The Pilgrims were a group of European settlers who left England to find religious freedom and to establish a new way of life. On September 16, 1620, 102 men, women, and children, along with several crew members, boarded a ship called The Mayflower and began what would be a grueling 2 month long journey. Storms made crossing the Atlantic Ocean was very difficult, and with so many people on the ship, fresh water didn’t last long and many people became very ill; two people died on the voyage.
The Pilgrims intended on arriving along the Hudson River, but the wind changed their course and they ended up settling on Plymouth, where the harbor was calm, the river water was fresh, and the land was flat for farming. When they arrived, the Pilgrims made an agreement called The Mayflower Compact. This compact stated how issues would be settled and how the colony would be run. It declared that the Pilgrims were loyal to the King of England, that they were Christans who served God, that each person would work for what’s best for the colony, and that all laws would be fair and just. John Carver was named the first governor of Plymouth Colony. The first winter brought a great deal of suffering and death, as the Pilgrims were not prepared for such harsh conditions. They did not have adequate shelter and since so many people were ill, it took a long time to build the small houses that families needed. By the end of the first winter, almost half of the original settlers had died.
The Wampanoags, a Native American tribe, were already settled at Plymouth when the Pilgrims arrived. Although there was originally much strife between the two groups, they eventually agreed upon a treaty of peace and established a trading system. A Wampanoag man named Squanto spoke English, and agreed to help the Pilgrims learn to survive on the land. He taught them how to fish, hunt, plant corn, and how to make it through the harsh winters. Squanto learned English from previous interactions with English invaders and a period of enslavement. Knowing that they wouldn’t have survived without the help of Squanto and the Wampanoag people, the Pilgrims invited them to a feast after their first harvest in 1621. This feast is sometimes called The First Thanksgiving, and is how the American tradition of Thanksgiving began.
The Pilgrims’ landing on Plymouth Rock in 1620 is a rich part of American and Massachusetts history. With the help of the Wampanoags, the Pilgrims established a colony that thrived and was rich in crops. The following activities will help students understand the history behind the peace between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims, and eventually led to the widely celebrated holiday of Thanksgiving.