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I shall a little return back and begin with a combination made by them before they came ashore, being the first foundation of their government in this place; occasioned partly by the discontented and mutinous speeches that some of the strangers amongst them had let fall from them in the ship: That when they came ashore they would use their own liberty; for none had power to command them, the patent they had being for Virginia, and not for New England, which belonged to another government, with which the Virginia Company had nothing to do. And partly that such an act by them done (this their condition considered) might be as firm as any patent, and in some respects more sure.

The form was as follows:

In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign, Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland king, defender of the faith, etc., having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern part of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno: Dom. 1620.

After this they chose, or rather conformed, Mr. John Carver (a man godly and well-approved amongst them) their Governor for that year. And after they had provided a place for their goods, or common store (which were long in unloading for want of boats, foulness of winter weather, and diverse sickness), and begun some small cottages for their habitation, as time would admit, they met and consulted of laws and orders, both for their civil and military governments, as the necessity of their condition did require, still adding thereunto as urgent occasion in several times, and as cases did require.

In these hard and difficult beginnings they found some discontent and murmurings arise among some, and mutinous speeches and carriages in others; but they were soon quelled and overcome by the wisdom, patience, and just and equal carriage of things by the Governor and part, which clave faithfully together in the main.

But that which was most sad and lamentable was that in two or three months time half of their company died, especially in January and February, being the depth of winter, and wanting houses and other comforts; being infected with the scurvy and [p.111] other diseases, which this long voyage and their inaccommodate condition had brought upon them. So as there died sometimes two or three of a day, in the foresaid time; that of one hundred and odd persons, scarcely fifty remained.

And of these in the time of most distress, there were but six or seven sound persons, who, to the great commendations be it spoken, spared no pains, night or day, but with abundance of toil and hazard of their own health, fetched them wood, made them fires, dressed them meat, made their beds, washed their loathesome clothes, clothed and unclothed them; in a word, did all the homely and necessary offices for them which dainty and queasy stomachs cannot endure to hear named. And all this willingly and cheerfully, without any grudging in the least, showing herein their true love unto their friends and brethren. A real example and worthy to be remembered. Two of these seven were Mr. William Brewster, the reverend Elder, and Myles Standish, their Captain and military commander, unto whom myself and many others were much beholden in our low and sick condition. And yet the Lord so upheld these persons, as in this general calamity they were not at all infected with sickness, or lameness.

And what I have said of these, I may say of many others who died in this general visitation, and others yet living, that while they had health, yea, or any strength continuing, they were not wanting to any that had need of them. And I doubt not but their recompence is with the Lord.

William Bradford 1620

Historical Summary

THIS terse, matter-of-fact report of one of the most dramatic events in the founding of the colonies marks the culmination of the memorable voyage of the Pilgrims. What the reporter omits to mention is that the compact was a measure adopted in desperation by the leaders who were surrounded by mutineers and malcontents. Many of the Mayflower immigrants (four American presidents number them among their ancestors) were obviously high-pressured into signing by a minority group who used this instrument as a means of perpetuating themselves in power. This compact was modeled after church covenants well known to the English Separatists.

Granted the motives of the framers, it still must be recognized that the Mayflower Compact was for its time and place a remarkable document, laying down Revolutionary principles of government. Actually as a step in the direction of democracy it was anticipated in Virginia the preceding year when a representative legislature was established. An egalitarian spirit pervades the document in spite of the fact that its framers were theocrats who had little or no use for democracy and did not go out of their way to implement the provision in the compact for "just and equall lawes." It is perhaps significant that, in addition to the Pilgrim leaders, numerous "goodmen" and a few servants attached their names to this first constitution in American history. In substance it was reproduced on later occasions in Connecticut, in New Hampshire, and among the more democratic settlements of Rhode Island.

Our reporter is William Bradford, the official historian of the Pilgrims, who, with the exception of five years, was named governor of Plymouth thirty-times between 1621 and 1656. Unlike modern reporters, Bradford did not seem to realize the news value of names. For the list of the forty-two signers we are indebted to Mourt's Relations. This piece of reporting illustrates the fact that where a reporter has an axe to grind, particularly where he is an active participant in the events he describes, he might not feel a strong compulsion to tell the whole story. Nevertheless in all fairness to Bradford, it must be conceded that, as an unpretentious and earnest reporter, he deserves a high rank in American history. His aim in writing should serve as a model for all reporters: "The which I shall endeavor to manifest in a plain style with singular [p.110] regard unto the simple truth in all things, at least as near as my slender judgments can attain the same."

Original Sources http://www.originalsources.com