The main thing I remember from The Mayflower Compact back in school that it had something to do with the Pilgrims and wanting religious freedom. Yes, it’s been a long while since I first learned about it and as I read about it recently am in awe at the beauty of this document and the meaning.
Samuel Eliot Morison wrote: “The Mayflower Compact…is justly regarded as a key document in American history. It proves the determination of the small group of English emigrants to live under a rule of law, based on the consent of the people, and to set up their own civil government.”
The authors of The Mayflower Compact were a religious group from England (the Pilgrims) who believed the end of the world was fast approaching. They saw what they believed were signs in heaven and earth that fulfilled prophecy in scripture about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. For example, in 1618 a comet was seen in Europe that many believed was a sign of the beginning of the final battle between good and evil. They saw additional evidence in a terrible war that was going on in Europe (called the Thirty Years’ War) between Catholics and Protestants (see Philbrick, Mayflower, 6).
The Pilgrims felt that the existing churches, including the Church of England, were unable to prepare the people for the Savior’s Second Coming. Some Puritans believed they should try to fix what they saw as their church’s problems by purifying them (hence the name Puritans) while still staying within the congregations. The Pilgrims, however, were Separatists. They felt that the churches were so corrupt that they had no choice but to separate themselves completely and return to the Christianity they found in the Bible. They wanted to organize new religious communities with new leaders who would teach pure doctrine from the Bible and not the false ideas and traditions of men (see Philbrick, Mayflower, 13-16).
The formation of their covenant congregation, in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, England, was considered rebellion because at that time it was illegal to not attend the Church of England. Punishment for non-attendance included imprisonment and heavy fines. It soon became evident that they would need to leave England in order to worship without harassment.
However, leaving England was also illegal. When the Pilgrims attempted to leave in 1607, they were betrayed, arrested, and imprisoned for a month. Making another attempt the following year, men were separated from their wives and children as armed soldiers rushed the ship; family members not already on board the ship were left stranded on the dock. It took some time for these families to be reunited. Eventually 150 of the Pilgrim congregation made their way to Amsterdam and later to the city of Leiden in Holland. Under the direction of their elected leaders, William Brewster and John Robinson, these English Pilgrims worshiped in peace and security (see Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation, 11-15).
After a time the Pilgrims began to be dissatisfied with their situation in Holland. They asked the English government for permission to settle in America. They knew moving to the New World would be very difficult. The risk the Pilgrims were willing to take in the name of God is remarkable (see Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation, 22-27).
After several delays and miscommunications, the government granted them permission to settle in Northern Virginia as part of a business venture. Two ships were contracted: the Speedwell and the Mayflower. Crew and additional colonists were hired by the investors to support the colony during the first year. In July 1620, the Speedwell set forth from Holland with the colonists who were able and willing to go; the rest would follow the next year. Their pastor, John Robinson, who was unable to go with them, met on board for a departing prayer and presented the colonist with a letter of instructions. The letter proved to be prophetic, both in anticipating difficulties that they would face, and in offering direction and solutions for overcoming those difficulties (see Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation, 64-67).
After some difficulty, only the Mayflower sailed to the New World. The original landing was to be near the mouth of the Hudson River, in what was then referred to as Northern Virginia. However, several severe storms and the Gulf Stream current put the Mayflower near Cape Cod, well north of their intended destination (about forty miles south of present-day Boston). Sickness began to appear among the passengers after the long ocean voyage, and the Pilgrims knew they would have to go ashore as soon as possible. Navigating dangerous waters and an increasing wind building from the south made the possibility of sailing south extremely difficult.
November 10, 1620, they sighted land, and the next day the decision was to land in Provincetown Harbor (Cape Cod) for the safety of those aboard. Later the Mayflower sailed south and west across Cape Cod to what today is Plymouth, Massachusetts. Everyone on board knew that the rights granted in their patent did not extend north of the Hudson River and this gave rise to a rebellion among some of the passengers who proclaimed that they would not be ruled except by their own liberty. Recognizing that the colony could not survive with such division and that their goals as a community would fail, the Pilgrims drafted a compromise agreement to maintain the integrity of Plymouth Colony. This document was the Mayflower Compact ((see Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation, 76-77, 89-91).
“On November [11th] the colony’s leaders assembled in the main cabin and drew up a social compact, designed to secure unity and provide for future government.” It organized a group of people to govern. They were to provide “just and equal laws” based upon church teachings that would blend the laws of the church with the laws of the land. The contract was based in both Biblical examples as well as government ideas of their day. “It is an amzing document for these earnest of men (and women) to have agreed and drawn up, signed by all forty-one ‘heads of households’ aboard the tiny vessel in the midst of the troubled Atlantic, and it testified to the profound earnestness and high purpose with which they viewed their venture” (P. Johnson, History of the American People, 29).
As you read and study this document, ask yourself why it was so important for these Pilgrims, some Separatists and others “strangers,” to pledge to work together before entering into an unknown, wild, and savage land. Also, look for how the early Pilgrims looked to God as the source to guarantee their safety and success.
The Mayflower Compact
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 Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. 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 mutally, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends afore-said: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, 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.
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. Stephen Hopkins, Degory 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.
It makes me wonder if this historical document is even taught in our schools today due to the obvious religious nature and multiple references to God. I also find it interesting that their religion was mixed with the laws of the land as their first government. Today, people would be appalled and protest in anger about the separation of church and state. When will the American people remember their roots, get back to God, and acknowledge His hand in the founding of this great country?
Remember, YOU have the CHOICE to make it a GREAT day!
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