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Plymouth Colony (sometimes New Plymouth) was an English colonial venture in North America from 1620 to 1691. The first settlement was at New Plymouth, a location previously surveyed and named by Captain John Smith. The settlement, which served as the capital of the colony, is today the modern town of Plymouthmarker, Massachusettsmarker. At its height, Plymouth Colony occupied most of the southeastern portion of the modern state of Massachusettsmarker.

Founded by a group including separatists who later came to be known as the Pilgrim Fathers, Plymouth Colony was, along with Jamestown, Virginiamarker, one of the earliest successful colonies to be founded by the English in North America and the first sizable permanent English settlement in the New Englandmarker region. Aided by Squanto, a Native American of the Patuxetmarker people, the colony was able to establish a treaty with Chief Massasoit which helped to ensure the colony's success. The colony played a central role in King Philip's War, one of the earliest and bloodiest of the Indian Wars. Ultimately, the colony was annexed by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.

Despite the colony's relatively short history, Plymouth holds a special role in American history. Rather than being entrepreneurs like many of the settlers of Jamestown, the citizens of Plymouth were fleeing religious persecution and searching for a place to worship as they saw fit. The social and legal systems of the colony became closely tied to their religious beliefs, as well as English custom. Many of the people and events surrounding Plymouth Colony have become part of American folklore, including the North American tradition known as Thanksgiving and the monument known as Plymouth Rockmarker.



The village of Scrooby, England , home to the Pilgrims until 1607
Plymouth Colony was founded by a group of people who later came to be known as the "Pilgrims". The core group—roughly 40% of the adults and 56% of the family groupings—was part of a congregation of religious separatists led by pastor John Robinson, church elder William Brewster, and William Bradford. While still in the town of Scroobymarker in Nottinghamshiremarker, England, the congregation began to feel the pressures of religious persecution. During the Hampton Court Conference, King James I had declared the Puritans and Protestant Separatists to be undesirable and, in 1607 Tobias Matthew, Archbishop of York raided homes and imprisoned several members of the congregation. The congregation then left England and emigrated to the Netherlands, first to Amsterdammarker and then to Leidenmarker, in 1609.

In Leiden, the congregation found the freedom to worship as it chose, but Dutch society was unfamiliar to these immigrants. Scrooby had been an agricultural community, whereas Leiden was a thriving industrial center, and the pace of life was hard on the Pilgrims. Furthermore, though the community remained close-knit, their children began adopting Dutch language and customs. The Pilgrims were also still not free from the persecutions of the English Crown; in 1618, after William Brewster published comments highly critical of the King of England and the Anglican Church, English authorities came to Leiden to arrest him. Though Brewster escaped arrest, the events spurred the congregation to move even farther from England.Philbrick (2006), pp 16–18

In June 1619, after declining the opportunity to settle in New Netherland because of their desire to avoid the Dutch influence, the Pilgrims obtained a land patent from the London Virginia Company, allowing them to settle at the mouth of the Hudson River. They then sought financing through the Merchant Adventurers, a group of Puritan businessmen who viewed colonization as a means of both spreading their religion and making a profit. Upon arriving in America, the Pilgrims began working to repay their debts.Because of hardships experienced during the early years of the settlement, as well as corruption and mismanagement by their representatives, the debt was not actually paid off until 1648. Philbrick (2006), pp 19–20, 169

Using the financing secured from the Merchant Adventurers, the Pilgrims bought provisions and obtained passage on two ships, the Mayflower and the Speedwell. Though they had intended to leave early in 1620, difficulties in dealing with the Merchant Adventurers, including several changes in plans for the voyage and in financing, resulted in a delay of several months. The Pilgrims finally boarded the Speedwell in July 1620 from the Dutch port of Delfshavenmarker.

Mayflower voyage

The Mayflower arrived in Southampton, Englandmarker, to rendezvous with the Speedwell and to pick up supplies and additional passengers. Among the passengers to join the group in Southampton were several Pilgrims including William Brewster, who had been in hiding for the better part of a year, and a group of passengers known to the Pilgrims as "The Strangers". This group was largely made up of passengers recruited by the Merchant Adventurers to provide governance for the colony and additional hands to work for the colony's ventures. Among the Strangers were Myles Standish, who would be the colony's military leader, Christopher Martin, who had been designated by the Merchant Adventurers to act as Governor for the duration of the trans-Atlantic trip, and Stephen Hopkins, a veteran of a failed colonial venture that may have been the inspiration for Shakespeare's The Tempest.

"The Embarkation of the Pilgrims from Delfthaven in Holland" (1844) by Robert Walter Weir
The departure of the Mayflower and Speedwell for America was beset by delays. Further disagreements with the Merchant Adventurers held up the departure in Southampton. A total of 120 passengers, 90 on the Mayflower and 30 on the Speedwell, finally departed on August 15. Leaving Southampton, the Speedwell experienced significant leakage, which required the ships to immediately put in at Dartmouthmarker. After repairs were completed and a further delay ensued awaiting favorable winds, the two ships made it only two hundred miles beyond Land's Endmarker before another major leak in the Speedwell forced the expedition to return again to England, this time to the port of Plymouthmarker. The Speedwell was determined to be unseaworthy; some passengers abandoned their attempt to emigrate, while others joined the Mayflower, crowding the already heavily burdened ship. Later, it was speculated that the master of the Speedwell had intentionally sabotaged his ship to avoid having to make the treacherous trans-Atlantic voyage.

The Mayflower, carrying 102 settlers, left Plymouth on September 6, 1620, without the Speedwell, and sailed for the New World with a land patent allowing them to settle specifically at the mouth of the Hudson River. Of the seventy adult passengers on the Mayflower, only twenty-seven adults were Pilgrims. Forty-three of the adult passengers the Pilgrims called "Strangers." The forty-three strangers had no religious interest in the colony. The Strangers were personal servants, indentured servants, or adventurous pioneers. Their goal was to seek their fortune in the New World, not to find religious freedom.

The voyage took almost two months as it was drawn out by strong westerly winds and by the Gulf Stream. Turbulent seas and storms added to this delay. In one such episode, Pilgrim John Howland was thrown overboard, but managed to grab a topsail halyard that was trailing in the water and was hauled back aboard safely. Land was sighted on November 9 off the coast of Cape Codmarker. The Mayflower made an attempt to sail south to the designated landing site at the mouth of the Hudson but ran into trouble in the region of Pollack Rip, a shallow area of shoals between Cape Cod and Nantucket Islandmarker. With winter approaching and provisions running dangerously low, the passengers decided to return north and abandon their original landing plans.

The location in Cape Cod Bay settled by the Plymouth Colony was outside the territory of the London Company, which had granted its patent. The northern coastal territory had been granted to the Plymouth Company, but this patent fell into disuse after the failure of the Popham Colonymarker. It was reorganized under a sea-to-sea charter under the Plymouth Council for New England. The actual Plymouth Colony would obtain land patents from the Plymouth Council in 1621 and in 1630, but it was governed independently from the Council under the Mayflower Compact.

Prior exploration and settlements

Title page of Captain John Smith's 1616 work A Description of New England, the first text to use the name "New Plymouth" to describe the site of the future colony
The Pilgrims were not the first people in the area. Besides the indigenous Native American tribes, there had been nearly a century of exploration, fishing, and settlement by Europeans. John Cabot's discovery of Newfoundlandmarker in 1497 had laid the foundation for the extensive English claims over the east coast of North America. One of the earliest maps of New England, produced by cartographer Giacomo Gastaldi, erroneously identified Cape Bretonmarker with the Narragansett Baymarker; the resulting map completely omits most of the New England coast. European fishermen had been plying the waters off the New England coast for much of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Frenchman Samuel de Champlain had explored the area extensively in 1605. He had specifically explored Plymouth Harbormarker, which he called "Port St. Louis", and made an extensive and detailed map of it and the surrounding lands. Patuxet, the native village upon which the town of Plymouth would soon be built, was shown by Champlain as a thriving settlement. However, in 1617–1619, before the arrival of the Mayflower, smallpox and other diseases brought by English fishermen to the area had wiped out 90% of the Native Americans along the Massachusetts coast, including Patuxet.

Popham Colonymarker, also known as Fort St. George, was organized by the Plymouth Company (unrelated to Plymouth Colony) and founded in 1607. It was settled on the coast of Mainemarker and was beset by internal political struggles, sickness, and weather problems. It was abandoned in 1608.

Captain John Smith of Jamestown fame had explored the area in 1614 and is credited with naming the region of New England. He named many locations using approximations of Native American words. The future site of the Pilgrim's first settlement was originally named "Accomack" by Smith. In consultation with Prince Charles, son of King James, Smith changed "Accomack" to New Plymouth. A map published in his 1616 work A Description of New England clearly shows the site of the future Pilgrim settlement as named "New Plimouth".

In the Mayflower settlers' first explorations of Cape Cod, they came across evidence that Europeans had previously spent extensive time there. They discovered remains of a European fort and uncovered a grave that contained the remains of both an adult European male and a Native American child.

Landings at Provincetown and Plymouth

The Mayflower anchored at Provincetown Harbormarker on November 11, 1620. The Pilgrims did not have a patent to settle this area, thus some passengers began to question their right to land; they complained that there was no legal authority to establish a colony. In response to this, a group of colonists, still aboard the ship as it lay off-shore, drafted and ratified the first governing document of the colony, the Mayflower Compact, the intent of which was to establish a means of governing the colony. Though it did little more than confirm that the colony would be governed like any English town, it did serve the purpose of relieving the concerns of many of the settlers.

"Signing of the Mayflower Compact" ( ) by Edward Percy Moran
The group remained onboard the ship through the next day, a Sunday, for prayer and worship. The immigrants finally set foot on land at what would become Provincetownmarker on November 13. The first task was to rebuild a shallop, a shallow draft boat that had been built in England and disassembled for transport aboard the Mayflower. It would remain with the Pilgrims while the Mayflower returned to England. On November 15, Captain Myles Standish led a party of sixteen men on an exploratory mission, during which they robbed Native American graves and located a buried cache of Indian corn. The following week Susanna White gave birth to a son, Peregrine White, on the Mayflower. He was the first English child born to the Pilgrims in the New World. The shallop was finished on November 27, and using it, a second expedition was undertaken, under the direction of Mayflower master Christopher Jones. Thirty-four men went, but the expedition was beset by bad weather; the only positive result, from their perspective, was that they found the previously discovered cache of corn and raided it to provide for the colony. A third expedition along Cape Cod left on December 6; it resulted in a skirmish with local Native Americans known as the "First Encounter" near modern-day Eastham, Massachusettsmarker. Having failed to secure a proper site for their settlement, and fearing that they had angered the local Native Americans by robbing their corn stores and firing upon them, the colonists decided to look elsewhere; the Mayflower left Provincetown Harbor and set sail for Plymouth Harbor.

The Mayflower dropped anchor in Plymouth Harbor on December 17 and spent three days surveying for a settlement site. They rejected several sites, including one on Clark's Islandmarker and another at the mouth of the Jones Rivermarker, in favor of the site of a recently abandoned Native American settlement named Patuxet. The location was chosen largely for its defensive position; the settlement would be centered on two hills: Cole's Hill, where the village would be built, and Fort Hill, where a defensive cannon would be stationed. Also important in choosing the site, the prior Indian villagers had cleared much of the land, making agriculture relatively easy. Although there are no contemporary accounts to verify the legend, Plymouth Rockmarker is often hailed as the point where the colonists first set foot on their new homeland.

The area where the colonists settled had been identified as "New Plymouth" in maps by John Smith published in 1614. The colonists elected to retain the name for their own settlement—after their final point of departure from England: Plymouth, Devonmarker.

First winter

"The Landing of the Pilgrims" (1877) by Henry A.
December 21, 1620, the first landing party arrived at the site of what would become the settlement of Plymouthmarker. Plans to immediately begin building houses, however, were delayed by inclement weather until December 23. As the building progressed, twenty men always remained ashore for security purposes, while the rest of the work crews returned each night to the Mayflower. Women, children, and the infirm remained on board the Mayflower; many had not left the ship for six months. The first structure, a "common house" of wattle and daub, took two weeks to complete in the harsh New England winter. In the following weeks, the rest of the settlement slowly took shape. The living and working structures were built on the relatively flat top of Cole's Hill, and a wooden platform was constructed to support the cannon that would defend the settlement from nearby Fort Hill.

Many of the able-bodied men were too infirm to work, and some died of their illnesses. Thus, only seven residences (of a planned nineteen) and four common houses were constructed during the first winter.

During the first winter in the New World, the Mayflower colonists suffered greatly from diseases like scurvy, lack of shelter and general conditions onboard ship. 45 of the 102 emigrants died the first winter and were buried on Cole's Hillmarker. Additional deaths during the first year meant that only 53 people were alive in November 1621 to celebrate the first Thanksgiving. Of the 18 adult women, 13 died the first winter while another died in May. Only four adult women were left alive for the Thanksgiving.

By the end of January, enough of the settlement had been built to begin unloading provisions from the Mayflower. In mid-February, after several tense encounters with local Native Americans, the male residents of the settlement organized themselves into military orders; Myles Standish was designated as the commanding officer. By the end of the month, five cannons had been defensively positioned on Fort Hill. John Carver was elected governor to replace Governor Martin.

On March 16, 1621, the first formal contact with the Native Americans occurred. A Native American named Samoset, originally from Pemaquid Pointmarker in modern Mainemarker, walked boldly into the midst of the settlement and proclaimed, "Welcome, Englishmen!" He had learned some English from fishermen who worked off the coast of Maine and gave them a brief introduction to the region's history and geography. It was during this meeting that the Pilgrims found out that the previous residents of the Native American village, Patuxet, had probably died of smallpox. They also discovered that the supreme leader of the region was a Wampanoag Native American sachem (chief) by the name of Massasoit; and they learned of the existence of Squanto—also known by his full Massachusett name of Tisquantum—a Native American originally from Patuxet. Squanto had spent time in Europe and spoke English quite well. Samoset spent the night in Plymouth and agreed to arrange a meeting with some of Massasoit's men.

Massasoit and Squanto were apprehensive about the Pilgrims. In Massasoit's first contact with the English, several men of his tribe had been killed in an unprovoked attack by English sailors. He also knew of the Pilgrims' theft of the corn stores and grave robbing. Squanto had been abducted in 1614 by the English explorer Thomas Hunt and had spent five years in Europe, first as a slave for a group of Spanish monks, then in England. He had returned to New England in 1619, acting as a guide to the explorer Capt. Robert Gorges. Massasoit and his men had massacred the crew of the ship and had taken in Squanto.

Samoset returned to Plymouth on March 22 with a delegation from Massasoit that included Squanto; Massasoit joined them shortly thereafter. After an exchange of gifts, Massasoit and Governor Martin established a formal treaty of peace. This treaty ensured that each people would not bring harm to the other, that Massasoit would send his allies to make peaceful negotiations with Plymouth, and that they would come to each other's aid in a time of war.

On April 5, 1621, after being anchored for almost four months in Plymouth Harbormarker, the Mayflower set sail for England. Nearly half of the original 102 passengers died during the first winter. As William Bradford wrote, "of these one hundred persons who came over in this first ship together, the greatest half died in the general mortality, and most of them in two or three months' time". Several of the graves on Cole's Hill were uncovered in 1855; their bodies were disinterred and moved to a site near Plymouth Rock.

"First Thanksgiving"

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" (1914) By Jennie A.
The autumn celebration in late 1621 that has become known as "The First Thanksgiving" was not known as such to the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims did recognize a celebration known as a "Thanksgiving", which was a solemn ceremony of praise and thanks to God for a congregation's good fortune. The first such Thanksgiving as the Pilgrims would have called it did not occur until 1623, in response to the good news of the arrival of additional colonists and supplies. That event probably occurred in July and consisted of a full day of prayer and worship and probably very little revelry.

The event now commemorated by the United States at the end of November each year is more properly termed a "harvest festival". The festival was probably held in early October 1621 and was celebrated by the 53 surviving Pilgrims, along with Massasoit and 90 of his men. Three contemporary accounts of the event survive: Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford; Mourt's Relation probably written by Edward Winslow; and New England's Memorial penned by Plymouth Colony Secretary – and Bradford's nephew – Capt. Nathaniel Morton. The celebration lasted three days and featured a feast that included numerous types of waterfowl, wild turkeys and fish procured by the colonists, and five deer brought by the Native Americans.

Early relations with the Native Americans

After the departure of Massasoit and his men, Squanto remained in Plymouth to teach the Pilgrims how to survive in New England, for example using dead fish to fertilize the soil. Shortly after the departure of the Mayflower, Governor Carver suddenly died. William Bradford was elected to replace him and went on to lead the colony through much of its formative years.

As promised by Massasoit, numerous Native Americans arrived at Plymouth throughout the middle of 1621 with pledges of peace. On July 2, a party of Pilgrims, led by Edward Winslow (who later became the chief diplomat of the colony), set out to continue negotiations with the chief. The delegation also included Squanto, who acted as a translator. After traveling for several days, they arrived at Massasoit's capital, the village of Sowams near Narragansett Baymarker. After meals and an exchange of gifts, Massasoit agreed to an exclusive trading pact with the English (and thus the French, who were also frequent traders in the area, were no longer welcome). Squanto remained behind and traveled the area to establish trading relations with several tribes in the area.

In late July, a boy by the name of John Billington became lost for some time in the woods around the colony. It was reported he was found by the Nauset, the same group of Native Americans on Cape Cod from whom the Pilgrims had stolen corn seed the prior year upon their first explorations. The English organized a party to return Billington to Plymouth. The Pilgrims agreed to reimburse the Nauset for the stolen goods in return for the Billington boy. This negotiation did much to secure further peace with the Native Americans in the area.

During their dealings with the Nausets over the release of John Billington, the Pilgrims learned of troubles that Massasoit was experiencing. Massasoit, Squanto, and several other Wampanoags had been captured by Corbitant, sachem of the Narragansett tribe. A party of ten men, under the leadership of Myles Standish, set out to find and execute Corbitant. While hunting for Corbitant, they learned that Squanto had escaped and Massasoit was back in power. Several Native Americans had been injured by Standish and his men and were offered medical attention in Plymouth. Though they had failed to capture Corbitant, the show of force by Standish had garnered respect for the Pilgrims, and as a result nine of the most powerful sachems in the area, including Massasoit and Corbitant, signed a treaty in September that pledged their loyalty to King James.

In May 1622, a vessel named the Sparrow arrived carrying seven men from the Merchant Adventurers whose purpose was to seek out a site for a new settlement in the area. Two ships followed shortly thereafter carrying sixty settlers, all men. They spent July and August in Plymouth before moving north to settle in modern Weymouth, Massachusettsmarker at a settlement they named Wessagussettmarker. Though short-lived, the settlement of Wessagussett provided the spark for an event that would dramatically change the political landscape between the local Native American tribes and the English settlers. Responding to reports of a military threat to Wessagussett, Myles Standish organized a militia to defend Wessagussett. However, he found that there had been no attack. He therefore decided on a pre-emptive strike. In an event called "Standish's raid" by historian Nathaniel Philbrick, he lured two prominent Massachusett military leaders into a house at Wessagussett under the pretense of sharing a meal and making negotiations. Standish and his men then stabbed and killed the two unsuspecting Native Americans. The local sachem, named Obtakiest, was pursued by Standish and his men but escaped with three English prisoners from Wessagussett, who he then executed. Within a short time, Wessagussett was disbanded, and the survivors were integrated into the town of Plymouth.

Word quickly spread among the Native American tribes of Standish's attack; many Native Americans abandoned their villages and fled the area. As noted by Philbrick: "Standish's raid had irreparably damaged the human ecology of the region...It was some time before a new equilibrium came to the region." Edward Winslow, in his 1624 memoirs Good News from New England, reports that "they forsook their houses, running to and fro like men distracted, living in swamps and other desert places, and so brought manifold diseases amongst themselves, whereof very many are dead". Lacking the trade in furs provided by the local tribes, the Pilgrims lost their main source of income for paying off their debts to the Merchant Adventurers. Rather than strengthening their position, Standish's raid had disastrous consequences for the colony, as attested William Bradford, who in a letter to the Merchant Adventurers noted "[W]e had much damaged our trade, for there where we had [the] most skins the Indians are run away from their habitations..." The only positive effect of Standish's raid seemed to be the increased power of the Massasoit-led Wampanoag, the Pilgrims' closest ally in the region.

Growth of Plymouth

Historical populations
Date Population






almost 300
1643 approx.
1691 approx.
In November 1621, one year after the Pilgrims first set foot in New England, a second ship sent by the Merchant Adventurers arrived. Named the Fortune, it arrived with 37 new settlers for Plymouth. However, as the ship had arrived unexpectedly, and also without many supplies, the additional settlers put a strain on the resources of the colony. Among the passengers of the Fortune were several additional people of the original Leiden congregation, including William Brewster's son Jonathan, Edward Winslow's brother John, and Philip Delano (the family name was earlier "de la Noye") whose descendants include President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Fortune also carried a letter from the Merchant Adventurers chastising the colony for failure to return goods with the Mayflower that had been promised in return for their support. The Fortune began its return to England laden with £500 worth of goods, more than enough to keep the colonists on schedule for repayment of their debt, however the Fortune was captured by the French before she could deliver her cargo to England, creating an even larger deficit for the colony.

In July 1623, two more ships arrived, carrying 90 new settlers, among them Leideners, including William Bradford's future wife, Alice. Some of the settlers were unprepared for frontier life and returned to England the next year. In September 1623, another ship carrying settlers destined to refound the failed colony at Weymouth arrived and temporarily stayed at Plymouth. In March 1624, a ship bearing a few additional settlers and the first cattle arrived. A 1627 division of cattle lists 156 colonists divided into twelve lots of thirteen colonists each. Another ship also named the Mayflower arrived in August 1629 with 35 additional members of the Leiden congregation. Ships arrived throughout the period between 1629 and 1630 carrying new settlers; though the exact number is unknown, contemporary documents claimed that by January 1630 the colony had almost 300 people. In 1643 the colony had an estimated 600 males fit for military service, implying a total population of about 2,000. By 1690, on the eve of the dissolution of the colony, the estimated total population of Plymouth County, the most populous, was 3,055 people. It is estimated that the entire population of the colony at the point of its dissolution was around 7,000. For comparison it is estimated that between 1630 and 1640, a period known as the Great Migration, over 20,000 settlers had arrived in Massachusetts Bay Colony alone, and by 1678 the English population of all of New England was estimated to be in the range of 60,000. Despite the fact that Plymouth was the first colony in the region, by the time of its annexation it was much smaller than Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Military history

Myles Standish

From the beginning, Myles Standish was the military leader of Plymouth Colony. He organized and led the first party to set foot in New England, an exploratory expedition of Cape Cod upon arrival in Provincetown Harbor. On the third expedition, which he also led, Standish fired the first recorded shot by the Pilgrim settlers, in an event known as the First Encounter. When they finally arrived at Plymouth, it was Standish, with training in military engineering from the University of Leiden, who decided the defensive layout of the settlement. Standish also organized the able-bodied men into military orders in February of the first winter. During the second winter, he helped design and organize the construction of a large palisade wall surrounding the settlement. Standish lead two early military raids on Indian villages: the unsuccessful raid to find and punish Corbitant for his attempted coup; and the brutal massacre at Wessagussett called "Standish's raid". The former had the desired effect of gaining the respect of the local Indians, the latter only served to frighten and scatter them, resulting in loss of trade and income.

Pequot War

The first full scale war in New England was the Pequot War of 1637. The war's roots go back to 1632, when a dispute over control of the Connecticut River Valley near modern Hartford, Connecticutmarker arose between Dutch fur traders and Plymouth officials. Representatives from the Dutch East India Company and Plymouth Colony both had deeds that claimed they had rightfully purchased the land from the Pequot. A sort of land rush occurred as settlers from Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies tried to beat the Dutch in settling the area; the influx of English settlers also threatened the Pequot. Other confederations in the area, including the Narragansett and Mohegan, were the natural enemies of the Pequot and sided with the English. The event that sparked the start of formal hostilities was the capture of a boat and the murder of its captain, John Oldham, in 1636, an event blamed on allies of the Pequots. In April 1637, a raid on a Pequot village by John Endicott led to a retaliatory raid by Pequot warriors on the town of Wethersfield, Connecticutmarker where some 30 English settlers were killed. This led to a further retaliation, where a raid led by Captain John Underhill and Captain John Mason burned a Pequot village to the ground near modern Mystic, Connecticutmarker, killing 300 Pequots. Plymouth Colony had little to do with the actual fighting in the war.

When it appeared the war would resume, four of the New England colonies (Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, New Haven, and Plymouth) formed a defensive compact known as the United Colonies of New England. Edward Winslow, already known for his diplomatic skills, was the chief architect of the United Colonies. His experience in the United Provinces of the Netherlands during the Leiden years was key to organizing the confederation. John Adams later considered the United Colonies to be the prototype for the Articles of Confederation, which was the first attempt at a national government.

King Philip's War

Also known as Metacomet and other variations on that name, King Philip was the younger son of Massasoit, and the heir of Massasoit's position as sachem of the Pokanoket and supreme leader of the Wampanoag. He became sachem upon the sudden death of his older brother Wamsutta, also known as Alexander, in 1662.

The cause of the war stems from the increasing numbers of English colonists and their demand for land. As more land was purchased from the Native Americans, they were restricted to smaller territories for themselves. Native American leaders such as King Philip resented the loss of land and looked for a means to slow or reverse it. Of specific concern was the founding of the town of Swanseamarker, which was located only a few miles from the Wampanoag capital at Mount Hope. The General Court of Plymouth began using military force to coerce the sale of Wampanoag land to the settlers of the town.

The proximate cause of the conflict was the death of a Praying Indian named John Sassamon in 1675. Sassamon had been an advisor and friend to King Philip; however Sassamon's conversion to Christianity had driven the two apart. Accused in the murder of Sassamon were some of Philip's most senior lieutenants. A jury of twelve Englishmen and six Praying Indians found the Native Americans guilty of murder and sentenced them to death. To this day, some debate exists whether King Philip's men actually committed the murder.

Philip had already begun war preparations at his home base near Mount Hope where he started raiding English farms and pillaging their property. In response, Governor Josiah Winslow called out the militia, and they organized and began to move on Philip's position.King Philip's men attacked unarmed women and children in order to receive a ransom. One such attack resulted in the capture of Mary Rowlandson. The memoirs of her capture provided historians with much information on Native American culture during this time period.

The war continued through the rest of 1675 and into the next year. The English were constantly frustrated by the Native American's refusal to meet them in pitched battle. They employed a form of guerilla warfare that confounded the English. Captain Benjamin Church continuously campaigned to enlist the help of friendly Native Americans to help learn how to fight on an even footing with Philip's troops, but he was constantly rebuffed by the Plymouth leadership who mistrusted all Native Americans, thinking them potential enemies. Eventually, Governor Winslow and Plymouth military commander Major William Bradford (son of the late Governor William Bradford) relented and gave Church permission to organize a combined force of English and Native Americans. After securing the alliance of the Sakonnet, he led his combined force in pursuit of Philip, who had thus far avoided any major battles in the war that bears his name. Throughout July 1676, Church's band would capture hundreds of Native American troops, often without much of a fight, though Philip eluded him. After Church was given permission to grant amnesty to any captured Native Americans who would agree to join the English side, his force grew immensely. Philip was killed by a Pocasset Indian; the war soon ended as an overwhelming English victory.

Eight percent of the English adult male population is estimated to have died during the war, a rather large percentage by most standards. The impact on the Native Americans was far higher, however. So many were killed, fled, or shipped off as slaves that the entire Native American population of New England fell by sixty to eighty percent.

Final years

In 1686, the entire region was reorganized under a single government known as the Dominion of New England; this included the colonies of Plymouth, Rhode Island, Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. In 1688 New York, West Jersey, and East Jersey were added. The President of the Dominion, Edmund Andros, was highly unpopular, and the union did not last. Plymouth Colony revolted and withdrew from the Dominion in April 1688; the entire union was dissolved during the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

The return of self-rule for Plymouth Colony was short-lived, however. A delegation of New Englanders, led by Increase Mather, went to England to negotiate for a return of the colonial charters that had been nullified during the Dominion years. The situation was particularly problematic for Plymouth Colony, as it had existed without a formal charter since its founding. Plymouth did not get their wish for a formal charter; instead a new charter was issued, annexing Plymouth Colony to Massachusetts Bay Colony. The official date of the proclamation ending the existence of Plymouth Colony was October 17, 1691, though it was not put into force until the arrival of the new charter on May 14, 1692, carried by William Phips. The last official meeting of the Plymouth General Court occurred on June 8, 1692.

Social life


John Robinson memorial, placed outside of St. Peter's Church in Leiden
most important religious figure in the colony was John Robinson, the original pastor of the Scrooby congregation and religious leader of the separatists throughout the Leiden years. Though he never actually set foot in New England, many of his theological pronouncements shaped the nature and character of the Plymouth church. For example, Robinson stated that women and men have different social roles according to the law of nature, though neither was lesser in the eyes of God. However, Robinson frequently assigned inferior characteristics to the feminine roles. He referred to them as the "weaker vessel". In matters of religious understanding, he proclaimed that it was the man's role to educate and "guide and go before" women. He also noted that women should be "subject" to their husbands. Robinson also dictated the proper methods of child rearing—he prescribed a strict upbringing with a strong emphasis on corporal punishment. He believed that a child's natural inclination towards independence was a manifestation of original sin and should thus be repressed.

The Pilgrims themselves were a subset of an English religious movement known as Puritanism, which sought to "purify" the Anglican Church of its secular trappings. The movement sought to return the church to a more primitive state and to practice Christianity as was done by the earliest Church Fathers. Puritans believed that the Bible was the only true source of religious teaching and that any additions made to Christianity, especially with regard to church traditions, had no place in Christian practice. The Pilgrims distinguished themselves from the Puritans in that they sought to "separate" themselves from the Anglican Church, rather than reform it from within. It was this desire to worship from outside of the Anglican Communion that led them first to the Netherlands and ultimately to New England.

Each town in Plymouth colony was considered a single church congregation; in later years some of the larger towns split into two or three congregations. While church attendance was mandatory for all residents of the colony, church membership was restricted to those who received God's grace through personal conversion. In Plymouth Colony, it seems that a simple profession of faith was all that was required for acceptance. This was a more liberal doctrine than some other Puritan congregations, such as those of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where it was common to subject those seeking formal membership to strict and detailed cross-examinations. There was no central governing body for the churches. Each individual congregation was left to determine its own standards of membership, hire its own ministers, and conduct its own business.

The church was undoubtedly the most important social institution in the colony. Not only was the Bible the primary religious document of the society, but it also served as the primary legal document as well. Church attendance was not only mandatory, but membership was socially vital. Education was carried out for almost purely religious purposes. The laws of the colony specifically asked parents to provide for the education of their children, to "at least to be able duly to read the Scriptures" and to understand "the main Grounds and Principles of Christian Religion." It was expected that the male head of the household be responsible for the religious well-being of all its members, children and servants alike.

Most churches utilized two acts to sanction its members: censure and excommunication. Censure was a formal reprimand for behavior that did not conform with accepted religious and social norms, while excommunication involved full removal from church membership. Many perceived social evils, from fornication to public drunkenness, were dealt with through church discipline rather than through civil punishment. Church sanctions seldom held official recognition outside church membership and seldom resulted in civil or criminal proceedings. Nevertheless, such sanctions were a powerful tool of social control.

The Pilgrims practiced infant baptism. The public baptism ceremony was usually performed within six months of birth.

Marriage was considered a civil, rather than religious ceremony. Such an arrangement may have been a habit that had developed during the Leiden years, as civil marriage was common in the Netherlands. However, the Pilgrims saw this arrangement as biblical, there being no evidence from Scripture that a minister should preside over a wedding.

Besides the Puritan theology espoused by their religious leaders, the people of Plymouth Colony had a strong belief in the supernatural. Richard Greenham, a Puritan theologian whose works were known to the Plymouth residents, counseled extensively against turning to magic or wizardry to solve problems. The Pilgrims saw Satan's work in nearly every calamity that befell them; the dark magical arts were very real and present for them. They believed in the presence of malevolent spirits who brought misfortune to people. For example, in 1660, a court inquest into the drowning death of Jeremiah Burroughs determined that a possessed canoe was to blame.While Massachusetts Bay Colony experienced an outbreak of witchcraft scares in the 17th century, there is little evidence that Plymouth was engulfed in anything similar. While witchcraft was listed as a capital crime in the 1636 codification of the laws by the Plymouth General Court, there were no actual convictions of witches in Plymouth Colony. The court records only show two formal accusations of witchcraft. The first, of Goodwife Holmes in 1661, never went to trial. The second, of Mary Ingram in 1677, resulted in trial and acquittal.

Marriage and family life

Edward Winslow and Susanna White, each of who lost their spouses during the harsh winter of 1620–1621, became the first couple to be married in Plymouth. Governor Bradford presided over the civil ceremony.

Marriage was considered the normal state for all adult residents of the colony. Most men first married in their mid-twenties and women around age 20. Second marriages were not uncommon, and widows and widowers faced social and economic pressures to remarry. On average, most widows and widowers remarried within six months to a year. As most adults who reached marriageable age often lived into their sixties, two-thirds of a person's life was spent married.

Within the confines of marriage, women and men were not considered equal from either a legal or social standpoint. However, it should be noted that, compared to 17th century European norms, women in Plymouth Colony had more extensive legal and social rights. From the perspective of the Church, women were considered equal to men before God. The entire family worshiped together and God's grace was available equally to all professed Christians. Women were, however, expected to take traditionally feminine roles, such as child-rearing and maintaining the household, in Puritan families.

Unlike in Europe, where women had few rights, Plymouth women enjoyed extensive property and legal rights. Widows in Plymouth could not be legally "written out" of her husband's will and were guaranteed a full third of the family's property upon his death. Women were parties to contracts in Plymouth; most notably prenuptial agreements. It was common for brides-to-be (and not, notably, their fathers) to enter into contractual agreements on the consolidation of property upon marriage. In some cases, especially in second marriages, women were given exclusive right to retain control of their property separately from their husbands. Women were also known to occasionally sit on juries in Plymouth, a remarkable circumstance in seventeenth century legal practice. Historians James and Patricia Scott Deetz cite a 1678 inquest into the death of Anne Batson's child, where the jury was composed of five women and seven men.

Family size in the colony was large by modern American standards, though childbirth was often spaced out, with an average of two years between children. Most families averaged five to six children living under the same roof, though it would not be uncommon for one family to have grown children moving out before the mother had finished giving birth. Mortality rates were high for both mother and child; one birth in thirty resulted in the death of the mother, resulting in one in five women dying in childbirth. Infant mortality rates were high, with 12% of children dying before their first birthday. By comparison, the infant mortality rate for the United States in 1995 was 0.76%.

The nuclear family was the most common familial structure in the colony, and while close relatives may have lived nearby, it was expected that upon reaching the age of maturity, older children would move out and establish their own households. In addition to parents and birth children living in the same household, many families took in children from other families or hired indentured servants. Some of the more wealthy families owned slaves.

Childhood, adolescence, and education

Children generally remained in the direct care of their mothers until the age of about eight years old, after which time it was not uncommon for the child to be placed in the foster care of another family. There were any number of reasons for a child to be "put-out" in this manner. Some children were placed into households to learn a trade, others to be taught to read and write. It seems that there was, as with almost every decision in the colony, a theological reason for fostering children. It was assumed that a child's own parents would love them too much and would not properly discipline them. By placing a child in the care of another family, there was little danger of a child being spoiled.

Adolescence was not a recognized phase of life in Plymouth colony, and there was not a single rite of passage that marked transition from youth to adulthood. Several important transitions occurred at various ages, but none marked a single "coming of age" event. As early as eight years old, children were expected to begin learning their adult roles in life, by taking on some of the family work or by being placed in foster homes to learn a trade. Most children experienced religious conversion around the age of eight as well, thus becoming church members.Orphaned children were given the right to choose their own guardians at age 14. At 16, males became eligible for military duty and were also considered adults for legal purposes, such as standing trial for crimes. Age 21 was the youngest at which a male could become a freeman, though for practical purposes this occurred sometime in a man's mid-twenties. Though 21 was the assumed age of inheritance as well, the law respected the rights of the deceased to name an earlier age in his will.

Actual schools were rare in Plymouth colony. The first true school was not founded until 40 years after the foundation of the colony. The General Court first authorized colony-wide funding for formal public schooling in 1673, but only one town, Plymouth, made use of these funds at that time. By 1683, though, five additional towns had received this funding.

Education of the young was never considered to be the primary domain of schools, even after they had become more common. Most education was carried out by a child's parents or foster parents. While formal apprenticeships were not the norm in Plymouth, it was expected that a foster family would teach the children whatever trades they themselves practiced. The church also played a central role in a child's education. As noted above, the primary purpose of teaching a child to read was so that they could read the Bible for themselves.

Government and laws


Plymouth Colony did not have a royal charter authorizing it to form a government. Still, some means of governance was needed; the Mayflower Compact, signed by the 41 able-bodied men aboard the Mayflower upon their arrival in Provincetown Harbor on November 21, 1620, was the colony's first governing document. Formal laws were not codified until 1636. The colony's laws were based on a hybrid of English common law and religious law as laid out in the Bible.

The colony offered nearly all adult males potential citizenship in the colony. Full citizens, or "freemen," were accorded full rights and privileges in areas such as voting and holding office. To be considered a freeman, adult males had to be sponsored by an existing freeman and accepted by the General Court. Later restrictions established a one-year waiting period between nominating and granting of freeman status and also placed religious restrictions on the colony's citizens, specifically preventing Quakers from becoming freemen. Freeman status was also restricted by age; while the official minimum age was 21, in practice most men were elevated to freeman status between the ages of 25 and 40, averaging somewhere in their early thirties.

Governors of Plymouth Colony
Dates Governor
1620 John Carver
1621–1632 William Bradford
1633 Edward Winslow
1634 Thomas Prence
1635 William Bradford
1636 Edward Winslow
1637 William Bradford
1638 Thomas Prence
1639–1643 William Bradford
1644 Edward Winslow
1645–1656 William Bradford
1657–1672 Thomas Prence
1673–1679 Josiah Winslow
1680–1692 Thomas Hinckley
The colony's most powerful executive was its Governor, who was originally elected by the freemen, but was later appointed by the General Court in an annual election. The General Court also elected seven "Assistants" to form a cabinet to assist the governor. The Governor and Assistants then appointed "Constables" who served as the chief administrators for the towns and "Messengers" who were the main civil servants of the colony. They were responsible for publishing announcements, performing land surveys, carrying out executions, and a host of other duties.

The General Court was both the chief legislative and judicial body of the colony. It was elected by the freemen from among their own number and met regularly in Plymouth, the capital town of the colony. As part of its judicial duties, it would periodically call a "Grand Enquest", which was a grand jury of sorts, elected from the freemen, who would hear complaints and swear out indictments for credible accusations. The General Court, and later lesser town and county courts, would preside over trials of accused criminals and over civil matters, but the ultimate decisions were made by a jury of freemen.


As a legislative body, the General Court could make proclamations of law as needed. In the early years of the colony, these laws were not formally compiled anywhere. In 1636 these laws were first organized and published in the 1636 Book of Laws. The book was reissued in 1658, 1672, and 1685. Among these laws included the levying of "rates", or taxes, and the distribution of colony lands. The General Court established townships as a means of providing local government over settlements, but reserved for itself the right to control specific distribution of land to individuals within those towns. When new land was granted to a freeman, it was directed that only the person to whom the land was granted was allowed to settle it. It was forbidden for individual settlers to purchase land from Native Americans without formal permission from the General Court. The government recognized the precarious peace that existed with the Wampanoag, and wished to avoid antagonizing them by buying up all of their land.

The laws also set out crimes and their associated punishments. There were several crimes that mandated the death penalty: treason, murder, witchcraft, arson, sodomy, rape, bestiality, adultery, and cursing or smiting one's parents. The actual exercise of the death penalty was fairly rare; only one sex-related crime, a 1642 incidence of bestiality by Thomas Granger, resulted in execution. One person, Edward Bumpus, was sentenced to death for "striking and abusing his parents" in 1679, but his sentence was commuted to a severe whipping by reason of insanity. Perhaps the most notable use of the death penalty was in the execution of the Native Americans convicted of the murder of John Sassamon; this helped lead to King Philip's War. Though nominally a capital crime, adultery was usually dealt with by public humiliation only. Convicted adulterers were often forced to wear the letters "A.D." sewn into their garments, much in the manner of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter.

Several laws dealt with indentured servitude, a legal status whereby a person would work off debts or be given training in exchange for a period of unrecompensed service. The law required that all indentured servants had to be registered by the Governor or one of the Assistants, and that no period of indenture could be less than six months. Further laws forbade a master from shortening the length of time of service required for his servant, and also confirmed that any indentured servants whose period of service began in England would still be required to complete their service while in Plymouth.

Official Seal

Still used by the town of Plymouth, the seal of the Plymouth Colony was designed in 1629. It depicts four figures within a shield bearing St George's Cross, apparently in Native-American style clothing, each carrying the burning heart symbol of John Calvin. The seal was also used by the County of Plymouth until 1931.



Without a clear land patent for the area, the settlers settled without a charter to form a government, and as a result, it was often unclear in the early years what land was under the colony's jurisdiction. In 1644, "The Old Colony Line"—which had been surveyed in 1639—was formally accepted as the boundary between Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth.

situation was more complicated along the border with Rhode Island. Roger Williams in 1636 settled in the area of Rehobothmarker, near modern Pawtucketmarker. He was forcibly evicted in order to maintain Plymouth's claim to the area. Williams would move to the west side of the Pawtucket River to found the settlement of Providencemarker, the nucleus for the colony of Rhode Island, which was formally established with the "Providence Plantations Patent" of 1644. As various settlers from both Rhode Island and Plymouth began to settle along the area, the exact nature of the western boundary of Plymouth became more unclear. The issue was not fully resolved until the 1740s, long after the dissolution of Plymouth Colony itself. Rhode Island had received a patent for the area in 1693, which had been disputed by Massachusetts Bay Colony. Rhode Island successfully defended the patent, and in 1746, a royal decree transferred the land along the eastern shore of the Narragansett Bay to Rhode Island, including the mainland portion of Newport Countymarker and all of modern Bristol Countymarker, Rhode Islandmarker. The border itself would still be contested by Massachusetts, first as a colony and later as a state until as late as 1898, when the boundary was settled and ratified by both states.

Counties and towns

1890 Map of Barnstable County, Massachusetts showing the location and dates of incorporation of towns
Plymouth Colony was not formally divided into counties until June 2, 1685, during the reorganization that would lead to the formation of the Dominion of New England. Three counties were formed, composed of the following towns:

Barnstable Countymarker on Cape Cod:
* Barnstablemarker, the shire town (county seat) of the county, first settled in 1639 and incorporated 1650.
* Easthammarker, site of the "First Encounter", first settled 1644 and incorporated as the town of Nauset in 1646, name changed to Eastham in 1651.
* Falmouthmarker, first settled in 1661, and incorporated as Succonesset in 1686.
* Rochestermarker, settled 1638, incorporated 1686.
* Sandwichmarker, first settled in 1637 and incorporated in 1639.
* Yarmouthmarker, incorporated 1639.
Bristol Countymarker along the shores of Buzzards Baymarker and Narragansett Baymarker, part of this county would later be ceded to Rhode Island:
* Tauntonmarker, the shire town of the county, incorporated 1639.
* Bristolmarker, incorporated 1680 and included the former locations of Sowams and Montaup (Mount Hope), which were Massasoit's and King Philip's capitals, respectively. Ceded to Rhode Island in 1746 and is now part of Bristol County, Rhode Island.
* Dartmouthmarker, incorporated 1664. Dartmouth was the site of a significant massacre by the Indian forces during King Philip's War. It was also the location of a surrender of a group of some 160 of Philip's forces who were later sold into slavery.
* Freetownmarker, incorporated 1683, originally known as "Freemen's Land" by its first settlers.
*Little Comptonmarker, incorporated as Sakonnet in 1682, ceded to Rhode Island in 1746 and is now part of Newport County, Rhode Island.
* Rehobothmarker, first settled 1644 and incorporated 1645. Nearby to, but distinct from the Rehoboth settlement of Roger Williams, which is now the town of Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
* Swanseamarker, founded as the township of Wannamoiset in 1667, incorporated as town of Swansea in 1668. It was here that the first English casualty of King Philip's War occurred.
Plymouth Countymarker, located along the western shores of Cape Cod Baymarker:
* Plymouthmarker, the shire town of the county and capital of the colony. This was the original 1620 settlement of the Mayflower Pilgrims, and continued as the largest and most significant settlement in the colony until its dissolution in 1691.
* Bridgewatermarker, purchased from Massasoit by Myles Standish, and originally named Duxburrow New Plantation, it was incorporated as Bridgewater in 1656.
* Duxburymarker, founded by Myles Standish, it was incorporated in 1637. Other notable residents of Duxbury included John Alden, William Brewster, and Governor Thomas Prence.
* Marshfieldmarker, settled 1632, incorporated 1640. Home to Governor Edward Winslow. Also home to Josiah Winslow, who was governor of the colony during King Philip's War, and to Peregrine White, the first English child born in New England.
* Middleboroughmarker, incorporated 1669 as Middleberry. Named for its location as the halfway point on the journey from Plymouth to Mount Hope, the Wampanoag capital.
* Scituatemarker, settled 1628 and incorporated 1636. The town was the site of a major attack by King Philip's forces in 1676.



The English in Plymouth Colony fit broadly into three categories: Pilgrims, Strangers, and Particulars. The Pilgrims, like the Puritans that would later found Massachusetts Bay Colony to the north, were a Protestant group that closely followed the teachings of John Calvin. However, unlike the Puritans, who wished to reform the Anglican church from within, the Pilgrims saw it as a morally defunct organization, and sought to remove themselves from it. The name "Pilgrims" was actually not used by the separatists themselves. Though William Bradford used the term "pilgrims" to describe the group, he was using the term generically, to define the group as travelers on a religious mission. The term used by those we now call the Pilgrims was the "Saints". They used the term to indicate their special place among God's elect, as they subscribed to the Calvinist belief in predestination.

Besides the Pilgrims, or "Saints", the rest of the Mayflower settlers were known as the "Strangers". This group included the non-Pilgrim settlers placed on the Mayflower by the Merchant Adventurers, and later settlers who would come for other reasons throughout the history of the colony and who did not necessarily adhere to the Pilgrim religious ideals. A third group, known as the "Particulars", consisted of a group of later settlers that paid their own "particular" way to America, and thus were not obliged to pay the colony's debts.

The presence of outsiders such as the Strangers and the Particulars was a considerable annoyance to the Pilgrims. As early as 1623, a conflict between the Pilgrims and the Strangers broke out over the celebration of Christmas, a day of no particular significance to the Pilgrims. Furthermore, when a group of Strangers founded the nearby settlement of Wessagussett, the Pilgrims were highly strained, both emotionally and in terms of resources, by their lack of discipline. They looked at the eventual failure of the Wessagussett settlement as Divine Providence against a sinful people.

The residents of Plymouth used terms to distinguish between the earliest settlers of the colony and those that came later. The first generation of settlers, generally thought to be those that arrived before 1627, called themselves the "Old Comers" or "Planters". Later generations of Plymouth residents would refer to this group as the "Forefathers".

A fairly comprehensive demographic study was done by historian John Demos for his seminal 1970 work on the Pilgrims, A Little Commonwealth. He reports that the colony's average household grew from 7.8 children per family for first-generation families, to 8.6 children for second-generation families, and to 9.3 for third-generation families. Child mortality also decreased over this time, with 7.2 children born to first-generation families living until their 21st birthday. That number increased to 7.9 children by the third generation. Life expectancy was higher for men than for women. Of the men who survived until the age of 21, the average life expectancy was 69.2 years. Over 55 percent of these men lived past 70, less than 15 percent died before the age of 50. For women, the numbers are much lower, owing to the difficulties inherent in childbearing. The average life expectancy of women at the age of 21 was only 62.4 years. Of these women, less than 45 percent lived past 70, and about 30 percent died before the age of 50.

During King Philip's War; Plymouth Colony alone lost eight percent of its adult male population. By the end of the war, one-third of New Englandmarker's approximately 100 towns had been burned and abandoned. This represented a sizable demographic effect on the English population of New England.

Native Americans

The Native Americans in New England were organized into loose tribal confederations, sometimes called "nations". Among these confederations were the Nipmucks, the Massachusett, the Narragansett, the Niantic, the Mohegan, and the Wampanoag. Several significant events would dramatically alter the demographics of the Native American population in the region. The first was "Standish's raid" on Wessagussett, which frightened Native American leaders to the extent that many abandoned their settlements, resulting in many deaths through starvation and disease. The second, the Pequot War, resulted in the dissolution of its namesake tribe and a major shift in the local power structure. The third, King Philip's War, had the most dramatic effect on local populations, resulting in the death or displacement of as much as 80% of the total number of Native Americans of southern New England and the enslavement and removal of thousands of Native Americans to the Caribbeanmarker and other locales.

Black slaves

Some of the wealthier families in Plymouth Colony owned black slaves, which unlike the white indentured servants, were considered the property of their owners and passed on to heirs like any other property. Slave ownership was not widespread and very few families possessed the wealth necessary to own slaves. In 1674, the inventory of Capt. Thomas Willet of Marshfield includes "8 Negroes" at a value of £200. Other inventories of the time valued slaves at £24–25 each, well out of the financial ability of most families. A 1689 census of the town of Bristol shows that of the 70 families that lived there, only one had a black slave. So few were black slaves in the colony that the General Court never saw fit to pass any laws dealing with them.


For its first two-and-a-half years, the economy of Plymouth Plantation took the form of a communal system. There was neither private property nor division of labor. Food was grown for the town and distributed equally. According to William Bradford in Of Plymouth Plantation:

By 1623, facing starvation Plymouth Plantation's leaders took another course. Upon allotting private land plots it is evident that productivity increased. Again, according to William Bradford in his account:

The largest source of wealth for Plymouth Colony was the fur trade. The disruption of this trade caused by Myles Standish's raid at Wessagussett created great hardship for the colonists for many years to come, and was directly cited by William Bradford as a contributing factor to the colonists economic difficulties in their early years. The colonists attempted to supplement their income by fishing; the waters in Cape Cod bay were known to be excellent fisheries. However, they lacked any skill in this area, and it did little to relieve their economic hardship. The colony traded throughout the region, establishing trading posts as far away as Penobscotmarker, Mainemarker. They were also frequent trading partners with the Dutch at New Amsterdam.

The economic situation improved with the arrival of cattle in the colony. It is unknown when the first cattle arrived, but the division of land for the grazing of cattle in 1627 represented one of the first moves towards private land ownership in the colony. Cattle became an important source of wealth in the colony; the average cow could sell for £28 in 1638. However, the flood of immigrants during the Great Migration drove the price of cattle down. The same cows sold at £28 in 1638 were valued in 1640 at only £5. Besides cattle, there were also pigs, sheep, and goats raised in the colony.

Agriculture also made up an important part of the Plymouth economy. The colonists adopted Native American agricultural practices and crops. They planted maize, squash, pumpkins, beans, and potatoes. Besides the crops themselves, the Pilgrims learned productive farming techniques from the Native Americans, such as proper crop rotation and the use of dead fish to fertilize the soil. In addition to these native crops, the colonists also successfully planted Old World crops such as turnips, carrots, peas, wheat, barley, and oats.

Overall, there was very little cash in Plymouth Colony, so most wealth was accumulated in the form of possessions. Since trade goods such as furs, fish, and livestock were subject to fluctuations in price, they were unreliable repositories of wealth. Goods such as clothes and furnishings represented an important source of economic stability for the residents.


Despite its short history, fewer than 72 years, the events surrounding the founding and history of Plymouth Colony have had a lasting effect on the art, traditions, and mythology of the United States of America.

Art, literature and film

The earliest artistic depiction of the Pilgrims was actually done before their arrival in America—Dutch painter Adam Willaerts painted a portrait of their departure from Delfshavenmarker in 1620. The same scene was repainted by Robert Walter Weir in 1844, and hangs in the Rotunda of the United States Capitolmarker building. Numerous other paintings have been created memorializing various scenes from the life of Plymouth Colony, including their landing and the "First Thanksgiving", many of which have been collected by Pilgrim Hallmarker, a museum and historical society founded in 1824 to preserve the history of the Colony.

Several contemporary accounts of life in Plymouth Colony have become both vital primary historical documents and literary classics. Of Plimoth Plantation by William Bradford and Mourt's Relation by Bradford, Edward Winslow, and others are both accounts written by Mayflower passengers, accounts that provide much of the information we have today regarding the trans-Atlantic voyage and early years of the settlement. Benjamin Church wrote several accounts of King Philip's War, including Entertaining Passages Relating to Philip's War, which remained popular throughout the 18th century. An edition of the work was illustrated by Paul Revere in 1772. Another work, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, provides an account of King Philip's War from the perspective of Mary Rowlandson, an Englishwoman who was captured and spent some time in the company of Native Americans during the war. Later works, such as "The Courtship of Miles Standish" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, have provided a romantic and partially fictionalized account of life in Plymouth Colony.

There are also numerous films about the Pilgrims, including the several versions of "The Courtship of Miles Standish", the 1952 film Plymouth Adventure starring Spencer Tracy, and the 2006 TV documentary, produced by the History Channel, "Desperate Crossings: The True Story of the Mayflower".


Each year the United States celebrates a holiday known as Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. It is a recognized federal holiday, and frequently involves family gathering with a large feast, traditionally featuring a turkey. Civic recognition of the holiday typically include parades and football games. The holiday is meant to honor the "First Thanksgiving", which was a harvest feast held in Plymouth in 1621, first recorded in the book New England's Memorial, written by Nathaniel Morton, secretary of Plymouth Colony and nephew of Governor William Bradford.

The annual Thanksgiving holiday is a fairly recent creation. Throughout the early 19th century, the U.S. government had declared a particular day as a national day of Thanksgiving, but these were one-time declarations meant to celebrate a significant event, such as victory in a battle. The modern Thanksgiving holiday is largely the work of a single woman, Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Boston's Ladies' Magazine. Beginning in 1827, she wrote editorials calling for a national, annual day of thanksgiving to commemorate the Pilgrim's first harvest feast. After nearly 40 years, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared the first modern Thanksgiving to fall on the last Thursday in November. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Congress ultimately moved it to the fourth Thursday in November. In 1941, the holiday was recognized by Congress as an official federal holiday.

Among the modern traditions to develop alongside of the Thanksgiving holiday include the National Football League's Thanksgiving Classic games and the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York Citymarker.

Plymouth Rock

Plymouth Rock

One of the enduring symbols of the landing of the Pilgrims is Plymouth Rock, a large granodiorite boulder that was near their landing site at Plymouth. However, none of the contemporary accounts of the actual landing makes any mention that the Rock was the specific place of landing. The Pilgrims chose the site for their landing not for the rock, but for a small brook nearby that was a source of fresh water and fish.

The first identification of Plymouth Rock as the actual landing site was in 1741 by 90-year-old Thomas Faunce, whose father had arrived in Plymouth in 1623, several years after the supposed event. The rock was later covered by a solid-fill pier. In 1774, an attempt was made to excavate the Rock, but it broke in two. The severed piece was placed in the Town Square at the center of Plymouth. In 1880, the intact half of the rock was excavated from the pier, and the broken piece was reattached to it. Over the years, souvenir hunters have removed chunks from the rock, but the remains are now protected as part of the complex of living museums. These include the Mayflower II, a recreation of the original ship, Plimoth Plantationmarker, a historical recreation of the original 1620 settlement, and the Wampanoag Homesite, which recreates a 17th century Indian village.

The Mayflower Society

The General Society of Mayflower Descendants, or The Mayflower Society, is a genealogical organization of individuals who have documented their descent from one or more of the 102 passengers who arrived on the Mayflower in 1620. The Society was founded at Plymouth in 1897. The group claims that tens of millions of Americans can claim descent from these passengers. They offer research services to people seeking to establish family connections to the Mayflower passengers.

See also



  1. Philbrick (2006) pp 7–13
  2. Addison (1911), foreword "From a Pilgrim Cell", pp xiii–xiv
  3. Addison (1911), p 51
  4. Philbrick (2006), pp 20–23
  5. Philbrick (2006) pp 24–25
  6. Addison (1911), p 63
  7. Philbrick (2006) pp 27–28
  8. Philbrick (2006), pp 35–36
  9. Deetz and Deetz (2000), pp 55–56
  10. Deetz and Deetz (2000), pp 69–71
  11. Deetz and Deetz (2000), pp 46–48
  12. Philbrick (2006) p 41
  13. Philbrick (2006), pp 55–77
  14. Philbrick (2006), pp 78–80
  15. Johnson (1997), p 37
  16. See the editorial footnotes in:
  17. Philbrick (2006), pp 80–84
  18. Dorothy, the servant of John Carver, and Priscilla Mullins were both old enough to be married within a year or two of that first winter; although their exact ages are unknown. So the number of adult women surviving to the first Thanksgiving may be as many as 6 (out of 20).
  19. Philbrick (2006), pp 88–91
  20. Massasoit was specifically the sachem of a single tribe of Wampanoag Indians known as the Pokanoket, though he was recognized as the founder and leader of the entire confederation. Philbrick (2006), pp 93, 155
  21. Philbrick (2006), pp 93–94
  22. Philbrick (2006), pp 94–96
  23. Philbrick (2006), pp 52–53
  24. West, Elliot. Squanto in Weinstein and Rubel (2002), pp 50–51
  25. Philbrick (2006) pp 97–99
  26. Philbrick (2006) pp 100–101
  27. Addison (1911), pp 83–85
  28. Addison (1911), p 83
  29. The Desolate Wilderness, The Wall Street Journal, 22 November 2007
  30. Note: this reference contains partial transcriptions of two documents, Winslow's Mourt's Relations and Bradford's Of Plimoth Plantation, which describe the events of the First Thanksgiving.
  31. Philbrick (2006), pp 102–103
  32. Philbrick (2006), pp 104–109
  33. Philbrick (2006) pp 110–113
  34. Philbrick (2006) pp 113–116
  35. Philbrick (2006) pp 151–154
  36. Philbrick (2006) pp 154–155
  37. Philbrick (2006) pp 123–126, 134
  38. note: login required for access
  39. Philbrick (2006), pp 57–58, 71, 84, 90, 115, 128, 155
  40. Philbrick (2006) pp 180–181
  41. Philbrick (2006) p 205
  42. Philbrick (2006) pp 207–208
  43. Philbrick (2006) pp 221–223
  44. Philbrick (2006) pp 229–237
  45. Philbrick (2006) pp 288–289
  46. Philbrick (2006) pp 311–323
  47. Philbrick (2006) pp 331–337
  48. Philbrick (2006) pp 332, 345–346
  49. Demos (1970), p 17
  50. Demos (1970), pp 17–18
  51. Weinstein and Rubel (2002), pp 64–65
  52. Demos (1970), foreword p x.
  53. Demos (1970), pp 83–84
  54. Demos (1970) pp 134–136
  55. Demos (1970), p 8
  56. Demos 1970, pp 104–106, 140
  57. Demos (1970), pp 8–9
  58. Demos (1970), p 132
  59. Philbrick (2006), p 104
  60. Deetz and Deetz, pp 87–100 and endnotes
  61. Deetz and Deetz (2000), pp 92–98 and endnotes
  62. Demos (1970), p 151
  63. Demos (1970), p 66. Demos names the following figures for life expectancy: For males that reached 21 years old, they lived to an average age of 70; for women who reached this age the life expectancy was 63.
  64. Demos (1970), pp 82–99
  65. Demos (1970), p 66. Historian John Demos quotes a 1667 contract between John Phillips and Faith Doty which states "The said Faith Doty is to enjoy all of her house and land, goods and cattles, that shee [sic] is now possessed of, to her owne [sic] proper use, to dispose of them att [sic] her owne [sic] free will..."
  66. Deetz and Deetz (2000), pp 99–100
  67. A study reported by MSNBC found that the modern American household consisted of 2.6 people. Demos (1970), p 192 cites that by the third generation, the average family had 9.3 births, with 7.9 children living until adulthood. Since most families had two parents, this would extrapolate to an average of 10 people under one roof.
  68. Demos (1970), 64–69
  69. Demos (1970), pp 62–81
  70. Demos (1970), p 141
  71. Demos (1970), pp 71–75
  72. Demos (1970), p 146
  73. Demos (1970), pp 147–149
  74. Demos (1970), pp 142–143
  75. Demos (1970), p 144
  76. Demos (1970), p 104
  77. Demos (1970), p 148
  78. Demos (1970), p 7
  79. Demos (1970), p 10
  80. Demos (1970), p 14
  81. Philbrick (2006), pp 214–215
  82. Deetz and Deetz (2000), p 133 cite the first eight examples (treason-adultery), Demos (1970) p 100 mentions the last
  83. Deetz and Deetz (2000), p 135
  84. Demos (1970) p 102. Bumpus's actual sentence was to be "whipt att the post", with the note that "hee was crasey brained, ortherwise hee had bine put to death."
  85. Philbrick (2006), p 223
  86. Johnson (1997), p 53
  87. Demos (1970), pp 96–98
  88. Deetz and Deetz (2000), p 143
  89. Deetz and Deetz (2000), endnotes, lists twenty towns as part of Plymouth Colony. In addition to the ones listed here, the towns of Edgartown and Tisbury on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket on its namesake island are included. However, several other sources, including the 1890 Massachusetts Gazetteer used here, note that Martha's Vineyard (Dukes County) and Nantucket Island (Nantucket County) were part of the Colony of New York prior to the Dominion, and were not formally annexed until the 1691 charter that ended Plymouth Colony as an independent entity. Some towns north of the "Old Colony Line", such as Hull and Wessagussett may have been founded by Plymouth settlers or were temporarily administered as part of Plymouth Colony before the boundary with Massachusetts was established in 1644.
  90. Rochester was later transferred to Plymouth County some time after 1689; at the time of incorporation, however, it was part of Barnstable County. See:
  91. note: some confusion exists over the correct spelling of Swansea. The modern spelling is used here.
  92. Deetz and Deetz (2000), p 14
  93. Philbrick (2006) pp 21–23
  94. Demos (1970), p 6
  95. Philbrick (2006) pp 128, 151–154
  96. Deetz and Deetz (2000), p 14 and endnotes
  97. Demos (1970), Appendices, pp 192–194
  98. Demos, pp 110–111, also see Demos's footnote #10 on p 110
  99. Philbrick (2006), p 136
  100. Philbrick (2006), pp 199–200
  101. Deetz and Deetz (2000), pp 77–78. The first mention of cattle occurs with the arrival of "three heifers and a bull" in 1624, but there is some doubt as to whether this was the first cattle in the colony.
  102. Johnson (1997), pp 36–37
  103. Demos (1970) pp. 52–53
  104. Philbrick 2006, pg 22
  105. Philbrick (2006) pp 75, 288, 357–358
  106. Philbrick (2006) p 354
  107. Philbrick (2006) pp 75, 78–79
  108. Philbrick (2006) pp 351–356

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