The Mayflower Compact and William Bradford's "Of Plimoth Plantation" are two documents that provide a window into what the men and women of Plymouth Colony went through to survive, and they hold lessons still relevant 400 years later. 1620: Beyond Thanksgiving" is produced by NBC News Learn in partnership with NBC 10 Boston/NECN.
Mayflower Compact- Roots of Our Democracy
MORGAN RADFORD, reporting:
After two long months at sea, the Mayflower reaches Cape Cod with 102 people on board. Before they left their ship, the Pilgrims faced their first major challenge.
VICKI OMAN (Plimoth Plantation): What happened is the Pilgrims arrived here at Cape Cod, but they weren't supposed to be here. They were trying to go to the Hudson River. So as a result, it was sort of the wild west. They didn't have a set of laws that covered them when they were in this place that they weren't supposed to be. So, they got together and at first they couldn't agree. Some men thought we should go and start our own individual plantations. Some men thought we should keep trying to go to the Hudson River. Some men thought we should stay. So, they came together and they decided on what goals they had in common, and that's when they created the Mayflower Compact. It starts with, "In the name of God, Amen," and then it says, we, the subjects of King James of England and Scotland and Ireland and France, are here to plant a colony, so we are going to create laws under the English laws that are best for everyone in the colony. It was the first time people had to choose a government for themselves because they were sort of in a no man's land. And it was a great example of people who had a lot of different perspectives and goals coming together and achieving a really strong community.
RICHARD PICKERING (Plimoth Plantation): The idea of the Mayflower Compact, of a community that's bound together by a vow and that then remains after horrific deaths in the first winter. The Mayflower Compact was used to respond to crisis. When a community could have imploded, it bound all of the men of Mayflower together. There were 41 passengers that signed or made their mark upon the document. The Mayflower Compact becomes a constitution for Plymouth Colony for 72 years.
RADFORD: Ten years after Plymouth Colony is founded, a larger, and more powerful settlement called Massachusetts Bay Colony began competing with Plymouth for dominance throughout New England.
PICKERING: William Bradford was the second governor of Plymouth Colony. Bradford begins writing a chronicle called "Of Plimoth Plantation" around the year 1630. What is happening is the realization of the growing power of Massachusetts Bay and the part of Massachusetts Bay to almost erase Plymouth's presence at the very beginnings of New England because they were Separatists and Massachusetts was Puritan and they derided the Separatists. And you can see Bradford putting the flag in the ground and saying, "We were the first. We started this," and recognizing the importance of the Mayflower Compact as a constitutional act where men gathered, created a form of self-government that they were aligning themselves with.
RADFORD: The lessons from the Mayflower Compact and “Of Plimoth Plantation” are still relevant 400 years later.
OMAN: I hope that visitors to Plimoth Plantation come away with an understanding that when the Pilgrims came to Plymouth, they were not all the same. They were very different. And they had to unite to create a community. And that was what was done in the Mayflower Compact.
PICKERING: What we can learn from the ancestors is their ability to listen, their ability to attempt to build consensus, their skill at coming to a decision and moving forward together.
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