Plymouth Plantation is probably the most famous of all the earlier colonies in America and that is due to the story of the Pilgrims Thanksgiving. The colony was settled in 1621 and survived due to the efforts of Squanto and Chief Massasoit. Even though the early settlers of Plymouth had good relations with the Indians, the colony would eventually fight in the bloodiest Indian War during the Colonial Era of America, King Philips War. Eventually the colony was annexed by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.
The settlers of Plymouth Colony were different from the Massachusetts Bay Puritans in that they wanted to separate from the Church of England rather than purify it. These settlers would eventually be known as the Pilgrims, however at this time they were merely a congregation led by John Robinson, William Brewster, and William Bradford and persecuted under the reign of King James I. After King James had renounced the Puritans and Protestant Separatists, a man named Tobias Matthews, who was the Archbishop of York, raided and imprisoned many in the congregation. After this incident the congregation fled England for the Netherlands.
In the Netherlands the Pilgrims found religious freedom, but was not able to avoid English persecution. William Brewster wrote a scathing piece against the Crown and the Anglican church which thwarted the Crown to order his arrest. He was able to avoid arrest, but this caused the Pilgrims a desire to move further away from England.
In June 1619, the Pilgrims obtained a land patent from the London Virginia Company, allowing them to settle at the mouth of the Hudson River. Merchant Adventurers, a Puritan company that desired to colonize and spread the Word of God and to make a profit, financed the trip. They purchased the Mayflower ship and the Speedwell for the voyage and set out in July 1620.
There was a second group of people that participated in the settlement of Plymouth Colony, the Strangers. The Strangers were people put in place by the Merchant Adventurers to help govern and guide the colony. Myles Standish was a stranger and acted as the military leader of the colony. Christopher Martin, who was to act as the governor of the colony during the trans-Atlantic trip. Stephen Hopkins, had already failed at a previous colonial venture. Without the Strangers the Pilgrims would have had a hard time surviving the first year
The first location the Pilgrims set foot on was Provincetown Harbor. After the signing of the Mayflower Compact, Captain Myles Standish led an expedition of sixteen men who located a hidden cache of Indian corn and the men also robbed Native American graves. The Second expedition was led by Christopher Jones and it saw little success due to harsh weather. They did manage to raid another cache of corn. Finally, the third expedition led to the First Encounter. During this expedition the colonists met and had a skirmish with the local Indians. After this the settlers decided to leave Provincetown and sail further to Plymouth.
Plymouth Rock and the First Winter
Unlike the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Pilgrims were not as well organized or prepared for the first winter. On December 21, 1620 the first landing party stepped ashore what would become known as Plymouth. It was cold and winter had already started, but the men forged ahead to build the colony. Twenty men always stayed ashore to work, while the rest would work and then return to the Mayflower. Women, Children and the sick remained on board. The first structure completed was a common house and it took two weeks to build due to the poor weather of a New England winter. After that, the colony slowly, but steadily took shape. Due to sickness and death only seven of the original nineteen houses were built.
The first winter of Plymouth Colony was rough and many of the colonists died of scurvy and terrible conditions on-board the ship. The Mayflower sailed with 102 emigrants and of the 102, only 57 survived. Close to fifty percent of the original colonists died the first year. By the time of the harvest only 53 of the original 102 still survived. Of the 18 women, 14 died before the first Thanksgiving, leaving only 4 adult women.
March 16, 1621 a Native American named Samoset greeted the settlers of Plymouth Plantation in English. Samoset was originally from Maine and had learned some English from the fisherman. He educated the Pilgrims on the current history of the region and of the supreme sachem (chief) Massasoit. He also informed them of Squanto, a native American from the Patuxet tribe (the Patuxet tribe had been wiped out due to smallpox) and said he would arrange a meeting with some of Massasoit’s men.
This was not an easy task for Samoset to execute, both Squanto and Massasoit had a terrible history with the English. Massasoit’s first contact with the English was an unprovoked attack that left several of his men dead. Massasoit also knew of the theft of corn and skirmishes in Provincetown. Squanto had been abducted by an English explorer, Thomas Hunt, and shipped off to Europe for five years where he was a slave and then eventually a guide. It was while guiding Capt. Robert Gorges that Massasoit and his men massacred the crew and took Squanto.
Regardless of the past history, Samoset was able to bring Plymouth Colony and the Wampanoag Indians together. He, along with a delegate of Massasoit and Squanto, returned to Plymouth on March 22. Massasoit would join the party shortly after they arrived. The two parties negotiated a peace treaty which established an alliance between the two. The Wampanoags would defend the colonists if attacked and the colonists would defend the Wampanoags if attacked. This peace treaty would last up until King Philip’s War in 1675. Plymouth would not last much longer after the war was over.
Oddly enough the growth of Plymouth was anything but spectacular. After the first winter the Mayflower set sail for England. William Bradford wrote that at this point only half of the original colonists were still alive. A second ship (Fortune) arrived with 37 new colonists. In 1623 two more ships docked at Plymouth harbor bringing the future wife of William Bradford and 89 other settlers. The population of Plymouth Colony was at 99 in December of 1620 and had only grown 200 colonists by January of 1630. It’s growth was much slower than Connecticut Colony, Rhode Island Colony, Massachusetts Bay Colony and even New Hampshire Colony. Eventually Plymouth was absorbed by Massachusetts Bay.