Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Mayflower Compact

"Signing The Mayflower Compact" by Morgan, ca.1900
When the pilgrims left Plymouth, England in 1620 they had been granted permission from King Charles I to land in northern Virginia and build a colony. During the long 66 day journey on the Mayflower to the New World, the ship drifted off course and eventually landed in what would become modern day Cape Cod.

The pilgrims worried that they had no legal right to colonize the area because they did not have permission, known as a patent, from the king to do so. They were also well aware that previous colonies had failed due to a lack of social order. Some of the pilgrims felt they did not have to abide by any law at this new location because they lacked a patent. This caused concern among the group.

Reason for the Compact

The group decided to draw up a social contract that would establish a local government and oblige the pilgrims to abide by the law of this government until they could obtain a new patent from the king. This social compact simply established basic law and order in the colony. The document was intended to be not just a contract between the colonists but also between themselves and God:

Copy of the Mayflower Compact written in Bradford's journal
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, etc., having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor 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 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.
In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the 11 of November, in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620.”

William Bradford, who would later became governor of Plymouth plantation, explained the decision to sign this social contract in his journal titled "Of Plymouth Plantation":

"This day, before we came to harbour, observing some not well affected to unity and concord, but gave some appearance of faction, it was thought good there should be an association and agreement, that we should combine together in one body, and to submit to such government and governors as we should by common consent agree to make and choose, and set our hands to this that follows, word for word."

Signers of the Mayflower Compact

The pilgrims signed the contract on November 11, 1620 in the cabin of the Mayflower ship. All of the 41 men on board the Mayflower signed their names:

John Carver
Edward Tilly
Digery Priest
William Bradford
John Tilly
Thomas Williams
Edward Winslow
Francis Cooke
Gilbert Winslow
William Brewster
Thomas Rogers
Edmund Margeson
Isaac Allerton
Thomas Tinker
Peter Brown
Miles Standish
John Rigdale
Richard Bitteridge
John Alden
Edward Fuller
George Soule
Samuel Fuller
John Turner
Richard Clark
Christopher Martin
Francis Eaton
Richard Gardiner
William Mullins
James Chilton
John Allerton
William White
John Craxton
Thomas English
Richard Warren
John Billington
Edward Doten
John Howland
Moses Fletcher
Edward Leister
Stephen Hopkins
John Goodman
Depiction of the Mayflower Compact on Bradford St. in Provincetown
The original document has been lost, most likely due to British looting during the American Revolution, but three different copies exist, all with slightly different wording, spelling and capitalization. The first version was printed in a book written by Edward Winslow in 1622 titled “Mourt's Relations.” The second version was published in William Bradford's journal “Of Plymouth Plantation” in 1646. The third version was printed by William Bradford's nephew, Nathaniel Morton, along with a list of men who signed it in a pamphlet titled "New England's Memorial" in 1669.

Although it has come to be known as the Mayflower Compact, the pilgrims never actually called it that and that named was not used until the year 1793.


Citizendium: Plymouth Colony

Constitution Society: The Mayflower Compact

All About History: Mayflower Compact

Plimoth Plantation: The Mayflower Compact

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