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The Voyage of the Mayflower
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ON the 11th of November they anchored inside the extreme point of Cape Cod, "in a goodly and pleasant harbour" (now that of Provincetown), compassed about by a heavily wooded coast. Here a thousand ships might safely anchor, sheltered from the winds and waves. Records show beyond peradventure that the coast was at that time heavily wooded, though this seems hardly possible in view of the present barren condition of that locality. A name given to a point of land on an early map is Wood End, again showing the existence of the number of trees then abounding.
The same day sixteen armed men went ashore in a dingy, but returned at nightfall, having seen no human being nor found a trace of human habitation or of wild beasts.
A few days later Myles Standish, while on a foraging expedition and accompanied by an armed escort, came upon a small band of Indians, who, upon observing the men from the ship, fled precipitately and apparently in great fright.
Upon following their trail some recent Indian graves were discovered, and in the vicinity were also found implements of war -- clubs, arrow-heads, and spears -- which had been left behind by the red men in their flight. A store of corn was also found buried in the ground, which Standish and his men appropriated forthwith to the extent of "ten heaping bushels," but which the settlers afterward paid the rightful owners for at a "fair rate of barter."
Before the end of November the second birth occurred -- Peregrine White, a daughter to William and Susan White-while the company were still aboard the anchored vessel. At about this time also occurred another death, that of Dorothy, wife of William Bradford, who fell overboard from the deck of' the Mayflower and was drowned in Cape Cod Harbor. On the 6th of December a party of the principal men circumnavigated the bay in a small boat in search of a permanent place to locate the settlement. They passed the night of the 9th on a small fertile island in what was afterward Plymouth Bay, and which they named Clarke's Island, after the mate of the Mayflower, who accompanied them and who was altogether a more agreeable person to their liking than any other of the navigators or crew.
The following day being the Sabbath, it was kept by the little band separated from the main body still on board the Mayflower, in true Christian spirit, and it was likewise observed aboard the ship, under the presiding rule of Elder Brewster, he not having accompanied the exploring party.
The next day, the 11th, the harbor between Clarke's Island and the mainland was sounded, and was found to be of a suitable depth for the safe anchorage of the Mayflower. Upon reaching the shore they found an ample supply of pure water, a fertile soil, and a desirable spot for the location of their future settlement, which was immediately decided upon and accepted.
This day (11th December, 1620, O.S.) has always been considered and celebrated as Forefathers' Day -- the day on which the Pilgrim Fathers first landed on Plymouth Rock -- which, according to the new style reckoning, is the 21st December.
Romance has clothed the episode of the actual first stepping upon Plymouth Rock with some obscurity. The circumstance, while commendable enough to warrant a gratifying assurance, were such a thing possible, is hardly of sufficient importance to justify a controversy as to whether the honor or distinction belongs to Mary Chilton or to John Alden. The facts which will generally be accepted without question are these: The exploring party which first touched at this particular spot was composed only of a small number of the hardy and active men of the company, among them John Alden. "Youngest of all was he of the men who came in the Mayflower." If this be the spot where they first stepped on shore, it is not readily seen how the honor could belong to Mary Chilton.
The records do not show that any woman accompanied the exploring party which, set out from the ship, and which was made in an open boat at the most rigorous season of the year, nor is it likely to suppose that there were such. Accordingly the distinction undoubtedly belongs to Alden, regardless of the picturing by a famous artist of Mary Chilton -- the first to set foot on Plymouth Rock.
Soon after the final decision as to a location had been agreed upon the Mayflower was towed over to her anchorage for the winter, and preparations for the actual settlement and the transfer of the company and their belongings were begun.
Thus it is seen they were five weeks aboard the ship at anchor, inside Cape Cod before their ultimate decision to settle here and their final choice as to the precise location. The bleak and bare New England coast at this season of the year offering little encouragement to them in favor of their decision, which should be credited solely to their good judgment and foresight as to future possibilities and existing conditions.
Over one-half of the company died during the first winter, due probably to the effects of insufficient food and shelter, the hardships incidental to disembarking, and the general severity of a New England winter.
The following individual members of the colony became more than ordinarily prominent in the affairs of the community, and their names are recognized by all as being influential in forming the future customs and habits of all the other allied New England colonies:
And of the women,
particularly noted as having
become famous to posterity and all good Americans alike. The part that
they, the women, took in the early affairs of the country cannot be
lightly passed over. If their responsibility was less, their burdens
were none the less light than those of the men, and their good health,
sturdy constitutions, and provident customs were responsible in a great
measure for the firm foundation on which they stood.