Understanding the Mayflower and Pilgrims

Thanksgiving tends to be more of a holiday that people celebrate their own way with food rather than learning about why it's a holiday on the calendar. Many times the story of why Pilgrims fled to America is lost or distorted, causing American history to be a blur. Here are some of the key points to remember about the Mayflower and early European settlers, who were sent to help investors capitalize on the New World.

The Mayflower was a ship full of Pilgrims who were espcaping the Church of England from Plymouth, England in 1620. At the time these travelers were known as Puritans, who were Protestants opposing Catholic practices still embraced by the Church of England following the English Reformation. The Puritans supported commercialism and the rise of corporations, such as the Plymouth Company, which sought to establish settlements in the New World, much like the London Company did in Virginia.

After arriving in the New World, the Pilgrims formed a settlement at what became Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was the second European settlement following Jamestown in 1607, settled by English colonists from the London Company. Famous names on the ship that carried over 100 passengers were William Bradford, William Brewster, Myles Standish and Edward Winslow. The first feast to show thanks among the Pilgrims was held in Virginia and Plymouth in 1621.

The London Company was also known as the Virginia Company of London, which claimed territories where it built settlements and grew crops such as tobacco. King James I of England established the company in 1606 by royal charter. The London Company claimed the Viginia territory the following year. The London Company found tobacco to be a cash crop and began exporting it from Virginia back to England in 1612, as the company was profitable. But in the years to follow, the company suffered from labor shortages and struggled financially until it lost its charter, as Virginia became a royal colony in 1624. The Plymouth charter was also dissolved that year. The first of these settlements led farmers using indentured servants.

European settlers encountered their first conflicts with native Powhatans in 1610. The war with English colonists lasted four years. A raid in 1612 involved the capture of Chief Powhatan's daughter Pocahontas, as English held her for ransom. Two years later she married English colonist John Rolfe, marking the first inter-racial marriage in Virginia. A second Anglo-Powhatan War erupted in 1622 and lasted until 1632. During this war the colonists lost one third of its population to battles with natives. A third war started in 1644 but ended with a peace treaty in 1646.

The settlement of Boston formed in 1630. Harvard College in Cambridge was founded in 1636 by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. For many years Boston would be the largest British settlement in the New World. Maryland's early settlers arrived in 1634, sent by Lord Baltimore. In the Delaware area after the Dutch were defeated by natives earlier in the decade, Sweden established New Sweden in 1638, which lasted for 17 years. The Dutch regained control of the land but lost it in battle to the British in 1664. Over the next century the British acquired all the original 13 colonies.

Several U.S. presidents were descendants of Mayflower passengers, including John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses Grant, James Garfield, Calvin Coolidge Franklin Roosevelt and the Bushes, as well as VP Nelson Rockefeller. Other celebrities who trace back to the Mayflower include Marilyn Monroe, Bing Crosby, Hugh Hefner, Clint Eastwood, Cokie Roberts, Dick Van Dyke, Orson Welles and Katharine Hepburn.

Created by Alex Cosper