In 1620, the English colonists we call the Pilgrims began settling Plymouth Colony, the first English colony in what became Massachusetts and the second permanent English colony in North America. They faced many hardships such as cold weather, malnourishment and disease. They also had several important encounters with local American Indians.
The Pilgrims and Plymouth
The Pilgrims, or Separatists, were English religious dissenters who, unlike the Puritans, believed the Church of England could not be reformed. In search of religious freedom, they left England for Holland in 1608. However, they were primarily farmers who had trouble fitting in with Holland's urban lifestyle. They also feared their children were absorbing too much "sinful" Dutch culture. On Sept. 16, 1620, they left Plymouth, England on an overcrowded ship called the Mayflower. In November, they reached Cape Code, Massachusetts, not the expected Virginia Colony. Unable to sail south, they decided to settle Massachusetts, dropping anchor at the site of Plymouth Colony on Dec.26.
The Nauset were a coastal tribe that originally inhabited modern-day Cape Cod. When the Mayflower first arrived in 1620, a Pilgrim landing party searching for food stole corn from a Nauset burial site and was chased away by Nauset warriors. In 1621, a young boy wandered away from Plymouth and got lost. A Nauset hunting party discovered the boy and took him to their chief, called a sachem. After tense negotiations, they returned the boy, creating a strong friendship with the Pilgrims. In 1622, they gave some corn to the Pilgrims. By about 1640, most Nauset were converted to Christianity.
The Pokanoket survived by fishing, hunting and farming. Each village was a democratic society headed by a tribal council and a sachem. Pokanoket families always shared food with visitors, even if supplies were low. A Pokanoket named Squanto spent several months teaching the Pilgrims survival skills such as planting corn, using fish as fertilizer, making medicine from plants and building Indian-style houses. The Pilgrims returned his kindness by inviting Squanto, the local sachem and other tribe members to share a thanksgiving feast. The Pokanoket provided much of the food, including turkey, fish, beans, corn and berries.
The Narragansett were a powerful and aggressive people who once occupied most of what is now Rhode Island. In 1621, the Narragansett sent a snakeskin full of arrows to the Plymouth Colony as a threat. Gov. William Bradford sent it back full of bullets and gunpowder and the Narragansett decided not to attack. However, according to "Mayflower" author Nathaniel Philbrick, this encounter encouraged the Pilgrims to fortify Plymouth. In 1636, the Narragansett granted land use rights to Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island.
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