Mayflower Compact of 1620: – What is it?
The Mayflower Compact is a written agreement composed by a consensus of the new Settlers arriving at New Plymouth in November of 1620. On Sept. 6, 1620, the Mayflower, a sailing vessel of about 180 tons, started her memorable voyage from Plymouth, England, with about 1001 pilgrims aboard, bound for Virginia to establish a private permanent colony in North America. They had traveled across the ocean on the ship Mayflower which was anchored in what is now Provincetown Harbor near Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
The Mayflower Compact was drawn up with fair and equal laws, for the general good of the settlement and with the will of the majority. The Mayflower’s passengers knew that the New World’s earlier settlers failed due to a lack of government. They hashed out the content and eventually composed the Compact for the sake of their own survival. Arriving at what is now Provincetown, Mass., on Nov. 11 (Nov. 21, new-style calendar), all 41 of the adult male passengers signed the famous “Mayflower Compact” as the boat lay at anchor in that Cape Cod harbor.
Being the first written laws for the new land, the Compact determined authority within the settlement and was the observed as such until 1691. This established that the colony (mostly persecuted Separatists), was to be free of English law. It was devised to set up a government from within themselves and was written by those to be governed. A small detail of the pilgrims, led by William Bradford, assigned to select a place for permanent settlement, landed at what is now Plymouth, Mass., on Dec. 21 (n.s.).
Original version as recorded by William Bradford:
In ye name of God Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by ye Grace of God, of great Britaine, Franc, & Yreland, King, defender of ye Faith, &c.
Haveing undertaken, for ye Glorie of God, and advancements of ye Christian faith, and the honour of our King & countrie, a voyage to plant ye first colonie in ye Northern parts of Virginia; Doe by these presents, solemnly & mutualy, in ye presence of God, and one of another; covenant & combine ourselves together into a Civill body politick; for our better ordering, & preservation & furtherance of ye ends aforesaid; and by vertue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just & equal Lawes, ordinances, Acts, constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete and convenient for ye generall good of ye Colonie; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
In witnes wherof we have hereunto 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, & Yreland, ye eighteenth, and of Scotland ye fiftie fourth, Ano: Dom. 1620.
Mayflower Compact – What did it say?
The original document is said to have been lost, but the writings of William Bradford’s journal Of Plymouth Plantation and in Edward Winslow’s Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth are in agreement and accepted as accurate.
The Mayflower Compact in modern English reads:
"IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, e&. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. IN WITNESS whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini, 1620."
Mayflower Compact – Who signed it and why?
One of the first lists of the Mayflower Compact’s signers was provided by William Bradford’s nephew, Nathaniel Morton. The names are published in his 1669 New England’s Memorial. They are also posted by the Avalon Project of Yale University. Some of the more familiar names includes are those such as: John Carver, William Bradford, Edward Winslow, William Brewster, Isaac Allerton, Myles Standish, and John Alden.
The Mayflower Compact Was signed by:
Mr. John Carver, Mr. William Bradford, Mr Edward Winslow, Mr. William Brewster, Isaac Allerton, Myles Standish, John Alden, John Turner, Francis Eaton, James Chilton, John Craxton, John Billington, Joses Fletcher, John Goodman, Mr. Samuel Fuller, Mr. Christopher Martin, Mr. William Mullins, Mr. William White, Mr. Richard Warren, John Howland, Mr. Steven Hopkins, Digery Priest, Thomas Williams, Gilbert Winslow, Edmund Margesson, Peter Brown, Richard Britteridge , George Soule, Edward Tilly, John Tilly, Francis Cooke, Thomas Rogers, Thomas Tinker, John Ridgdale, Edward Fuller, Richard Clark, Richard Gardiner, Mr. John Allerton, Thomas English, Edward Doten, Edward Liester.
When creating the Mayflower Compact, the signers believed that covenants were not only to be honored between God and man, but also between each other. They had always honored covenants as part of their righteous integrity and agreed to be bound by this same principle with the Compact. John Adams and many historians have referred to the Mayflower Compact as the foundation of the U.S. Constitution written more than 150 later.
America was indeed begun by men who honored God and set their founding principles by the words of the Bible. They lived their lives with honesty, reliability, and fairness toward establishing this country “for the sake of its survival.” A great many of America’s Founding Fathers have been quoted in regard to living by Biblical values.
Just to name a few:
Edmund Burke (1729-1794),
Outstanding orator, author, and leader in Great Britain, defended the colonies in Parliament. "There is but one law for all, namely, that law which governs all law, the law of our Creator."
Patrick Henry (1736-1799),
Five-time Governor of Virginia, whose "Give me liberty or give me death" speech has made him immortal, said: "It cannot be emphasized too strongly, nor too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826),
Third U.S. President, chosen to write the Declaration of Independence, said: "I have little doubt that the whole country will soon be rallied to the unity of our Creator, and, I hope, to the pure doctrines of Jesus also." He proclaimed that it was the God of the Bible who founded America in his 1805 inaugural address: "I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our forefathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in this country."
The Mayflower Compact is often cited as one of the foundations of the US Constitution
The story of its creation begins with the Pilgrims in England. Pilgrims were separatists from the Anglican Church in England. They were protestants who did not recognize the authority of the Anglican Church and formed their own Puritan church. To escape persecution and possible imprisonment, they actually fled England for Holland in 1607. They lived in Holland for awhile before deciding to create their own colony in the New World. They received a land patent from the Virginia Company and created their own joint-stock company for the enterprise.
Aboard the Mayflower:
The Pilgrims left aboard the Mayflower in 1620. There were 102 men, women, and children aboard including some non-puritan settlers including John Alden and Miles Standish. They were headed for Virginia but got blown off course and instead decided to found their colony in Cape Cod in what would become the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They called the colony Plymouth after the harbor in England from which they departed for the New World.
Stories of survival, of relations with American Indians, of the first Thanksgiving, and of religious freedom found, are the stuff of American legend. One of the cornerstones of the Pilgrim ethos is the Mayflower Compact.
The Pilgrims were a small group of people bound by common religious beliefs. They did not believe in the influence over the church that the English king held, and preached separatism. This position did not sit well with the King, and by 1608, many of them left England for Holland, which was more tolerant of religious diversity. Though some of the group prospered, the time in Holland was hard. In particular, the group saw the children assimilating into Dutch culture, and they lamented the lack of opportunity to spread their interpretation of the Gospel to the far corners of the world.
The leaders began to think about moving. The two main proposed destinations were Guiana and Virginia; there was also some thought of going to Dutch America, specifically to settle near the Hudson River. Eventually, though, financing was secured to pay for settlement in New England, an area north of the Virginia settlements. Two ships were hired for the voyage - the Speedwell, to transport the passengers, and the larger Mayflower, to transport cargo and to do exploration. The Speedwell turned out to be unseaworthy (reports arose that its crew sabotaged the ship to get out of their contracts), so the Pilgrims and other colonists brought in by the investors crowded into the Mayflower; about twenty passengers had to be left behind. The ship finally sailed for America in September of 1620.
In November, the Mayflower spotted Cape Cod. They tried to sail south to the Hudson River, but turned back north when they encountered shoals. They anchored at Provincetown Harbor, at the northern tip of Cape Cod. While anchored and awaiting exploration to find a suitable place for colonization, the colonists decided that their contracts with their investors were not valid, not the least reason being that the promised land grants for New England were incomplete (the grants were finalized while the Mayflower was in transit). The colonists decided to enact a contract among themselves. This contract, later known at the Mayflower Compact, is now seen as one of the first forays into democracy on the North American continent.
Since the new location for their colony was outside the areas claimed by the two chartered joint-stock companies, they considered themselves technically independent and created their own government under the Mayflower Compact.
In the Compact, the signers agree to bind themselves into a society to preserve order and to help further their aims. They agree to create offices, laws, and constitutions that will aid the common good. Finally, they agreed that such laws would be supreme and agreed to abide by them. In a nutshell, this is a classic embodiment of the Lockean idea of government (though it predates Locke), an idea carried on to what some consider its ultimate embodiment, the U.S. Constitution.
The Pilgrims are a revered and honored group in American history.
The original Compact is lost to history, but its text was recorded in 1622 in a book about the Pilgrims and the founding of the colony at Plimouth (now Plymouth), Massachusetts. The book, entitled Mourt's Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims in Plymouth, was published in London. This publication did not include the list of signers; this list is taken from another contemporary book, New England's Memoriall, published in 1669. The list is presented here in alphabetical order. All spellings in the original version are those taken from William Bradford's transcription from his book, Of Plimouth Plantation, written in 1645. The "modern" version was created by Steve Mount.
Creating the Mayflower Compact:
In basic terms, the Mayflower Compact was a social contract whereby the forty-one men who signed it agreed to abide by the new government's laws in exchange for shared protection. Unfortunately, the original document has been lost. William Bradford included a transcription of the document in his book, Of Plymouth Plantation. In part his transcription states:
"Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these present solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience."
Important People Related to the Mayflower Compact:
Although 41 men signed the compact, the following individuals played significant roles as colony leaders and in drafting the Mayflower Compact:
John Alden (1599 - 1687):
Alden sailed to America on the Mayflower and became one of the founding fathers of Plymouth Colony in 1620. He labored as a common seaman aboard the Mayflower and later served in several public offices.
William Bradford (1589 - 1657):
Bradford was one of the drafters of the Compact. He served as the head of the Plymouth government; Bradford managed the court system, colony finances, correspondence with investors and neighbors, policy formulation and had a very active role in the running of the entire colony (The Mayflower Society 2004). Today, most existing information regarding Plymouth colony can be attributed to Bradford's excellent record keeping.
William Brewster (1851 - 1919):
Brewster's influence was instrumental in the approval by the Virginia Company for the congregational resettlement in America. He was one of the few original Scrooby Separatists who sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 (The Historical Reference Center 1997). He, along with Edward Winslow and William Bradford, shared leadership of the Plymouth Colony.
John Carver (1576 - 1621):
Carver played a pivotal role in the arrangement of the Pilgrims' emigration to America and served as Plymouth's first governor. He remained governor until his untimely death from apparent sunstroke in April,1621 (The Mayflower Society 2004).
Myles Standish (1584 - 1656):
Standish was an English soldier hired by the Pilgrim Fathers to assist with military affairs in the new world. He was responsible for negotiations with the Native Americans and appointed military captain of the settlement at Plymouth.
Edward Winslow (1595 - 1655):
Winslow sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 and later held a number of political offices. He was elected assistant to Governor William Bradford and later was elected governor of Plymouth on three occasions (ibid.).
The Mayflower Compact was the foundational document for the Plymouth Colony. The fact that it was a covenant whereby the settlers would subordinate their rights to follow laws passed by the government to ensure protection and survival made it a unique document. As previously stated, it set a precedent and was indeed an influential document for the founding fathers as they created the US Constitution.
The Mayflower Compact expressed four main ideals:
It expressed the deep faith and belief in God and His divine guidance, which was held so dear to the Pilgrim Fathers.
It expressed deep loyalty to native England and to the King, regardless of his actions to persecute and exile the Pilgrims.
It expressed mutual regard for one another as equals in the sight of God.
It expressed intent to establish just and equal laws upon which would be built a truly democratic form of government, the first recorded in history.