Imagine landing in a strange place and knowing at the same time, it’s not where you were meant to land. What would you do? Would you remain on your ship and try to find the correct location or would you stay where you were and try to make a life here? This is the dilemma the people on the Mayflower faced in 1620.
The Puritans knew they were supposed to settle in Northern Virginia but their ship was blown off course. The Virginia Company had given them a land patent, or permission to settle there. Since they were not in the correct location, then a decision had to be made. If they remained, they would need to form a government while they waited for permission to create a settlement there. The land belonged to no one at that time, which gave them hope the land could belong to them and they could live their lives as they chose.
For several days, they discussed what rules they should follow. What resulted in their discussions was the Mayflower Compact.
Of course at the time, it was not called this. The document, signed on November 11, 1620, outlined their way of life and how the settlers would rule themselves. Most of the settlers were separatists who had broken free from the Church of England, the Anglican Church. All 41 males who survived the long voyage signed the contract in exchange for protection.
“by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.”
Many feel it is the precursor to the Constitution. Perhaps the only real connection is how it was designed to give the new settlers a sense that they were going to govern themselves. We all know this is not how the new colonies ended up being as England began to exert more and more influence over them.
It was not published until 1622 when William Bradford wrote a copy of it in the History of Plymouth Plantation. Even the names of the signers were not known by all until it was recorded in 1669 by Nathaniel Morton.
Who were these men who founded Plymouth Colony and signed this contract? Many were separatists, or people who split from the Church of England. They did not recognize the King as the main authority of the Anglican Church and were Puritans. At the time when they left England, a civil war was being fought between the King of England and Oliver Cromwell, known as Roundheads because of the hats they wore (remember the hats the Puritans wore?). Because of their religious belief, many were persecuted or killed in England.
Those who settled in Plymouth were people who had escaped to Holland in 1607. They lived there before deciding to try their luck at starting a new life in the New World. They received a land patent from the Virginia Company to move there. They were originally heading for Virginia but got blown off course, landing in the cold northern climes of the New World.
Why did they call it Plymouth? This was the name of the port town they departed in England before they lived in Holland.
The name “Mayflower Compact” was not even assigned to it until 1793. Many believe the original document was destroyed during the Revolutionary War when many documents were looted, or stolen.