With the second exploration of December 7th returning no possible site for settlement the passengers of the Mayflower discussed what to do next. It was agreed that they should sail south and explore the coast of Cape Cod Bay an. On December 16th, a group left on the shallop, which was piloted this time by Robert Coppin and John Clark, rather than Captain Jones. From amongst the Pilgrims were Bradford and Standish. By now the temperatures were below freezing and along with illness those onboard the Mayflower were suffering. On board the shallop the salt spray froze on their coats
On their journey the explorers once again spotted the elusive natives, who were working away at a beached bulbous-headed black whale. When they made their way ashore, they built themselves a barricade and a fire and settled down for the night. About four miles away they could see smoke from another fire.
With the new day some explored on land while others went along the coast in the shallop. Again, they found graves and empty native dwellings. That night the two groups met at a tidal creek (today known as Herring River) and again built themselves a circular barricade.
They posted guards who woke the group around midnight shouting “Arm! Arm!”. In the moment, some muskets were fired and then all went quiet. A sailor, whose name we do not know, but had visited the area before, helped ease the groups fear when he shared his experiences of similar noises of wolves and so the group went back to sleep. In the morning after they got ready and as they were taking their weapons and armour to the shallop they suddenly heard another “great and strange cry”; one of the group who had been in the woods came out shouting “Indians, Indians”. Then the air was full of arrows. Those who had guns nearby grabbed them and started shooting away. Standish was aware that ammunition was short and told the men to stop shooting until they could see their opponents. Meanwhile those whose guns were down by the shallop went to retrieve them. The natives took their chance and trapped them behind the boat. The skirmish between the two groups went on for a short while with the natives eventually withdrawing. The explorers followed for a short while and then returned, fortunately nobody had been hurt. And so, the First Encounter had taken place (the site is still known as First Encounter Beach in Eastham).
Once back onboard the shallop the explorers headed along the south coast of Cape Cod Bay, during which time the weather got worse. With the wind picking up and the temperatures around freezing they became drenched by the freezing horizontal sleet and salt spray. As they made their way along the coast a sudden wave hit them, tearing the rudder off the shallop. It took two men and a long oak oar to get the boat back under control. As night came it became harder to control the shallop and the news that their aimed for destination was in site, a place called Thievish Harbor, which is thought to actually be Plymouth Harbor, cheered them up. Then, another disaster, the mast broke into three pieces which had to be gathered up along with the sodden sail. They were now dependent on rowing and soon realised that they were drifting off course towards a wave pounded beech, which they had to avoid.
It was now getting dark and they came across what they would latter discover was an island. After some discussion they decided to land and make a big fire instead of stay on the boat, a decision that spared them a night on board the shallop which had been subject to a hard nights frost. They spent the next day, Saturday, on the island, which was named Clark Island, after John Clark, who had been the first to set foot on it. Over the next day they cut down the straightest tree they could find and made a spar to replace the splintered mast. With the next day being Sunday they rested as it was their sabbath.
They commenced their exploration on the Monday and found that the harbor would be suitable for ships the same size as the Mayflower. They explored the land in the area that is now Plymouth and found a site that had good water supply, fields that were cultivated and signs that there had been no recent native settlement. They had now found the site they would settle and so they headed back to the Mayflower with the good news. On their return William Bradford was met with the sad news that his wife Dorothy had slipped overboard and drowned and that night he went to sleep with mixed emotions.
As a post note, it has become legendary that the Pilgrims first stepped onto a rock, now known as Plymouth Rock, when they landed in the area on Monday. However, this was not recorded by those who were on the Mayflower and the first records appear from 1774. Since then, the rock has become an American symbol of the nation's founding.
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