The Mayflower Compact
stories of survival, of relations with American Indians, of the first
Thanksgiving, and of religious freedom found, are the stuff of American legend.
One of the cornerstones of the Pilgrim ethos is the Mayflower Compact.
The Pilgrims were a small group of people bound by common religious beliefs.
They did not believe in the influence over the church that the English king
held, and preached separatism. This position did not sit well with the King,
and by 1608, many of them left England for Holland, which was more tolerant of
religious diversity. Though some of the group prospered, the time in Holland
was hard. In particular, the group saw the children assimilating into Dutch
culture, and they lamented the lack of opportunity to spread their
interpretation of the Gospel to the far corners of the world.
The leaders began to think about moving. The two main proposed destinations
were Guiana and Virginia; there was also some thought of going to Dutch
America, specifically to settle near the Hudson River. Eventually, though,
financing was secured to pay for settlement in New England, an area north of
the Virginia settlements. Two ships were hired for the voyage - the Speedwell,
to transport the passengers, and the larger Mayflower, to transport cargo and
to do exploration. The Speedwell turned out to be unseaworthy (reports arose
that its crew sabotaged the ship to get out of their contracts), so the
Pilgrims and other colonists brought in by the investors crowded into the
Mayflower; about twenty passengers had to be left behind. The ship finally
sailed for America in September of 1620.
In November, the Mayflower spotted Cape Cod. They tried to sail south to the
Hudson River, but turned back north when they encountered shoals. They anchored
at Provincetown Harbor, at the northern tip of Cape Cod. While anchored and
awaiting exploration to find a suitable place for colonization, the colonists
decided that their contracts with their investors were not valid, not the least
reason being that the promised land grants for New England were incomplete (the
grants were finalized while the Mayflower was in transit). The colonists
decided to enact a contract among themselves. This contract, later known at the
Mayflower Compact, is now seen as one of the first forays into democracy on the
North American continent.
In the Compact, the signers agree to bind themselves into a society to
preserve order and to help further their aims. They agree to create offices,
laws, and constitutions that will aid the common good. Finally, they agreed
that such laws would be supreme and agreed to abide by them. In a nutshell,
this is a classic embodiment of the Lockean idea of government (though it
predates Locke), an idea carried on to what some consider its ultimate
embodiment, the U.S. Constitution.
The Pilgrims are a revered and honored group in American history. The
The original Compact is lost to history, but its text was recorded in 1622
in a book about the Pilgrims and the founding of the colony at Plimouth (now
Plymouth), Massachusetts. The book, entitled Mourt's Relation: A Journal of
the Pilgrims in Plymouth, was published in London. This publication did not
include the list of signers; this list is taken from another contemporary book,
New England's Memoriall, published in 1669. The list is presented here
in alphabetical order. All spellings in the original version are those taken
from William Bradford's transcription from his book, Of Plimouth
Plantation, written in 1645. The "modern" version was created by Steve
Sources for the text: The Avalon
Project and images of the Compact transcribed by William Bradford. Sources
for introduction: The
Plimouth Plantation website and Wikipedia.
Original version as recorded by William Bradford
In ye name of God Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects
of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by ye Grace of God, of great Britaine,
Franc, & Yreland, King, defender of ye Faith, &c.
Haveing undertaken, for ye Glorie of God, and advancements of ye Christian
faith, and the honour of our King & countrie, a voyage to plant ye first
colonie in ye Northern parts of Virginia; Doe by these presents, solemnly &
mutualy, in ye presence of God, and one of another; covenant & combine
ourselves together into a Civill body politick; for our better ordering, &
preservation & furtherance of ye ends aforesaid; and by vertue hereof to
enact, constitute, and frame, such just & equal Lawes, ordinances, Acts,
constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete
and convenient for ye generall good of ye Colonie; unto which we promise all
due submission and obedience.
In witnes wherof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cap-Codd ye 11 of
November, in ye year of ye raigne of our soveraigne Lord King James, of
England, France, & Yreland, ye eighteenth, and of Scotland ye fiftie
fourth, Ano: Dom. 1620.
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 advancements of the Christian
faith, and the 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 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 hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the
11th 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,