Friday, December 18, 2015


JFK+50:  Volume 6, No. 1801


Plymouth, Massachusetts (JFK+50) On this day 395 years ago, December 18, 1620, Saints and Strangers from the English merchant ship Mayflower came ashore here at Plymouth.

The group, made up of 102 men, women and children, included a number of separatists who had broken with the Church of England and wanted to start life anew in America.  These people we know as Pilgrims but they referred to themselves as Saints.  Those settlers who were not part of this religious group were called Strangers.

The Mayflower departed England on September 6 and on November 11 landed at Cape Cod where 41 male passengers signed an agreement known as the Mayflower Compact.  In signing the document, the men pledged themselves to submit to a government and agreed to abide by the laws of the colony.

According to Robert Tracy McKenzie of the Washington Post, however, in the history of the United States we have portrayed the Pilgrims inaccurately.

In his article "Five myths about the Pilgrims," Mr. McKenzie identifies the following Pilgrim myths...

1. The Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock
2. They came to American seeking religious freedom
3. They celebrated the 1st Thanksgiving
4. The Pilgrims were without humor and wore black
5. The Mayflower Compact is a great example of democracy

Addressing the Mythology

1. You can actually see part of the rock under a memorial in Plymouth, Massachusetts today.  But that rock was not identified until 1741, 121 years after the fact and there is no mention of a landing on the rock in Governor William Bradford's famous journal "Of Plimoth Plantation."

2. The Pilgrims first settled in Leiden, Holland but left because they could not maintain their English heritage there nor, probably more importantly, "make a living."  So, religious freedom was not the MAIN motivation in settling in the New World.

3. The Pilgrims were not the FIRST to celebrate a thanksgiving.  The Native American peoples had been practicing that ritual for many moons.

4. The Pilgrims were not totally without humor and preferred dressing in bright colors:  red, blue, green, yellow and orange. 

5. The Mayflower Compact makes reference to the settlers (both saints and strangers) as "loyal subjects of the King."  They created the document to protect themselves legally as they had landed 200 miles north of their destination and out of jurisdiction of the Virginia Company.  The Compact is less democratic than it is "an affirmation of the Divine Right of Kings."


"Five myths about the Pilgrims," by Robert Tracy McKenzie, The Washington Post, November 22, 2013,

Mayflower II
Plymouth, MA
Photo by John White (1986)