December 11, 1620 — Today on Plymouth Rock, 102 Mayflower pilgrims first step foot on the shore of what is now known as Massachusetts. They were originally bound for Virginia to live north of Jamestown under the same charter granted to citizens of Jamestown. But bad weather left them lost at sea before happening on Cape Cod.
The Mayflower was anchored just off shore when William Bradford, John Carver, and their crew from the Plymouth Colony saw a big rock in Plymouth Harbor. Before they set ashore, however, the Pilgrims had an important question to answer. Since they were not landing within the jurisdiction of the Virginia Company — they had no charter to govern them. Who would rule their society?
In the landmark Mayflower Compact of 1620, the Pilgrims decided that they would rule themselves, based on majority rule of the townsmen. This independent attitude set up a tradition of self-rule that would later lead to town meetings and elected legislatures in New England. Like the Virginia House of Burgesses established the previous year, Plymouth colony began to lay the foundation for democracy in the American colonies.
What was it like to live on the Mayflower? When the weather was good, the passengers could enjoy hot food cooked on deck. When there was high wind or storms, they lived on salted beef, a dried biscuit called “hard tack,” other dried vegetables, and beer. The nearest thing to resemble a bathroom was a bucket.
Their voyage took about two months, and the passengers enjoyed a happier experience than most trans-Atlantic trips. One death was suffered and one child was born. The child was named Oceanus after the watery depths beneath them.
Words of Wisdom
The pilgrims on the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock. To my knowledge, they didn't wait around for a return trip to Europe. You settle some place with a purpose. If you don't want to do that, stay home. You avoid an awful lot of risks by not venturing outward.