-for-nothing Speedwell sprang a leak, and they had to
stop for repairs, only to break down again. At Plymouth, in southwestern
England, the Speedwell finally had to be abandoned. Here, too, a
number of the passengers, disgusted or frightened over the unlucky
start, gave up going, and those who were
determined to go on joined into one company, and
all went aboard the Mayflower, which
finally, on the i6th of September, 1620, sailed
out of Plymouth harbor, bound across the sea. The
real voyage had begun at last.
It was a long, rough autumn voyage of nearly two
months. The company on the Mayflower made up of those who did not
back out and would not lose heart, amounted to one
hundred and two persons,—men, women, and children. Although the Mayflower
was very nearly wrecked in mid-ocean, at last, on the 9th of November,
the wanderers sighted land. It was the long, low, flat, forest-fringed,
sandy shores of the outer or ocean side of Cape Cod, well up toward the
But no safe landing could be made on that
shoal-lined, dangerous beach. The captain did not dare to risk
a longer voyage to Virginia, so, after being almost ,cast away on
Pollack Rip, they rounded Cape Cod,— so named years before by Captain
Gosnold, because of the vast numbers of codfish he found there,— and
on the 11th of November they came to anchor in
what is now the harbor of
Provincetown. And here, like the God-fearing folk they were, they fell
upon their knees, so William Bradford tells us, and "blessed the
God of heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and
delivered them from all its perils and miseries." I suppose you
might call that 11th of November really the first Thanksgiving Day in
Long before the Mayflower reached
Cape Cod, however, Bradford and Brewster and the other real Pilgrims
discovered that a number of their fellow-passengers were not. Pilgrims
at all, but were men put on board as a speculation by the English
syndicate, which had hired them to go, or had given them free passage,
with the idea of making something out of them or their labor when they
at last got to work in America.
But when it was decided not to go to Virginia, but to
another part of the New World, these "servants" of the London
Company declared that their contract was broken, and that when they
landed they were free to do as they pleased. They even planned a mutiny.
It was clearly the duty of the Pilgrims to protect
themselves from these irresponsible associates; so Bradford and Brewster
and the responsible leaders talked things over, and for their own safety
determined to make an agreement to hold together and act together,
They did this by drawing up a paper, or
"compact," which they signed, and by signing
promised to live up to. That compact on the Mayflower
really established what is called a civil
government. It was government
by the act of the people, and is said to have been
the first paper or document of that sort ever made and signed by the
people, uniting together for self-protection and self-government.
It was the first step toward the later Declaration of
Independence which made the United States of America; and it should be
remembered that this compact was a Massachusetts production, drawn up
and signed in Massachusetts waters, in that landlocked harbor of
Province-town, on the 11th
of November, 1620.
And this was what was written and signed that day in
the cabin of the Mayflower by forty-one of the one hundred and
two Pilgrims—the best and wisest, the bravest, most reliable and most
determined men of that little company, headed by Bradford and Brewster
and Miles Standish and John Alden, and others of famous name and
"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 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 of one another, covenant and combine
ourselves together into 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, consti
tutions 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 reign of our sovereign lord King James, of England,
France, and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty—fourth,
Anno Domini, 1620."
After that paper had been thus signed, the men who
thus "covenanted and combined" had an
election, and voted to make one of their best men, John Carver, governor
of the colony for the first year. And there you have, in Massachusetts,
the first really American act in our history, —signing a constitution
and electing a governor, both by act of the people.
This was on Saturday. That very day a scouting party
of sixteen armed men landed to get firewood and to explore. But on
Sunday "they all rested,"—because it was
the Sabbath day,—a good Massachusetts custom,
again. The next day being Monday, they established still another
unchangeable Massachusetts custom: the Mayflower women had their
first wash day.
This was the
real landing of the Pilgrims! The women went on shore at Provincetown
with the accumulated "wash" of their respective families, and
had a grand "Monday wash."
This, as one student of history declares, was a
notable event, and quite as worthy to be celebrated as the storied
landing of the Pilgrims on Plymouth Rock. For, he says, that first wash
day at Provincetown, on
the 13th of November, 1620, was really the beginning
of English domestic life in America,—the introduction of family life
into a new land and a new home.
For this coming of the Pilgrims was no expedition of
adventure, no search for unknown cities, "rich in barbaric pearls
and gold," no restless hunt for vast riches. It was a real
"home hunt "—the beginning of a colony. The majority of that
company were women and children. If men alone had come in the Mayflower,
they probably would have gone off somewhere else or turned homeward
when they did not find the genial climate and delightful country that
Captain John Smith had reported, but, instead, a sandy waste swept by
chill winds from the north. Having women and children in their party to
protect and care for, they could not turn back. They simply
So Bradford and Miles Standish and others of the men—sixteen
in all—spent two days exploring the "
fist" of Cape Cod; and when they decided that
it was not the best place for a settlement, or even for winter quarters,
they left the Mayflower in Provincetown harbor, and, with a
strong party of thirty-four men, pulled across the bay in an open boat,
called a shallop. The captain of the Mayflower had charge of this
expedition by water, which landed at last in the very harbor which
Captain John Smith had visited and called Plymouth, the Indians had
called it "Accomac," and this the prospectors decided was the
best place for a settlement.
A month the Mayflower lay in Provincetown
harbor; then, acting on the report of this search expedition, the little
vessel pulled up anchor, hoisted sail, and tacked across the bay to
Plymouth. But while Bradford was away with the searching company, his
young wife was drowned in Provincetown harbor. So it was a sorry home
making for him.
When the Mayflower dropped anchor in Plymouth
harbor, a working party went ashore to put up a big house for the
colonists to live in. It was called the "Common House," and
was near the water. Then, as
fast as they could be cared for, a boat load at a time (one family or
more) was rowed ashore from the Mayflower and set up housekeeping
in the Common House.
This was the landing at Plymouth -not all at once, or
on the same day, but as soon as
each family could be accommodated
Some of them perhaps landed on Plymouth Rock. It was
about the only rock on the beach; in fact, it was
about the only rock anywhere on that sandy stretch
that Massachusetts people call the south shore. Scientific people say
that the rock itself was a "pilgrim," brought down to the
Plymouth beach by some glacier drift or iceberg in the far distant days
called the ice age.
It was not a very big rock, and it was probably
covered with water at high tide, but still, a boat load now and then may
have landed at Plymouth Rock.
Mary Chilton is said to have been the first woman to
step ashore, and John Alden, a young man of whom you have all heard, is
said to have helped Mary Chilton to step out on the rock. It was like
him to lend her a helping hand, for John Alden was a very courteous and
gentlemanly young man, so we will hope the story is true.