Thursday, August 5, 2010

August 5, 1620 – Pilgrim Expedition Begins on Schedule

A group of Separatists from the Church of England set sail out of Southampton in search of a place to practice religious freedom. They had previously left England for Amsterdam, but problems existed in the Netherlands as well. Fears arose that the Dutch were corrupting their children with extravagances and young people with worldly ways (many were returning to England in pursuit of work to replenish savings spent moving to Amsterdam). The political climate, too, became sour as war with Spain was predicted to return.

William Bradford and other leaders decided it would be in the best interest of the congregation to start afresh with a colony in the New World. After considering Dutch Guiana, they negotiated with the London Company for a land patent on a colony on the Hudson River. They could be supported by the older colony in Southern Virginia, but not close enough to it to be dominated politically. In July of 1620, the Pilgrims left the Netherlands on the Speedwell and joined with the Mayflower in Southampton. The crew of the Speedwell began to report leaks on the ship, but further investigations proved it was sabotage by the crew in an attempt to escape their year-long contracts. The crew was punished and several replaced while in a brief stop in Dartmouth.

After a fair journey of 60 days marked by some illness, though no more than to be expected, the two ships arrived at their destination in the mouth of the Hudson River. The Speedwell Compact was signed in place of the unfinished London charter, and John Carver chosen as governor. They established their colony on the defensible bluffs to the south and began relations with the nearby Lenape Algonquian Indians such as the Raritan, Hackensack, and Manhattas. The first winter was difficult with their short growing season, but they thanked God they had not been detained any later.

Bradford kept careful history of their first few years. They were later joined by more colonists, and the colony thrived despite troubled trade with the Indians (Native Americans). Further explorations mapped much of the coast, and an English-speaking Indian named Squanto was discovered in 1624. Because his understanding of local Indian languages was mixed, the Pilgrims did not rely on him and considered him something of an oddity.

Also in 1624, new settlers arrived at the Hudson: the Dutch. They purchased Manhattan Island with a few trinkets (a joke well shared by the Indians, who used the island only seasonally) and began to build New Amsterdam. Initially, the Pilgrims received their European comrades happily as a source for trade, but they began to suspect their influence would ruin the settlement they had created. After much discussion, argument, and finally threat, the Dutch would stay at New Amsterdam across the river from the Pilgrims.

Something of a land rush began, and English and Dutch settlers poured into the rich valley. War was inevitable, and Indian confederacies formed on both sides. In 1637, battles broke out in the form of raids against villages and settlements. In actions that some considered bloodthirsty, the Pilgrims with Indian help were able to chase out the Dutch after the newly appointed William Kieft conducted a massacre in 1638. The Dutch regrouped under Kieft and establish a new colony with overwhelming forces farther north in the Massachusetts Bay. Kieft would be recalled, and Peter Stuyvesant became the governor of a productive colony.

Meanwhile, the Swedes began colonies on the Delaware River. Caught between the two alien European powers, the English settlers became increasingly militaristic, prepared for another eventual war. They invited more English, which eventually overwhelmed the original Pilgrims in number and political belief. When the Second Anglo-Dutch War broke out in the 1650s, the colonies bloodied each other. Ten years later in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, troops under the Duke of York conquered New Netherland around Massachusetts. The Dutch temporarily retook the settlements in the Third Anglo-Dutch War, but all colonies were handed to the English with the Treaty of Westminster of 1674. The Swedish settlers were allowed to stay as allies, though they would be gradually engulfed after the fall of the Swedish Empire in the early eighteen century.

The colonies would grow and prosper, and rebellion would break out against taxation in the 1770s. In New York City (as the Duke of York had renamed the second New Amsterdam), scuffles sponsored by local Samuel Adams, a failed businessman from New Plymouth, would spark revolution through Hudson and even to Virginia. Much of the American Revolution would be fought in the state of Hudson, including the great victory at Saratoga. Because of its size, age, and economic significance, New Plymouth would always serve as a major point of significance to the new United States of America, such as receiving the Statue of Liberty from the French in 1876 and more infamously with terrorist attacks in 2001.


In reality, the Speedwell developed a leak twice. Whether it was actual sabotage has been long debated, but after two stops for repairs, the ship was sold and the expedition reorganized. The Pilgrims began their 66-day journey late in the year and battled storms that drove them off course to Plymouth Rock. They would begin their colony in dire straights, surviving but rarely thriving until trouble with the Native Americans was solved shortly after the fever-death of Squanto (whom some consider a traitor to both the Pilgrims as well as his chief Massasoit).

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