Plymouth Colony

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Plymouth Colony,

settlement made by the PilgrimsPilgrims,
in American history, the group of separatists and other individuals who were the founders of Plymouth Colony. The name Pilgrim Fathers is given to those members who made the first crossing on the Mayflower.
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 on the coast of Massachusetts in 1620.


Previous attempts at colonization in America (1606, 1607–8) by the Plymouth Company, chartered in 1606 along with the London Company (see Virginia CompanyVirginia Company,
name of two English colonizing companies, chartered by King James I in 1606. By the terms of the charter, the Virginia Company of London (see London Company) was given permission to plant a colony 100 mi (160 km) square between lat. 34°N and lat.
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), were unsuccessful and resulted in the company's inactivation for a number of years. In 1620 the Plymouth Company, reorganized as the Council for New England, secured a new charter from King James I, granting it all the territory from lat. 40° N to lat. 48° N and from sea to sea. Also in 1620 the Pilgrims, having secured a patent granting them colonization privileges in the territory of the London Company, left Leiden and proceeded to Southampton, where the MayflowerMayflower,
ship that in 1620 brought the Pilgrims from England to New England. She set out from Southampton in company with the Speedwell, the vessel that had borne some of the English separatists from the Netherlands back to England for the momentous voyage.
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 was fitting out for Virginia.

The Mayflower sailed from Plymouth, England, and in Nov., 1620, sighted the coast of Cape Cod instead of Virginia. In December, after five weeks spent in exploring the coast, the ship finally anchored in Plymouth harbor, and the Pilgrims established a settlement. As the patent from the London Company was invalid in New England, the Pilgrims drew up an agreement called the Mayflower CompactMayflower Compact,
in U.S. colonial history, an agreement providing for the temporary government of Plymouth Colony. The compact was signed (1620) on board the Mayflower
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, which pledged allegiance to the English king but established a form of government by the will of the majority. Patents were obtained from the Council for New England in 1621 and in 1630, but the Mayflower Compact remained the basis of the colony's government until union with Massachusetts Bay colony in 1691.

Early Years

During the first winter of the colony, about half of the settlers died from scurvy and exposure, but none of the survivors chose to return with the Mayflower to England. A little corn was raised in 1621, and in October of that year the settlers celebrated the first Thanksgiving DayThanksgiving Day,
national holiday in the United States commemorating the Pilgrims' celebration of the harvest reaped by the Plymouth Colony in 1621, after a winter of great starvation and privation. The celebration was probably held in October.
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. However, the arrival of more colonists necessitated half rations, and it was several years before the threat of famine passed.

John CarverCarver, John,
c.1576–1621, first governor of Plymouth Colony. A wealthy London merchant, in 1609 he emigrated to Holland, where he soon joined the Pilgrims at Leiden.
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, the first governor, died in 1621. William BradfordBradford, William,
1590–1657, governor of Plymouth Colony, b. Austerfield, Yorkshire, England. As a young man he joined the separatist congregation at Scrooby and in 1609 emigrated with others to Holland, where, at Leiden, he acquired a wide acquaintance with theological
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 then assumed the post and served, except for the five years he refused the position, until his death in 1657. A treaty made in 1621 with MassasoitMassasoit
, c.1580–1661, chief of the Wampanoag. He was also known as Ousamequin (spelled in various ways). One of the most powerful native rulers of New England, he went to Plymouth in 1621 and signed a treaty with the Pilgrims, which he faithfully, if warily, observed
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, chief of the Wampanoag, resulted in 50 years of peace with that tribe. The Narragansett tribe farther west was hostile, but Bradford averted trouble from that quarter. In 1623, Capt. Miles StandishStandish, Miles or Myles,
c.1584–1656, American colonist, b. England. After serving as a soldier for a number of years, Standish accompanied the Pilgrims to America on the Mayflower
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 marched against the Native Americans to the northwest, who were accused of plotting to exterminate the colonists settled at Weymouth by Thomas Weston. The Native Americans were gradually pushed back and deprived of their lands.

A communistic system of labor, adopted for seven years, was abandoned in 1623 by Bradford because it was retarding agriculture, and land was parceled out to each family. A well-managed fur trade enabled the colony to liquidate (1627) its debt to the London merchants who had backed the venture. The colony, which developed into a quasi-theocracy, expanded slowly due to the infertility of the land and the lack of a staple moneymaking crop.

Expansion and Merger

After several years the colonists could no longer be restrained from settling on the more productive land to the north, and settlements such as Duxbury and Scituate were founded. With the growth of additional towns, a representative system was introduced in 1638, using the town as a unit of government and establishing the General Court, along with the governor and his council, as the lawmaking body. By the time the colony joined the New England ConfederationNew England Confederation,
union for "mutual safety and welfare" formed in 1643 by representatives of the colonies of Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven.
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 in 1643, 10 towns had been established.

Plymouth suffered severely in King Philip's War (1675–76), and but for aid from the confederation might have been destroyed. The colony became part of the Dominion of New England under the governorship of Sir Edmund AndrosAndros, Sir Edmund
, 1637–1714, British colonial governor in America, b. Guernsey. As governor of New York (1674–81) he was bitterly criticized for his high-handed methods, and he was embroiled in disputes over boundaries and duties (see New Jersey), going so far as
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. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688–89 in England, the territory that had been under Andros's authority was reorganized, and Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, and Maine were joined (1691) in the royal colony of Massachusetts.


See N. B. Shurtleff and D. Pulsifer, ed., Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England (12 vol., 1855–61, repr. 1968); J. G. Palfrey, History of New England (5 vol., 1858–90, repr. 1966); L. G. Tyler, England in America, 1580–1652 (1904, repr. 1968); H. L. Osgood, The American Colonies in the Seventeenth Century (3 vol., 1904–7, repr. 1957); A. Lord, Plymouth and the Pilgrims (1920); J. T. Adams, The Founding of New England (1921, repr. 1963); C. M. Andrews, The Colonial Period of American History, Vol. I (1934, repr. 1964); G. F. Willison, Saints and Strangers (1945, rev. ed. 1965) and The Pilgrim Reader (1953); S. E. Morison, The Story of the Old Colony of New Plymouth (1956); J. Demos, Little Commonwealth (1970); J. and P. S. Deetz, The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony (2000); N. Philbrick, Mayflower (2006).