F OR sixty-three days the good ship Mayflower, from Plymouth, England, had battled with the wintry storms of the Atlantic. Driven far out of her course, the frail vessel had weathered the perilous shoals and head winds off Cape Cod and dropped anchor in the harbor at Provincetown. This was on the twenty-first of November, 1620.
On board this little vessel were one hundred and two men, women, and children. They were English people, who had come to make a home for themselves in far-off America, where they should be free to worship God as they pleased. They called themselves Pilgrims.
"Let us first thank God for all his goodness," Elder Brewster said, when the Mayflower was safe in the harbor.
So with one mind and one heart they all knelt on the deck and gave thanks to God, who had brought them safely "over the vast and furious ocean, and set their feet on the firm and stable earth."
On this same Saturday, before anybody went ashore, a writing, or compact, was drawn up in the cabin of the Mayflower. Forty-one of the men signed it, using Elder Brewster's great chest for a table. In this compact they said they would defend one another and obey such laws as should be made. Then they chose, for one year, one of their best men as governor of the colony. This was John Carver, whom they all loved and were glad to obey.
Signing the Compact in the Cabin of the Mayflower
Now we must keep in mind that the Mayflower remained at anchor a month in the harbor which she had first entered. During this time the Pilgrims made three trips along the shore of the great bay of Cape Cod in search of a place for their future home.
It was pitiful work, for it was bitter cold and the snow was deep. The men slept in the underbrush and were wet to the skin; they were also hungry most of the time.
One day, while going through the Truro woods, they came across a young tree bent to the ground, with some acorns scattered underneath.
"Perhaps it is a deer trap, which the Indians have set," said Stephen Hopkins.
"Let me look at it," said William Bradford, who was not very careful, perhaps, where he was stepping.
In a moment the trap sprung and he was caught in the noose. The future governor of the colony found himself suddenly jerked up by the leg in a way which must have made even the sober Pilgrims laugh.
Not many years before, most of the savages in this region had died of plague. Their wigwams remained just as they had lived in them. There were baskets of parched corn, pieces of dried fish, wooden bowls, braided rush mats, and many other things for household use.
While the Pilgrims were tramping over the dreary sand hills and through the red cedar woods they often saw little mounds. The dug into one of them and found it to be a kind of cellar in which the Indians kept their winter supply of corn.
In one there was a basket "with six and thirty goodly ears of corn," some yellow, some red, and others mixed with blue. One large basket, prettily made, held from three to four bushels.
About ten bushels of this corn were taken back to the ship and kept for seed. Afterward the owners of the corn were found and paid.
Nearly a month had now passed, and still the wished-for home had not been located. The food was running short. Captain Jones, the master of the vessel, was eager to get rid of his passengers and sail back to England.
"There is a good harbor some twenty-five miles directly to the west," said Robert Coppin, the pilot of the Mayflower; "I have been there once, years ago, with Captain John Smith."
Indeed, on a clear day, they could see the blue headlands of this harbor from the deck of the Mayflower as she lay at anchor.
"Very well," said Governor Carver; "something must be done. Let us select our best men and sail along the coast to see how this harbor looks."
It was bitter cold on Wednesday, the sixth of December, but eighteen of the strongest men put off in their shallop, or sailboat, for the third voyage along the coast. The sea was rough, and the clothing of the men, wet with spray, was soon frozen as stiff as a coat of iron.
Just before daybreak on Friday morning, while in camp, they heard a war whoop. In a moment the air was full of arrows; but when Captain Miles Standish and his men began firing their guns the savages ran away, for they were greatly afraid of these strangers who could make thunder and lightning when they pleased.
In the afternoon of the same day, while they were sailing along the shore, a heavy snowstorm set in and the sea began to be rough. In the midst of it all the rudder broke and the Pilgrims were in great peril.
When night came on the gale grew worse. With a crash the mast came down on their heads. The men rowed with all their might toward a sheltered cove.
"Lord be merciful! I never saw this place before!" cried Master Coppin, the pilot.
"About with her, or we are cast away!" the man steering shouted to the rowers.
"Yet by God's mercy," Governor Bradford afterward wrote in his famous journal, "we had the flood tide with us and struck into the harbor."
In the darkness the boat drifted into smooth water. The tide carried it under the lee of a rise of land, and drove it ashore on a strip of sandy beach. Here it rested till the sun rose bright and clear the next morning.
At daybreak the Pilgrims, numb with cold, found themselves on an island well out from the mainland. This land has ever since been known as Clarke's Island. It was so called after the mate of the Mayflower, who is said to have been the first man to step ashore.
The next day, which was the Sabbath, was spent in prayer and in reading the Bible.
Early Monday morning they rowed over to the main shore. There they found a beautiful spot with "cornfields and little running brooks."
"We have found our home at last," said Captain Standish; "let us hurry back to the ship with the news."
With a fair wind, on Tuesday morning, the men eagerly directed the shallop across the bay to the tip end of Cape Cod, where the Mayflower lay at anchor.
While the men were coasting along the shore the women and children had been shut up in the little cabin of the Mayflower. They were sick at heart, but they watched and prayed and hoped for the best. But they had sad news to tell. Dorothy the young wife of William Bradford, had fallen overboard and drowned the day after her husband had sailed away in the shallop.
There was glad news too. A baby boy had been born. They gave the tiny stranger the name of Peregrine, or "stranger." This was the first child born of English parents in New England. At Plymouth you may still see in Pilgrim Hall the cradle in which Peregrine White was rocked.
Peregrine White's Cradle, now in Pilgrim Hall, Plymouth
It was six days now since the shallop had left the Mayflower. Late on Tuesday afternoon some of the women and girls stood on the high deck straining their eyes across the wide bay, hoping to catch a glimpse of the longed-for boat.
Ellen More, the little bound girl of the Winslow family, had sharp eyes. In her eagerness she climbed into the rigging and gazed toward the west.
"There they are!" she suddenly called out. "Mistress Winslow, I can see a white speck just over yonder sandy point. Yes, there it is! It's the shallop."
"God be praised! In truth I believe the girl is right," said gentle Rose Standish.
Just after dark the men from the shallop climbed aboard the Mayflower. That night, in the main cabin, the story of the past week was told.
The beautiful, sheltered bay was described,—the high hill sloping to the water's edge, the pretty brooks, and the great trees.
That night all on board the Mayflower must have fallen asleep with happy thoughts of their new home.