The Mayflower Compact was signed in 1620 and marked the first document to establish an autonomous democratic government in the New World. But who signed it?
The Mayflower Compact was signed by 41 male colonists that were passengers on the Mayflower, which took a mix of Puritans seeking religious freedom, merchants, craftsmen, and servants to North America. It created laws for the new Plymouth Colony and remained in effect until 1691.
To find out more about the signing of the Mayflower Compact and the establishment of the Plymouth Colony, read on.
What Was the Mayflower Compact?
Originally called the Agreement Between the Settlers of New Plymouth, the Mayflower Compact was an agreement that established a set of rules that the settlers who had traveled to the New World on the Mayflower would abide by in the colony.
Financed by the Company of Merchant Adventurers of London, the original course for the Mayflower had been the Colony of Virginia where they would have been bound by the laws of the land.
The Mayflower carried 102 passengers in total, among whom 41 were Pilgrims, meaning Puritans seeking religious freedom from the practices of the Church of England. Faced with storms and delays on their journey, the ship was forced to land at Cape Cod in Massachusetts where they looked likely to face a difficult winter.
Outside of the Colony of Virginia and, therefore, not bound by the laws there, the frustration of the non-Puritans made mutiny seem possible as they claimed the contract was void as they had not landed in Virginia, making the signing of a new agreement between the settlers essential.
Recognizing the need for unity, a series of temporary laws for Puritans and non-Puritans alike was established in an agreement thought to be written by the pastor William Brewster whereby the colonists would rule themselves. However, they affirmed they would all remain Christian subjects of King James I and work together as a society.
It was signed by all of the male passengers on board the Mayflower, totaling 41 people, on November 11, 1620.
This was the first document to establish an independent government in North America and its ideals likely influenced the colonial pursuit of independence and the establishment of the United States of America around 150 years later.
The signing of the Mayflower Compact led to the rules that governed the new Plymouth Colony and the establishment of the first successful English settlement in what is now New England (the Popham Colony in Maine had failed in 1608). By now, Jamestown in Virginia, where they had planned to land, was a thriving town.
The winter of 1620 to 1621 was extremely difficult for the Plymouth Colony and more than half of the settlers died. The settlers were taught by the Native Americans how to survive, teaching them how to grow corn, beans, and squash, and according to tradition, in the fall, the settlers shared their crop with the Native Americans in a grateful feast that laid the foundations of Thanksgiving.
Squanto and Samoset of nearby tribes had previously learned English, with Squanto being particularly proficient as he had been kidnapped in 1614 and sold into slavery in the West Indies, before escaping and moving to England where he learned English and tried to return home.
However, as other colonies in the area expanded, conflicts with the Native Americans increased as more and more Native Americans were killed by the diseases that the colonists had brought and were treated with cruelty.
Over the following decades, settlement in the area by other Puritans increased, with many looking to convert the Native Americans as they practiced their form of Christianity outside of the influence of the Church of England.
Who Were the Puritans?
Rising in the late 16th century, the Puritans were Christians who believed that the Church of England was too similar to the Catholic Church, with reforms not going far enough, and they endeavored to “purify” it, hence their name. They believed it was of utmost importance to remove any practices of Christian worship not mentioned in the Bible, believing they had a direct relationship with God.
Faced with persecution for their beliefs, many Puritans called Pilgrims moved to the New World in the 1620s and 1630s and their philosophy had a profound impact on the development of the United States of America. Many others sought opportunity in the New World as well and the Mayflower Compact demonstrates an agreement between them to work together to establish a society.