On this day in 1620 the Mayflower dropped anchor in what became known as Provincetown Harbor, at the northern end of Cape Cod Bay, marking the arrival of her passengers in America. Before disembarking to explore the new land they first drafted and signed what would become known as the Mayflower Compact, a document that historian Nathaniel Philbrick has argued provided “the basis for a secular government in America”.
The Mayflower was originally bound for the Colony of Virginia but inclement weather and hazerdous waters forced her to seek anchor at the hook of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Owning to a lack of provisions it was considered unwise to continue and that a colony should be established there. Because they would not be settling in the agreed-upon Virginia territory this inspired some of the non-Puritan passengers to proclaim that they "would use their own liberty; for none had power to command them". To prevent this, the Pilgrims determined to establish their own government, while still affirming their allegiance to the Crown of England. Thus, the Mayflower Compact was created, forming a social contract in which the settlers consented to follow the community's rules for the sake of order and survival.
The original document has long been lost, but three slightly different versions printed later in the 17th century still exist. A modern version of the wording goes as follows:
"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, &c. 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 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 do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, 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."
Forty-one of the Mayflower’s remaining 101 passengers signed the document. This was done on the 11th November under the Old Style Julian calendar, since England did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752. The modern date is November 21st.
Following the document’s signing the passengers disembarked onto the smaller of two boats that had been carried aboard and rowed to the shore where they would take their first steps into the New World. The second small boat, and the larger of the two, had been cut up into four and was stored below deck during the voyage and was yet to be assembled.
Sixteen men landed on the beach in Provincetown Harbour, where they fell on their knees and in the words of William Bradford:
“blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element”.
The landscape they found was similar to the Downs in Holland; hills of sand. It was an infertile land, with more trees than costal England or Holland and they found no people. They took back to the Mayflower freshy with sawed wood of red cedar and enjoyed perhaps for the first time since leaving England a warm fire. The days ahead would require more exploration of the land before they could start settling down and building their first homes.
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