- Some people wanted to find religious freedom in the New World.
- One hundred of them sailed from England on the Mayflower.
- They landed on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, in November 1620.
- A group was sent out, and they landed at Plymouth Harbor, where they had found a place to live.
- These original settlers are called the Pilgrim Fathers or simply the Pilgrims.
During the Renaissance, England required its citizens to belong to the Church of England. People wanted religious freedom, and they thought they would find it in America. Keep reading to learn more pilgrims facts.
People wanted to be able to practice their religion freely, so many people left the Netherlands. The laws in the Netherlands were more flexible than where they came from.
After many years, they were afraid of losing their language and culture and decided to move to America and start a new life. These pilgrims got help from the Virginia Company and boarded the Mayflower in 1620 to go to America.
The Pilgrims Facts: First Trip to Holland
On a night in 1607, a group of people left the English village of Scrooby. They were going to live in another country. They took small boats. Francis Johnson led this Protestant congregation and passed them from one person to the next until they were all on board.
When these refugees left England, they were called Pilgrims. Today we know them as Separatists.
When the Pilgrims traveled, they felt fear and hope. They were afraid because the Reformation in England was tough. But they also hoped that in Holland, all would be well.
In Holland, people would have a chance to start new lives. They could worship their religion and not be killed for it. People who were not Anglicans and believed differently than the King was seen as a threat.
When the Separatists settled in Amsterdam, they met another group of English Separatists called the Ancient Brethren. This Protestant congregation was led by Francis Johnson.
The Pilgrims Facts: Puritans and Other Reformers
In the view of Pilgrims, the Church of England needed to simplify its rituals. The Catholic practices were too close, so they had to change them. They also wanted to reduce the influence of the church’s hierarchy and bring their teachings closer to New Testament principles.
Some of the pilgrims felt that having a king as head of the church and state was bad. It was an unhealthy concentration of power.
These people who wanted to reform the Church of England became known as Puritans. They wanted to make changes.
The more radical ones left the Church of England and became Separatists, who had their congregations. From these new congregations came many other types of Protestant denominations like Baptists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists.
Separatists wanted a different way of being religious. They did not want to have a middleman between them and God in the Bible. They hated bishops and archbishops because they were rich and corrupt. These separatists wanted to replace these bishops with people of their choosing.
Who were the Pilgrims?
Separatists were people who did not want to obey the king. They left in 1607. In the 17th century, they became known as Pilgrims.
The group of people was led by a group of pastors who were challenging the authority of the Church. They did this by starting congregations in areas around Scrooby.
Two of their members, William Brewster and William Bradford, would go on to have a significant influence over American history. They were leaders in the Plymouth colony.
The Plymouth colony turned out to become the first European settlement that was permanent in New England. It also became the first one to use a majority vote.
Captain John Smith and the Pilgrims
The Plymouth Colony and Jamestown are often told that they are not connected, but actually, they are. The pilgrims first asked Captain John Smith to be their guide before they left England.
Captain John Smith helped start Jamestown. He was in charge of it until he got hurt and had to go back home.
When he got better, Captain John Smith sailed to the New World and mapped it. He asked King James I for a name for a place where the pilgrims could finally settle.
After talking to Smith, the pilgrims decided that he was too expensive and that his character was too strong. They were afraid that he would come to dominate the group.
After they turned down Smith, the pilgrims invited Myles Standish to be their military consultant and guide. He had never been to North America before.
The only person on the ship who had any experience in the New World was Stephen Hopkins. Some years before, Stephen Hopkins left England on the ship the Sea Venture. He would be Richard Buck’s assistant, who was being sent as a priest to Jamestown.
The Sea Venture was wrecked. There was a terrible storm just off the coast of Bermuda Island. The Spanish explorer Juan de Bermudez had found Bermuda first.
Bermuda Island was not colonized because the people there heard strange sounds and saw weird things that were most likely tropical birds. They saw demons and witches. The islands were called the Isle of Devils because of this.
The Voyage Across the Atlantic Ocean
The Pilgrims left Leiden 12 years after they arrived in Holland. They finally left for America in July because there was a ship that would take them. They left quietly and landed in England on the south coast.
In England, they gathered supplies and proceeded to Plymouth before they sailed. They had two ships called the Speedwell and the Mayflower. The Speedwell was chosen because it would be steady on the water, and the Mayflower was converted into a ship that could hold many people’s things inside of it.
The ship, Speedwell, was not strong enough to make the long ocean voyage. They had to stop at Dartmouth in England.
More repairs were made on the ships. Then they set out at the end of August. Soon, the little Speedwell started leaking again.
Both ships had to stop at Plymouth, where some people who were not encouraged by this bad start to their adventure went back home to Leiden or London.
Who Was Aboard the Mayflower?
Some people moved to the Mayflower. The ship set sail for America with 102 people on board on September 6.
We know very little about these people who came to America. We don’t know what they look like or how many were on the journey.
Puritans did not wear black and white clothes. They wore colors like brown, green, and russet.
The Mayflower was battered by storms and one man got swept overboard. He held onto a rope until someone rescued him. Another man died from disease while they were on their voyage.
On November 9, 1620, the Mayflower saw the scrubby hills of Cape Cod. They traveled along the coast for two days and dropped anchor at today’s Provincetown Harbor in Massachusetts.
Offshore, on a ship, there were 41 people. The men signed a document called the Mayflower Compact. It made them an equal group with just laws so they could all be happy.
The Plymouth Colony
This agreement became the basis of the government in the Plymouth Colony. Many people today think that this agreement was what made America a democracy.
There were some heroes in the group that came to America. There was John Alden, Priscilla Mullins, and Standish. Also, there was the first European villain in New England. He was hanged for murder.
John Goodman’s two dogs, a mastiff, and spaniel, also bounded ashore.
Read more about the Plymouth Colony
The First Thanksgiving
The Pilgrims had to build homes and find food. It was winter. They had to make friends with Native Americans.
The Pilgrims had a harvest festival in 1621. That is called the first Thanksgiving.
Samoset and Squanto are two Native Americans who are in the story of the first Thanksgiving. They weren’t members of the Pokanoket tribe who would be so helpful to the Plymouth Colony.
Samoset was a prisoner. He was offered freedom if he acted as an envoy to the Plymouth Colony. When Samoset came, he greeted the colonists in English and introduced them to Squanto and Massasoit.
Squanto, a Native American, had been kidnapped by Thomas Hunt. He was taken to Spain to be sold into slavery. But he made his way to England and then back to North America in the company of Captain Thomas Dermer.
Squanto found his village had died from the plague. Dermer was attacked and driven off by the Native Americans. Massasoit took Squanto in as a prisoner or servant. Squanto helped interpret between Massasoit and English people that came to visit.
The first Thanksgiving meal was most likely wildfowl. The people who ate it probably had turkey, corn, beans, squash, fish, and lobster.
This Thanksgiving included berries and nuts for dessert. Beer, wine, and liquor were also served as drinks. There were no pies when the pilgrims did not have ovens. They had no butter or wheat for crusts.
The pilgrims and the Wampanoag lived together until after the death of the original colonists. Edward Winslow saved Massasoit’s life, and Massasoit helped one of the boys from the colony find his way back home.
William Brewster helped create Duxbury. He had helped create Plymouth Colony for people to live in. It was a place where he enforced the Bible’s rules. That could be difficult for people who disobeyed it.
People who came to America had many good qualities. They were honest, had integrity, worked hard, and were loyal.
Many people who had Mayflower ancestors would be forgotten. But some of them became famous in American culture and politics, for example, Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Orson Welles, and Marilyn Monroe.
P.S. If you enjoyed what you read and are a teacher or tutor needing resources for your students from kindergarten all the way up to high school senior (or even adults!), check out our partner sites KidsKonnect, SchoolHistory, and HelpTeaching for hundreds of facts, worksheets, activities, quizzes, courses, and more!