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The Pilgrims' Landing in America

Having landed on Cape Cod, a small party set out to explore. Coming on a place where Native People had stored corn underground, they confiscated it to use for seed.  Finding poor soil and lack of fresh water, they decided to look further.

The Mayflower’s pilot, Robert Coppin, remembered Plymouth Harbor from a previous visit.

An exploring party set out in the shallop:

...though it was very dark and rained sore, yet in the end they got under the lee of a small island [Clark's Island] and remained there all that night in safety... And this being the last day of the week, they prepared there to keep the Sabbath. On Monday they sounded the harbor and found it fit for shipping, and marched into the land and found divers cornfield, and little running brooks, a place (as they supposed) fit for situation. At least it was the best they could find.

- William Bradford

The Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by Halsall

William Bradford writes of how the exploring party from the Mayflower, sailing in the shallop, survived a storm and landed on Clark’s Island. After spending the Sabbath on the island, the party finally landed for the first time in Plymouth: From hence they departed, & co[a]sted all along, but discerned no place likely for harbor; & therfore hasted to a place that their pillote, (one Mr. Coppin who had bine in ye cuntrie before) did assure them was a good harbor, which he had been in, and they might fetch it before night; of which they were glad, for it begane to be foule weather.
After some houres sailing, it begane to snow & raine, & about ye midle of ye afternoone, ye wind increased, & ye sea became very rough, and they broake their ruder, & it was as much as 2 men could doe to steere her with a cupple of oares. But their pillott bad them be of good cheere, for he saw ye harbor; but ye storme increasing, & night drawing on, they bore what saile they could to gett in, while they could see. But herwith they broake their mast in 3 peeces, & their saill fell over bord, in a very grown sea, so as they had like to have been cast away; yet by Gods mercie they recovered them selves, & having ye floud with them, struck into ye harbore.

But when it came too, ye pillott was deceived in ye place, and said, ye Lord be mercifull unto them, for his eys never saw yt place before; & he & the mr. mate would have rune her ashore, in a cove full of breakers, before ye winde. But a lusty seaman which steered, bad those which rowed, if they were men, about with her, or ells they were all cast away; the which they did with speed. So he bid them be of good cheere & row lustly, for ther was a faire sound before them, & he doubted not but they should find one place or other wher they might ride in saftie. And though it was very darke, and rained sore, yet in ye end they gott under ye lee of a smale iland, and remained ther all yt night in saftie. But they knew not this to be an iland till morning, but were devided in their minds; some would keepe ye boate for fear they might be amongst ye Indians; others were so weake and cold, they could not endure, but got a shore, & with much adoe got fire, (all things being so wett,) and ye rest were glad to come to them; for after midnight ye wind shifted to the north-west, & it frose hard.

But though this had been a day & night of much trouble & danger unto them, yet God gave them a morning of comforte & refreshing (as usually he doth to his children), for ye next day was a faire sunshinig day, and they found them sellvs to be on an iland secure from ye Indeans, wher they might drie their stufe, fixe their peeces, & rest them selves, and gave God thanks for his mercies, in their manifould deliverances. And this being the last day of ye weeke, they prepared there to keepe ye Sabath.

On Munday they sounded ye harbor, and founde it fitt for shipping; and marched into ye land [Plymouth], & found diverse cornfeilds, & litle runing brooks, a place (as they supposed) fitt for situation; at least it was ye best they could find, and ye season, & their presente necessitie, made them glad to accepte of it. So they returned to their shipp againe with this news to ye rest of their people, which did much comforte their harts.

The Landing of the Pilgrims by Corne

The exploring party went ashore at Plymouth on December 21, 1620.

Bradford noted "it was the best they could find, and the season and present necessity made them glad to accept of it."

The 17th century records do not mention Plymouth Rock. Nevertheless, Plymouth Rock has become one of the most enduring symbols of the Pilgrims. There is much more information about Plymouth Rock in “Beyond the Pilgrim Story.”

Finding the place "very good for situation," they resolved to stay. Soon, however, the little band began to suffer mightily from cold and disease. Of the 102 Mayflower passengers, only half remained alive by spring.

The Mayflower sailed back to England in the spring of 1621. Despite the hardships of the winter, none of the Pilgrims returned with the ship. The Mayflower resumed transporting cargo, never returning to Plymouth. By 1624, the Mayflower’s sailing life was over and the ship was described as being "in ruins."

It was not until April of 1621, that Samoset (a Native Abenaki who spoke English) entered the village and said "Welcome!"


"Two thousand miles westward from the rock where their fathers landed, may now be found the sons of the Pilgrims ... [cherishing the blessings] of wise institutions, of liberty, and religion."

- Daniel Webster, 1820

Paintings from the early years of the new American nation emphasize the Pilgrims' separation from the Old World or their landing in the New. They show the Pilgrims as larger-than-life heroes. Later scenes are more sentimental. Usually missing is the Pilgrims' sense of identity as loyal Englishmen!

Some paintings show the Native Peoples who occupied the continent, although the meeting of the two groups is often skewed. By the 1840s, however, Natives are absent from landing scenes, reflecting the emerging idea of "manifest destiny" and America's push to the Pacific Ocean.

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Pilgrim Hall Museum
75 Court St, Plymouth, MA 02360 | Phone (508) 746-1620