Plymouth Colony Facts for Kids

What is the Plymouth Colony?

A map of the Plymouth Colony with town locations.
  • Between 1620 to 1691 the English explorers formed a colony in America called the Plymouth Colony. It is sometimes spelled as Plimouth Colony. 
  • During the Age of Discovery, the Americas were found by European explorers and many European Powers wanted to establish their colonies there. 
  • The Americas were inhabited by the indigenous people who are today known as Native Americans.
  • The location where the Plymouth Colony settled is large in southeastern Massachusetts. It was surveyed by Captain John Smith. 
  • The settlers who founded the Plymouth Colony were Puritan Separatists, they are also known as the Brownists or the Pilgrims.
  • They opposed the influence of Roman Catholicism in England. They wanted the Church of England to become fully reformed and be more Protestant.  
  • After Jamestown in Virginia, the Plymouth Colony was the second English venture that became successful in America. 
  • The Chief of Wampanoag called Massasoit played a key role in successfully establishing a treaty between the settlers and the native tribes. A member of the Patuxet tribe called Squanto also helped them out. 
  • The colony was combined with the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691 after King Philip’s War. It was called the Province of Massachusetts Bay thereafter. 
  • Though the colony of Plymouth existed for a very short time, it has a very big influence on the History of America. 
  • A lot of American folklore contains the people and the events related to the Plymouth Colony. 
  • The Pilgrims were not seeking economic success like the other colonial settlers, they fled England to escape the religious atrocities inflicted on them by the English Crown. 
  • Their purpose behind moving to America was to be able to practice their faith as they preferred. 
  • Many of their social and legal systems were related to their religious practices and included several English customs. 
  • The American festival of Thanksgiving is rooted in the history of the Plymouth Colony. The Plymouth Rock marks the site where the Pilgrims disembarked from the Mayflower Voyage. 

Historical Context

  • William Bradford, an English Puritan Separatist from Northern England led the congregation of the Pilgrims. The group consisted of 40% single adults and 56% family units. 
  • While they lived in the English village of Scrooby in Nottinghamshire they had begun to face religious persecution from the Crown. Their homes were attacked and many of them were put behind bars by Archbishop Tobias Matthew in 1607. 
  • As a result, the congregation fled to the Netherlands to save themselves and their families. They first arrived in Amsterdam and then moved to Leiden. 
  • In the Netherlands, it was easy to practice their religion as they wished to but they faced many difficulties in assimilation as the Dutch culture was foreign to them.
  • Their village in England was mainly agricultural whereas their new home Leiden was primarily industrial based. 
  • They found that they could not keep up with the culture even though their children were able to learn the language and find jobs in the Dutch army. 
  • Their escape from England did not stop the English Crown from pursuing them in the Netherlands.
  • In 1618, William Brewster, another leader of the congregation, escaped arrest by the English authorities. 
  • They wanted to arrest him for his controversial writings against the Anglican Church and the King of England. 
  • This event spread fear among the Pilgrims and they decided to move far away from Europe. 
  • After speaking with several people, the Pilgrims were able to secure a land patent from the Plymouth Company in June 1619. Plymouth Company was a joint-stock company founded by James I of England. 
  • According to the patent, the place they were to move to lay at the mouth of the Hudson River and they borrowed money from the Merchant Adventurers to finance their transport. 
  • Though the Pilgrims had received an offer to live in New Netherland, they rejected it because they did not want to live according to the Dutch culture.

Difficulties on the Mayflower

Signing of the Mayflower Compact
  • After several difficulties in finalizing the contract, the Pilgrims finally set out for their journey on a ship called Speedwell in July 1620. 
  • Captain Reynolds would lead them till Southampton,  England where they would be met by Captain Christopher Jones on a ship called Mayflower.
  • The passengers included the congregation from Leiden and a group of people known as ‘the strangers’. 
  • The Merchant Adventurers had recruited ‘the strangers’ to help the colonists prepare for the journey and the founding of the colony. 
  • They included the colony’s military leader Myles Standish, the shipboard governor Christopher Martin, and a veteran called Stephen Hopkins. 
  • The other strangers were mainly indentured servants who would pay off the cost of the journey by working for free for a period of time. 
  • The people who became leaders of the Pilgrims were John Carver, William Bradford, Edward Winslow, Isaac Allerton, and William Brewster. William Brewster joined the congregation in Southampton after several months of hiding. 
  • The departure from Southampton was delayed for a few more days because the Merchant Adventurers and the settlers couldn’t agree on a few terms. 
  • Finally, on August 5 a total of 120 passengers were able to sail toward America on both ships. There were 90 passengers on Mayflower and 30 on Speedwell.
  • However, soon they were met with another difficulty in Dartmouth when the crew discovered a big leakage in Speedwell caused due to heavy masts. 
  • The crew began repairing the leakage and on 23 August when the winds were in their favor the ships sailed again only to return back to England due to another leakage in Speedwell. 
  • This time they anchored at the port of Plymouth where they discovered that the Speedwell was unfit for making the trans-Atlantic journey. 
  • As a result, many people dropped their plans of emigration while the others boarded the already crowded Mayflower.
  • The delays and the repairs cost the passengers a significant portion of their provisions. 
  • Plus the timing of departure meant that they would have to live on the ship during the winter months.

Read about The Mayflower Voyage

Arrival in America

  • On September 6, 1620, the Mayflower sailed toward the Americas with 132 passengers. The ship was only 106 foot-long which meant that the conditions on board were less than desirable. 
  •  The first month of sailing was relatively easy as the winds supported the journey of the Pilgrims, but soon the North Atlantic winds damaged the ship causing various water leaks. 
  • Many people got very sick on the Mayflower, the horrible living conditions worsened the sickness of William Button and he lost his life on the journey. 
  • The structural integrity of the ship was severely compromised when the main beam bent and cracked. 
  • On November 9 they saw the place where they were supposed to land but bad conditions forced them to change their plans and they decided to go to the North of Cape Cod instead. 
  • Finally, on November 11, the Mayflower landed at the Princetown Harbor.  Because the passengers did not have a patent to live in this area many of them complained about the legality of anchoring there. 
  • To solve this problem, the colonists wrote their first official document called the Mayflower Compact while they were still on board. 
  • The document was drafted by 41 Pilgrims and looked much like the church covenants that they used to create new congregations.
  • The passengers did not alight until 13 of November because they wanted to use the day before for prayer and worship as it was a Sunday. 
  • The passengers also promised each other that they shall only have just and equal laws to govern their new home. 
  • When they landed at Provincetown their first job was to put together the shallow draft boat they had brought along with them. 
  • While Captain Myles Standish and 16 other men went to look for food, Susanna White gave birth to Peregrine White. 
  • He went down in history as the first child born in the new world to the Pilgrims. 
  • When the boat was assembled, Christopher Jones and 34 other men went to explore the area but all they found was a Native American burial ground from where they stole the corn meant for the dead. 
  • When the colonists went out on the third expedition, they stumbled upon the Native Americans in what is called the First Encounter.
  • The meeting was not pleasant as the colonists had disturbed the graves of the Native Americans and fired shots at them. They were chased away by the Native Americans. 
  • They decided to leave Provincetown and headed for Plymouth Harbor. On December 16 they finally arrived at the designated location.
  • After several explorations, they finally decided to settle in a village that was recently abandoned. 
  • This location was suitable because the previous settlers had readied the land for agriculture and it had a good defensive position. 
  • There were two hills on either side of the settlement and freshwater was available at Town Brook and Billington Sea.
  • The name Plymouth was chosen because of the last port of departure and the Plymouth Rock was placed at the location where they first alighted.

First Thanksgiving

  • On December 23, 1620, work on building the settlement commenced. The winter of New England made the construction difficult, however, the first common houses were built within two weeks. 
  • The spaces for working and residence were built on Cole’s Hill while the structure for the cannon was placed on Fort Hill. 
  • Throughout the building phase, the settlers lived on the Mayflower which led to several diseases caused due to squalid conditions. 
  • About 45 out of the 102 settlers died as a result of diseases such as scurvy. They were buried on Cole’s Hill.
  • Therefore, only 11 out of the planned 19 structures were built initially.  Later in January, more structures were built to store the provisions from the Mayflower. 
  • Myles Standish was selected to play the role of the commanding officer while John Carver played the role of the first Governor. 
  • Even though the relationship with the Native Americans was tense in the beginning, they soon improved when Samoset, an English-speaking Abenaki Chief, made the first formal contact with the Pilgrims. 
  • He told them about the epidemic that had killed all the Native Americans called Patuxet who lived on the land the Pilgrims were beginning to settle on and promised to introduce them to important members of the Wampanoag tribe. 
  • Massasoit was the leader of the Wampanoag and Squanto was the only survivor of the epidemic. 
  • Though both of them were wary of the settlers due to previous bad experiences they agreed to meet the new Englishmen who had arrived in Plymouth.
  • When Governor Carver met Massasoit they decided to form a treaty to promise each other peace and goodwill. 
  • They also agreed that they will not harm each other and support one another if others waged a war. 
  • After the first harvest in November 1621, the Pilgrims held a feast which is today known as the First Thanksgiving. 
  • The 53 Pilgrims celebrated a three-day long feast with 90 men brought by Massasoit. They enjoyed a sumptuous meal consisting of waterfowls, turkeys, fish, and deer. 

Growth and End of the Plymouth Colony

  • After one year, the Merchant Adventurers sent 37 new people to Plymouth on a ship called Fortune. They did not arrive with many provisions because the Mayflower was sent back without any supplies.
  • To repay their debt the settlers loaded Fortune with enough goods to pay for their installment but it was robbed by the French causing even more debt for the Pilgrims. 
  • In 1623 two more ships called the Anne and Little James arrived with 96 more settlers. 
  • Many more ships brought new settlers to the Plymouth Colony between 1624 and 1630. The total number of settlers is estimated to be around 2000 by this time. 
  • As the settlers increased the colonies began to merge with other colonies such as the Massachusetts Bay Colony. 
  • By 1686 the whole region was brought under a single rule combining Plymouth Colony, Rhode Island Colony, Massachusetts Bay Colony, Connecticut Colony, and New Hampshire Colony. 
  • It was known as the Dominion of New England. By this time the Plymouth Colony had about 7000 settlers.