The Mayflower Compact 1620
What was the Mayflower Compact? Definition: The Mayflower Compact was a signed agreement to ensure peace between the two groups carried by the Mayflower ship to America. The Mayflower Compact was written by the colonists before landing at Plymouth Rock and was the first governing document of Plymouth Colony under the sovereignty of James I of England. The Mayflower Compact specified basic laws and social rules for the new colony and served as a foundation for the democratic structure of the settlers. The significance of the Mayflower Compact is that it contains extremely important concepts that helped to shape the History of America.
Mayflower Compact - Explanation of Terms
Why was it called the Mayflower Compact? A compact is a word used to describe a signed written agreement, contract or covenant between two or more parties. The word 'compact', in this sense of the word, is rarely used in modern terms. Separatists were a group of Puritans who advocated total withdrawal from the Church of England. The Separatists wanted the freedom to worship independently from English authority. The Separatists who undertook the journey on the Mayflower were later called Pilgrims. For additional facts and information about religious differences refer to the Pilgrim and the Puritan.
Mayflower Compact 1620 - Background Information
The 102 passengers who undertook the long, perilous journey on the Mayflower were not all Separatists (later called Pilgrims). The pilgrims had organised the voyage. They wanted to separate from the Anglican Church (the Church of England). These Separatists had originally left England for the Netherlands to escape religious persecution but believed the New World was a better option. The Separatists had obtained a land patent from the London Virginia Company allowing them to settle at the mouth of the Hudson River. To raise money for the voyage they were financed by the Merchant Adventurers who were looking to make a profit. The Pilgrims agreed to repay their backers. The Pilgrims originally boarded a ship called the Speedwell, but the ship needed repairs so they joined together with other passengers and travelled to the New World on the Mayflower.
Mayflower Compact 1620 - The Two Groups
There were 102 passengers on the Mayflower. Only 41 of them were Separatists. The passengers were split into two groups - the Separatists (Pilgrims) and the rest of the passengers, who were called "strangers" by the Pilgrims. The two groups are referred to as the "Strangers" and the "Saints".
- The Saints were the Separatists, a close society, whose primary motivation in making the journey was the establishment of a colony in which they could have religious freedom
- The Strangers were not motivated by the prospect of religious freedom - they wanted to make money
Mayflower Compact 1620 - The "Strangers" and the "Saints"
The "Strangers" were not unified by religion, they were not close family units, and they were described as 'common people'. The "Strangers" were tradesmen, craftsmen, skilled workers, laborers and Indentured servants and several young orphans. The "Saints" were a less than tolerant community because they did not welcome other groups or different points of view. There were major differences between the two groups of "Saints" and "Strangers" in terms of levels of education, religion, social structure, political views, aspirations and beliefs.
Mayflower Compact - Tension & Differences between the "Saints" & the "Strangers"
There were fundamental differences between the "Saints" and the "Strangers" and tension grew between the two groups on the long and arduous journey on the Mayflower. The 66 day voyage was extremely unpleasant due to overcrowding, a shortage of supplies and bad storms. The differences between the two groups is immediately apparent as shown by the names given by each other. The saints imposed a minority rule and created outrage and dissension by insisting that their religious practices be followed by all of the passengers and the crew. The "Saints" particularly annoyed the crew by being sanctimonious. The "strangers" antagonized the saints with their intolerance of the beliefs of the "Saints".
Mayflower Compact - The Mayflower reaches the New World
The Mayflower sighted land on 9 November 1620. They went ashore but quickly realized that the area was not suited for settlement. They decided to continue their journey farther North. Their quest for more appropriate land led them outside the bounds of the British possession of Virginia, in what is now Massachusetts. They had travelled about 300 miles north of their original destination. They had no legal right to settle there, and conversely, England had no legal right over them. This inspired some of the "Strangers" to proclaim that since the settlement would not be made in the agreed Virginia territory, they
"would use their own liberty; for none had power to command them..."
The educated leaders of the "Saints" realised that, isolated as they were in America, the heady notion of liberty and freedom, without any form of constraint, would lead to anarchy and total chaos in the new settlement. The "Saints had to start talking to the "Strangers" about a strategy for survival. This strategy for survival would emerge as the Mayflower Compact.
Mayflower Compact - Differences meant Danger
The increasing differences between the two groups were dangerous and could threaten their very survival in the New World.
- They were going to a totally New World of which they had no knowledge
- They did not know the area or the natural resources available
- They did not know what the extremes of the climate might be like
- They did not know whether the indigenous population would prove friendly
- In order to survive they had to build adequate shelters
- They had to be able to locate sources of food and fresh water
- They had to provide protection for the women and children
- Some were better equipped to survive than others
- They were cut off from everyone and everything they had ever known - they only had each other
- They were cut off from any form of government or law
The "Saints" and the "Strangers" realized that if they didn't work as a group, they could all die in the wilderness. There was no room for their differences to be of paramount importance when their lives were at stake. The two groups had to come to an agreement in order for them to survive. The idea of the Mayflower Compact was born...
Mayflower Compact - The Purpose of the Mayflower Compact
The idea of liberty without constraint no doubt appealed to some of the "Strangers". However, the reality of taking such a course must have 'hit home' when they considered the potential problems that might be awaiting them in their new colony. While they are still on board the Mayflower, the Saints and Strangers agree that they need a covenant, a solemn promise and pact "...for our better ordering and preservation..."
Mayflower Compact - Self-Government
The pact (which would become known as the Mayflower Compact) required a binding agreement between the new colonists. It had to be a formal document. And it had to be a binding document. There was no-one who had the authority to govern them (like the king and his forces) who were so far away. The colonists had to find a way to govern themselves and the document, that would become known as the Mayflower Compact, would provide the vehicle for the colonists to do so.