IV. The Story of the Pilgrims Who Arrived in America in 1620, the Mayflower Compact


A Publication of Separation of Church and State Law Ministry.



Jerald Finney
Copyright © February 24, 2018


The original settlers of Massachusetts were the Pilgrims who landed at what was to become Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. The Pilgrims were Separatists in England who had left the Church of England in the autumn of 1608 and formed their own church. They were considered dangerous radicals by the Bishops of the Church of England. “They believed that the Reformation had not gone far enough, that the Reformers had assumed an infallibility no more palatable when lodged in a ruler than when lodged in the Pope, that the Church of England had rejected the Pope but not Popery, that the bishops of the Church of England had no more authority than the bishops of the Church of Rome.”[1]

Under James I, the Bishops were given a free hand to suppress the less than a thousand Separatists before they got out of hand. Calvinist historical revisionists Peter Marshall and David Manuel, who approved of the persecutions of the dissenters by the Puritan established churches in the colonies, complained that these were “dedicated followers of the Lord” who were:

  • “hounded, bullied, forced to pay assessments to the Church of England, clapped into prison on trumped-up charges, and driven underground. They met in private homes, to which they came at staggered intervals and by different routes, because they were constantly being spied upon. In the little Midlands town of Scrooby, persecution finally reached the point where the congregation to which William Bradford belonged elected to follow those other Separatists who had already sought religious asylum in Holland.”[2]
Contrary to revisionist history, the Mayflower Compact had little to do with the founding principles of America.

As a result of the persecution in England, some Separatists went elsewhere, going first to Leyden, Holland. After over ten years of a hard life in Holland, they decided to try to go to America. They reached an agreement with an English merchant named Thomas Weston under which they were able to set sail. They could not obtain assurance of liberty of their consciences. “However, they determined at length to remove, depending on some general promises of connivance, if they behaved themselves peaceably, and hoping that the distance and remoteness of the place, as well as the public service they should do the King and Kingdom, would prevent their being disturbed.”[3] One hundred and one Pilgrim souls sailed from Plymouth, England, on September 6, 1620, arriving at Cape Cod on November 11, 1620, and at a place they named Plymouth, in December, 1620.[4] Upon arrival, they drafted the Mayflower Compact:

  • “In the name of God, amen. We whose names are under-written, the loyall subjects of our dread Soveraigne Lord King James by ye Grace of God of Great Britain, France, Ireland king, defender of the Faith, etc., having undertaken, for ye glorie of God, and advancemente of ye Christian faith and honour of our king & countrie, a voyage to plant ye first colonie in ye Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly and mutually in ye presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civill body politick, for our better ordering & preservation & furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by vertue hereof to enacte, constitute, and frame such just and equall lawes, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete & convenient for the generall good of ye colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cap-Codd, ye 11. of November, in ye year of ye raigne of our soveraigne lord, King James of England, France, & Ireland, ye eighteenth, and by Scotland ye fiftie fourth. Ano: Dom. 1620.”

As a matter of human compassion, the Pilgrims were hospitable to all; and, at first, grudgingly tolerated those of other creeds. However, they gradually began to close their doors to those of other creeds. “Plymouth was a Church-State ruled by a governor and a small and highly select theological aristocracy, a Church-State with various grades of citizenship and non-citizenship.”[5] By 1651 the government of Plymouth colony was enforcing the laws of Congregationalist Massachusetts. “By the time Plymouth was united with Massachusetts in 1691 all major differences between the two had disappeared.”[6]

The Pilgrims overcame much adversity, such as hunger, drought, and heat which caused their corn to wither, and the failure of delivery of much needed supplies from England.[7]  They increased to three hundred souls and obtained a patent from the New England Company on January 13, 1630. The comparative handful of Pilgrims who were eventually absorbed by the Puritans are much admired by Americans.



Endnotes

[1] William H. Marnell, The First Amendment: Religious Freedom in America from Colonial Days to the School Prayer Controversy (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964), p. 44.

[2] Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory, (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1977), pp. 108-109.

[3] John Callender, The Civil and Religious Affairs of the Colony of Rhode-Island (Providence: Knowles, Vose & Company, 1838), p. 64.

[4] Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 1 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), pp. 27-28.

[5] Marnell, p. 48.

[6] Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1953), p. 66, citing Sanford H. Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America (New York: The McMillan Co., 1902), pp. 70-71

[7] Backus, pp. 28-29.

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