At daybreak on November 19, 1620, the Mayflower passed the headland of Cape Cod and found herself in peril. The shoals were dangerously and she had to turn back northward. Finding a favorable wind, the Mayflower and her human cargo enter the protected waters of the Bay and stared out onto an unknown land. This was the Pilgrims new home. After 66 hard days at sea and winter approaching, those faithful English Separatists faced the Winter of 1621.
The first winter for the Plymouth Colony was filled with loss and longing. More than half of the 102 Pilgrims that arrived on the Mayflower. Food was scarce. Hunger and disease plagued and weakened the people. Cold and harsh conditions wore down moral. Prospects for the new colony were weak. The actions of smart men and the sacrifice of brave women contributed to the survival of the Pilgrims.
|The Mayflower Compact|
The Social Contract
President Lincoln once remarked that a house divided against itself cannot stand. The Pilgrims knew this principle to be true. English Separatists were not the only passengers on the Mayflower. Of its 102 passengers, only 37 were Separatists. The remainder were craftsmen and sailors. There was even one soldier, Miles Standish. The men of the ship met and came to an accord as to how to run their temporary colony until some guidance came from England. This accord was call the Mayflower Compact. The document served as a written promise of the men present to each other and to God for the sake of the survival of the new colony.
|The making of the compact|
In the absence of the Compact, allegiances and community would have been lost in the need and instinct for survival. After the 41 colonists signed the compact, a leader was elected and under this leader authority was given for the organization and establishment of the colony.
A Place to Rest
As winters go in Massachusetts, historians describe the winter of 1620 as a mild one. However, for unfamiliar newcomers, the weather conditions were inhospitable.
The ground was hard, frozen and covered in snow. The wind was blustery and there was a great deal of rain. For a ship full of people, very sick people and low on food, the conditions were harsh.
While the sick were being cared, able bodied men, such as William Bradford, braved the condition to scout the New World. Luckily, the Pilgrims were not the first Europeans to wander these lands. Men such as Captain John Smith of Jamestown fame and explorer Samuel de Champlian, had arrived more than a decade prior. Champlian even created a navigational chart which the Pilgrims used as a Guide.
By using the map, the Pilgrim scouts were able to explore the areas on the shores of the Cape Cod Bay. After several trips to shore, the Pilgrims had located an advantageous site for building their community. With the break in the weather, there was hope of building adequate shelter for all those aboard. On Christmas Day, they began to build.
Finding the Plymouth colony with a good fishing lake and an ample harbor and an empty camping spot was the second bit of good luck for the Pilgrims; the first had been not being hit by the arrows and safely ending the first minor battle.
Men of Action
Under the authority of the Compact and planning, the Pilgrims began to build. The pilgrims had not selected a wooded area to begin work. Instead, through their surveys and exploration, some of the men had found a clearing. The clearing had once been the site of the Pawtuxet village. The tribe had one roamed the area, but had died due to disease. The location for the colony was found on Christmas Day, the Pilgrims began building the Plymouth settlement.
The sick were taken off the ship and able-bodied men lead their families to build. 19 families in all began to build their shelters.
Those that could be spared also built storehouses and a church. Even more scouted for food to supplement the merger rations remaining from the Mayflower. And, when the time was necessary, others took up their muskets to hunt and to defend the other Pilgrims.
Sacrifice of Mothers
While the men offered leadership, the strong women of the colony provided just as much in support and care. Of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, 18 were women and three boarded the ship pregnant. They had endured the treacherous journey across the sea, but their work had only begun when it was time to settle in the New World.
Women managed the meals, cared for the sick, and cared for the 30 Pilgrim children. They helped the children gather food and offered basic instruction to the children. The women's sacrifice is best told by their numbers. Many opted when food was scarce to give their portions to their children. Of the 18 women, only 4 survived the winter.
The fact that the Pilgrims did survive the harsh winter of 1620 is a testament to their resolve and their faith. The New World was to be their Promised Land. On their arrival, one could hardly see the promise. However, through the foresight of planning, leadership, hard work and ultimately personal sacrifice, the Pilgrims, nearly half of their number, survived to build the Plymouth Colony.