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Plymouth Colony

Early Years

During the first winter of the colony, about half of the settlers died from scurvy and exposure, but none of the survivors chose to return with the Mayflower to England. A little corn was raised in 1621, and in October of that year the settlers celebrated the first Thanksgiving Day. However, the arrival of more colonists necessitated half rations, and it was several years before the threat of famine passed.

John Carver, the first governor, died in 1621. William Bradford then assumed the post and served, except for the five years he refused the position, until his death in 1657. A treaty made in 1621 with Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag, resulted in 50 years of peace with that tribe. The Narragansett tribe farther west was hostile, but Bradford averted trouble from that quarter. In 1623, Capt. Miles Standish marched against the Native Americans to the northwest, who were accused of plotting to exterminate the colonists settled at Weymouth by Thomas Weston. The Native Americans were gradually pushed back and deprived of their lands.

A communistic system of labor, adopted for seven years, was abandoned in 1623 by Bradford because it was retarding agriculture, and land was parceled out to each family. A well-managed fur trade enabled the colony to liquidate (1627) its debt to the London merchants who had backed the venture. The colony, which developed into a quasi-theocracy, expanded slowly due to the infertility of the land and the lack of a staple moneymaking crop.

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

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