Plymouth Colony: History, Facts & Religion

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  • 0:00 Founding Plymouth Colony
  • 1:45 A Rough Beginning
  • 2:05 The First Thanksgiving
  • 2:50 Life In The Colony
  • 3:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Deering

Mary has a Master's Degree in History with 18 advanced hours in Government. She has taught college History and Government courses.

Discover the Plymouth Colony established by the Pilgrims, a group of English separatists. Explore the hardships and successes of the Pilgrim colonists and learn about the creators of the Mayflower Compact and the first Thanksgiving.

The Founding of the Plymouth Colony

The Plymouth Colony was founded by the Pilgrims, a group of religious separatists from the Church of England. The separatists believed that the Church of England wasn't reformed enough and that it contained too many Roman Catholic rituals. For example, they took issue with the use of clerical vestments, i.e. ceremonial robes.

In 1608, the separatists left England in protest against the continued influence of Catholicism in the Church of England. They settled first in Holland, but they began to fear that their children were becoming too integrated into Dutch society and losing touch with their English heritage. As a result, the Pilgrims requested a charter establishing the site and government for a colony from the Virginia Company, the joint stock company that controlled settlement in the Virginia colony. In 1620, a group of separatists and 'strangers' (the term the separatists used to describe non-believers) set sail from Holland intending to land in Virginia and establish a new colony.

Despite gaining permission for a colony in Virginia, the ship landed first on Cape Cod and then later at a place they named Plymouth, in modern Massachusetts. Historians believe that the Pilgrims decided to settle in Plymouth because of frequent storms during their crossing. Because the ship landed outside its original charter, the 'strangers' questioned whether or not the separatists had the authority to establish and govern the colony. In an attempt to establish a system of government, 41 men signed the Mayflower Compact, a document that allowed all male settlers to elect a governor and make decisions for the colony in town meetings. The Plymouth Colony rested on the written consent of the male settlers to be governed and thus set an important precedent for future American government.

A Rough Beginning

Despite the important precedent set by the Mayflower Compact, early life in the colony was incredibly difficult. The colonists landed in November and had no time to plant crops or establish proper homes before the winter. Over the winter, nearly half of the settlers died of starvation or exposure to the elements.

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