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Pilgrims

To the New World

In 1617, John Carver and Robert Cushman went to London to make arrangements with the London Company, cautiously negotiating the pledges necessary to satisfy the company, king, and bishops and still keep the religion of the dissenters pure. In 1619 a charter was secured from the company in the name of one John Wincob, but it was never used. The matter lapsed until early in 1620, when Thomas Weston, speaking for a group of London merchants, offered them support and the use of a charter already obtained from the London Company. A joint-stock company to last for seven years was arranged. The congregation voted in favor of the voyage, but only about half of the members decided to go.

A small vessel, the Speedwell, was obtained to carry the Pilgrims to England, where that vessel joined the Mayflower for the trip to America. Difficulties arose, however, over restrictive arrangements included by Weston in the agreement in order to guarantee more strongly the investment by the merchants, and the Pilgrims, unwilling to accept the revised agreement, sailed without reaching a settlement. The Speedwell proved unseaworthy and returned to port; many of the passengers and much of her cargo were crowded on the Mayflower, which set out alone.

The Leiden group constituted only 35 of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower; many of the English group gathered for the trip were not even separatists (they were thus called "Strangers"). Nonetheless, the Leiden group (the "Saints") retained control and were the moving force behind the emigration. While most of the Leiden Pilgrims were English, modern scholars have found that several were French-speaking Walloons and one was a Pole. Before landing, an agreement providing for a government by the will of the majority was drawn up and called the Mayflower Compact. In Dec., 1620, the Mayflower entered Plymouth harbor, where the settlers established the Plymouth Colony.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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