Plymouth Colony, America's first permanent Puritan settlement, was established by English Separatist Puritans in December 1620. The Pilgrims left England to seek religious freedom, or simply to find a better life. After a period in Holland, they set sail from Plymouth, England, on Sept. 16, 1620, aboard the Mayflower, its 102 passengers spending 65 days at sea. Passengers, now known as the Pilgrim Fathers, included leader William Brewster; John Carver, Edward Winslow, and William Bradford, early governors of Plymouth Colony; John Alden, assistant governor; and Myles Standish, a professional soldier and military advisor. The Mayflowerdropped anchor near present-day Provincetown on Nov. 21, 1620, and 41 male passengers signed the Mayflower Compact, an agreement to enact "just and equal laws for the general good of the colony." The Pilgrims finally landed at the site of present-day Plymouth, Mass., on Dec. 26, 1620.
By legend the Pilgrims stepped ashore at Plymouth Rock; their records do not mention this landmark. Settlers began erecting buildings and rough shelters for the winter. But harsh climate and illness took their toll. By the end of winter half the colonists had died. The colonists encountered the Indian Samoset, who surprised them by speaking English, learned from English traders on the coast of Maine. Samoset introduced the colonists to Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag Indians, who signed a peace treaty with the Pilgrims. Squanto, another English-speaking Indian, acted as guide and interpreter, and with his help the colonists learned to plant corn, catch fish, and gather fruit. The Pilgrims invited the Indians to celebrate their first harvest in 1621, an event now celebrated as Thanksgiving Day. After Massasoit's death, the Wampanoag joined a tribal coalition to eliminate English settlers, but in the ensuing King Philip's War the Wampanoag were nearly exterminated. The colony gradually grew in size, and the original settlement known as the Plimoth Plantation expanded as settlers built houses in the area. Plymouth Colony retained its independence for over 70 years, and by 1691 its population exceeded 7,000. It was integrated with the Massachusetts Bay Company's much larger colony to establish the royal colony of Massachusetts — now the state of the same name.