Women of Washington

Communicating America’s Founding Principles

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The Pilgrims - Part IV
By Judy Leithe

The Mayflower arrived in a familiar northeastern harbor of what is now Massachusetts. British and Dutch mariners had been successfully fishing for cod in these waters for decades and, in 1602, identified it as Cape Cod. Eight years after founding the Jamestown, Virginia Colony, in 1606-07, Captain John Smith explored the Cape Cod mainland and discovered a spot for a future colony; it was on high ground beside a river and had the remnants of a field of corn, which had been planted earlier by indigenous people. Smith mapped the site and named it, Plymouth.

It was now mid-November of 1620 when the captain lowered the ship’s anchor near the long, curved spit of land that created the bay at Cape Cod. The cold winds of winter were already being felt. “Summer was gone…and winter, sharpe and violent, lay ahead…” wrote William Bradford in his journal entitled, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620 – 1647. As they looked behind them, “there was the mighty ocean which they had passed…” however, ahead of them they saw, “desolate wilderness.” They also had great fear of rumored savages, “who would readily fill their sides full of arrows.”

The Mayflower’s captain knew he had to wait out the winter anchored in Cape Cod Bay, but often warned that as soon as spring arrived, he would deposit the passengers on shore and sail back to England. However, the ice-encrusted ship was home for the passengers and crew for the next four months. As weather permitted, scouting parties went ashore to find Smith’s “ideal” spot for their colony. The Puritans were now truly pilgrims, making their way in a foreign land.