Plimoth Plantation

Previous: The Pilgrims and the Mayflower

While there were 102 passengers aboard the Mayflower when it left England, when it arrived in Plymouth there were 99 (2 passengers were born at sea and 5 died en route). According to local lore, those who died at sea were buried in unmarked graves in the Coles Hill Burial Ground (more on this in another post).

Like mentioned before, the ship sat in the harbour for a little over a month for a variety of reasons. One reason was that the pilgrims weren’t supposed to be in Massachusetts. The planned destination was Virginia, for which the passengers had a patent to settle. Because of this, some people questioned whether or not they had the right to land and establish a colony in Plymouth, while others saw this as an opportunity to live without laws or a ruling body.

Most were unwilling to go ashore until the matter was settled. During the month that the settlers sat in the harbour, they drafted and ratified the Mayflower Compact, which outlined how the colony was to be governed. The document was signed on November 11, 1620, by most of the adult men on the Mayflower.

Life was hard in the New World and the Pilgrims were ill-prepared for the New England weather; their arrival in the middle of winter was timed poorly and half did not survive that first winter. By the “First Thanksgiving” (Nov 1621), only 53 pilgrims were still alive.

The original plan was to build 19-houses for the families, but because of the number of deaths, only 7 residences were built. The land was fairly split; even Mary Chilton, a 13-year old girl who reportedly was the first European female to touch land, lost both of her parents to disease and at the same time inherited three shares in the land division.

Over the next three years, the Pilgrims were joined by settlers that came on the Fortune, the Anne, and the Little James. This put further strain on the colony because of the limited resources that were available (the Fortune arrived unplanned during the second winter with a cargo full of men and little to no provisions).

If not for the Massasoit who aided the settlers, all would have likely died.

The Plimoth Plantation is a recreation of the Pilgrim settlement as it was in 1627, 7-years after the arrival of the Mayflower. This year was chosen because of the number of well-documented materials written about life in Plimoth; also, it seems that the Pilgrims had a stable community by this time.

As you meander around you will encounter actors cooking, planting, working, and talking as if they were from that era (and you were a member of the community at that time). Outside the walls of the fort is a Wampanoag homesite, inhabited by Massasoit people (not actors) who are friendly and more than willing to sit down around the campfire and chat about their life and ancestors.

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