Ever wonder why did the pilgrims leave England? Life in the New World was extremely difficult, because there were no roads, houses, government or farms. Those who tried to settle in America knew that they were risking their lives.
Seeking Religious Freedom
The pilgrims left England in 1609 so that they could practice the religion they chose. An English law, the 1559 Act of Uniformity, demanded that all British citizens attend services and follow the traditions of the Church of England. A group of dissenters known as the Puritains had strong disagreements with some Church practices. Under King James, the practice of executing Puritans for disobeying the Act of Uniformity ended, but the Puritans still found themselves hated by society.
At first the pilgrims and Puritans moved to Holland. Here they enjoyed religious freedom, but they had to learn the Dutch language and their children began observing Dutch traditions. After some time in Holland, they decided they wanted to move to a country that spoke English and that would let them practice any religion they wanted. The only place they could do this was in a brand new place. The Pilgrims decided they would travel to the "New World." They went back to England in 1620 to set sail on the Mayflower.
Heading to the New World
The trip over the Atlantic Ocean took 65 days. They had to eat cold food, as no fire was allowed on the wooden ship. On the way over, the people divided into two groups: the Saints and the Strangers. The Saints and the Strangers argued over many things on the Mayflower, but when they found the New World on November 10, the Saints and the Strangers agreed that they should stay together. They made an agreement called the Mayflower Compact. The two groups joined together and became the Plymouth Pilgrims.
The Pilgrims first saw land near modern-day Cape Cod, but they did not settle there. They traveled north and landed at modern-day Plymouth. The pilgrims' first winter was quite harsh; food was scarce, snow was deep and many members of the colony became sick, with some dying. But the pilgrims were free to worship as they chose.
An Unlikely Ally
During that first winter, local Indians avoided contact with the pilgrims. English sailors had brought terrible diseases to the New World and sometimes captured Indians to bring them back to England.
In the March of 1621, an Indian walked into Plymouth Plantation. To the Pilgrim's surprise, he spoke English. The Indian's name was Samoset. He didn't know a lot of English, so he introduced the pilgrims to Squanto, an Indian who had been trained as a translator in London. These Indians recognized that the pilgrims were different from the sailors who had raided and attacked their villages. The pilgrims did not threaten the Indians or try to steal their food. The pilgrims also showed respect for the Indians' burial sites.
Squanto taught the pilgrims how to survive in Plymouth. He showed them how to get maple sap from the trees and how to grow native crops. He told them where to find the best fishing and hunting grounds. He also helped the pilgrims and local Indian tribes learn to live together peacefully.
Pilgrim governor William Bradford decided they should have a feast to celebrate their new colony and to thank the Indians for showing them how to survive. The celebration lasted three days and became the foundation of our modern Thanksgiving holiday.
Behind our romantic view of the first Thanksgiving lies a history of hardship, suspicion and disagreement. Find out what the first months in the New World were really like for the pilgrims.
What do you know about the first Thanksgiving? You'll find some interesting details among these facts about pilgrims.
Without the Indians who helped the pilgrims in America, the fledgling colony at Plymouth Plantation may not have survived.