This week in history: The Mayflower

Painting by William Halsall

This week in 1620, passengers and crew aboard The Mayflower got their first glimpse of the New World, sighting modern-day Cape Cod in Massachusetts. The travelers spent a couple of days trying to sail further south to Virginia, their intended destination, but strong winds pushed them back to the natural harbor at Cape Cod. After anchoring on November 11, the settlers drafted and signed The Mayflower Compact, which established a form of government for the colony. Arguably, it was North America’s first written constitution.

Sadly, the expedition fared pretty poorly after that. The settlers weren’t prepared for Massachusetts’ harsh winter, and by the Spring, half were dead. Little did the Pilgrims realize, however, that they had actually enjoyed a stroke of luck, though a grim one. European diseases born by fisherman had infected the local Native Americans recently, wiping out most of the Wampanoag population. So the land nearby was both partly cleared and relatively empty when the settlers arrived: well-suited for colonists. And the remnant of the Wampanoag were too few to protect themselves from their enemies, so they were eager for allies. As a result, the natives befriended and helped the desperate Pilgrims.

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