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The Pilgrims Arrive in Plymouth
Digital History ID 65

Author:   William Bradford


In sixteenth-century England, a religious movement known as Puritanism arose which wanted to purge the Church of England of all vestiges of Roman Catholicism. The Puritans objected to elaborate church hierarchies and to church ceremonies and practices which lacked Biblical sanction and elevated priests above their congregation.

Late in the sixteenth century, some Puritans, known as separatists, became convinced that the Church of England was so corrupt that they withdrew from it and set up their own congregations. In 1609, a group of separatists (later known as Pilgrims) fled from England to Holland, eager to escape the corrupting wickedness around them. In his classic History of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford (1588-1657), the Pilgrim leader, explains why the Pilgrims decided to leave the Netherlands in 1619 and establish a new community in the New World, as it turned out, in Massachusetts. In this selection, he also describes how the Pilgrims were assisted by an Indian named Squanto.

Squanto's story illustrates the way that the entire Atlantic world became integrated in wholly new ways during the seventeenth century and the impact this transformation had upon real-life individuals and communities. A Patuxet Indian born around 1585, Squanto had grown up in a village of 2000 located near where the Pilgrims settled in 1620. In 1614, Captain John Smith had passed through the region, and one of his lieutenants kidnapped Squanto and some twenty other Patuxets, planning to sell the Indians in the slave market of Malaga, Spain. After escaping to England, where he learned to speak English, Squanto returned to New England in 1619, only to discover that his village had been wiped out by a chicken pox epidemic--one of many epidemics that killed about 90 percent of New England's coastal Indian people between 1616 and 1618. Squanto then joined the Wampanoag tribe.

After the Pilgrims arrived, Squanto served as an interpreter between the Wampanoag leader, Massasoit, and the colonists and taught the English settlers how to plant Indian corn. He also tried to use his position to challenge Massasoit's leadership, informing neighboring tribes that the Pilgrims would infect them with disease and make war on them unless they gave him gifts. Squanto's scheme to use his connections with the Pilgrims to wrest power from Massaoit failed. In 1622, two years after the English settlers arrived, Squanto fell ill and died of an unknown disease.


After they had lived in this city [Leyden in the Netherlands] about some 11 or 12 years...and sundry of them taken away by death; and many others began to be well stricken in years...those prudent governors, with sundry of the sagest members began both deeply to apprehend their present dangers, and wisely to foresee the future and think of timely remedy. In the agitation of their thoughts, and much discourse of things hereabout, at length they began to incline to this conclusion, of removal to some other place. Not out of any newfangledness, or other suchlike giddy humour by which men are oftentimes transported to their great hurt and danger, but for sundry weighty and solid reasons, some of the chief of which I will here briefly touch.

...Of all sorrows most heavily to be borne, was that many of the children... [as a result of] the great licentiousness of youth in that country, and the manifold temptations of the place, were drawn away by evil examples into extravagant and dangerous courses, getting the reins off their necks and departing from their parents. Some became soldiers, others took upon them far voyages by sea, and other some worse courses, tending to dissoluteness, and the danger of their souls, to the great grief of their parents and dishonor of God. So that they saw their posterity would be in danger to degenerate and be corrupted.

Lastly, (and which was not least) a great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation (or at least to make some way thereunto) for propagating and advancing the gospel of the Kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world....

Being thus passed the vast ocean and a sea of troubles before in their preparation...they had now [in Massachusetts] no friends to welcome them, nor inns to entertain or refresh their weather beaten bodies, no houses or much less towns to repair to, to seek for succor.... And for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent and subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search an unknown coast. Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men, and what multitudes there might be of them they knew not.... If they looked behind them, there was the mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar and gulf to separate them from all the civil parts of the world....What could now sustain them but the spirit of God and his grace?...

But that which was most sad and lamentable was that, in 2 or 3 months time, half of their company died, especially in January and February, being the depth of winter and wanting houses and other comforts, being infected with the scurvy and other diseases which this long voyage and their inaccommodate condition had brought upon them. So, as there died sometimes 2 or 3 a day in the aforesaid time that, of 100 and odd persons, scarce 50 remained. And of these, in time of most distress, there was but 6 or 7 sound persons, who, to their great commendations be it spoken, spared no pains, night nor day, but with abundance of toil and hazard of their own health, fetched them wood, made them fires, dressed them meat, made their beds, washed their loathesome clothes, clothed and unclothed them; in a word, did all the homely and necessary offices for them which dainty and queasy stomachs cannot endure to hear named....

All this while the Indians came skulking about them and would sometimes show themselves aloof of, but when any approached near them, they would run away. And once they stole away their tools where they had been at work and were gone to dinner. But about the 16 of March a certain Indian came boldly amongst them and spoke to them in broken English, which they could well understand, but marveled at it. At length, they understood, by discourse with him, that he was not of these parts, but belonged to the eastern parts, where some English ships came to fish, with whom he was acquainted and could name sundry of them by their names, amongst whom he had got his language....His name was Samasett. He told them also of another Indian whose name was Squanto, a native of this place who had been in England and could speak better English than himself. Being, after some time of entertainment and gifts, dismissed, a while after he came again, and 5 more with him, and they brought again all the tools that were stolen away before, and made way for the coming of their great sachem, called Massachoit, who, about 4 or 5 days after, came with the chief of his friends and other attendance, with the aforesaid Squanto. With whom, after friendly entertainment and some gifts given him, they made peace with him (which hath now continued this 24 years)....

After these things he returned to his place called Sowams, some 40 miles from this place, but Squanto continued with them and was their interpreter and was a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation. He directed them how to set their corn, where to take fish, and to procure other commodities, and was also their pilot to bring them to unknown places for their profit, and never left them till he died....

Bradford's History of Plimouth Plantation (Boston: Wright & Potter, 1901) 29-30, 32-35, 93-97, 109-12, 114-16)

Source: William Bradford, History of Plimouth Plantation, (Boston: Wright & Potter, 1901), pp. 29-30, 32-35, 93-97, 109-12, 114-16.

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