Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Pilgrims Landed On Plymouth Rock

It truly is a miracle that the Plymouth Colony was successful at all...

First, the Pilgrims' departure from England was twice delayed by leaks in one of their ships, the Speedwell (later discovered to be the work of sabotage by her crew), forcing them to leave in September and arrive in winter rather than arrive in September as had been the original plan; the remaining ship, the Mayflower, had previously been used mainly in the transport of cargo, and so had all the amenities one would expect of such a vessel - which is to say none at all. Still, 102 passengers and 30 crew led by Captain Christopher Jones clambered aboard and made their perilous way west.

Then, the Mayflower was either blown off course or else her passengers made the determination to settle in a wilder locale (with commensurately wilder weather) so as to be further removed from British influence; instead of landing in the slightly more hospitable climate of Virginia they landed instead at the very tip of Cape Cod, served by the same currents that make the south coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland such ideal swimming grounds.

Once they arrived at Provincetown Harbor in November 1620 it took nearly a month to repair and then reassemble a shallop, which would make further exploration easier; they also signed the Mayflower Compact - considered the first American constitution - to quell dissension between the portion of the settlers who were religious and those (namely the crew) who were more secular.

Then, rather than going native, they insisted on eating English food, which ran perilously low, wearing English clothes (unsuited for the raw wilderness in which they'd found themselves) and then building English houses and farms. That first winter they stayed mainly in the ship while preparing homes and a stockade on shore.

The entire story is told far better than I can in the scope of this blog in the book Mayflower, by Nathanial Philbrick, who follows the lives of these intrepid Christers through the various trials and tribulations of their first American generation; consider it revisited history, rather than revisionist, if you must, but it is definitely worth the read.

As for the ship itself: in 1623 the Mayflower was disassembled at Rotherhithe, and legend has it the Mayflower Barn outside of Jordans was built from its timbers; a replica called Mayflower II is berthed at Plimoth Plantation outside the town they founded on this day in 1620.
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