Pilgrims and the Olympics

On July 31, 1620 the Pilgrims departed from England to America.

A small community of English Protestants, unhappy with the Church of England, had earlier settled in Leiden, Holland hoping to find religious freedom. They found the freedom there, but also found they were kept out of the guilds and given menial jobs. Many of their children became attracted to the secular, more cosmopolitan life so they returned to London, where they got funding through a wealthy merchant and permission from the Virginia Company to establish a “plantation” across the Atlantic between the Chesapeake Bay and the mouth of the Hudson River. The “Separatists,” who called themselves “Saints,” joined up with a larger group they called the “Strangers.”  These 102 Saints and Strangers, later known as the Pilgrims, set sail in the middle of summer on two ships headed for the New World.

However, one of the ships began to leak so both ships returned to port. All the passengers and their belongings crammed onto the remaining ship–the Mayflower–and set out again. By then it was the middle of September, the height of storm season on the Atlantic.

After two treacherous months, the Mayflower dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, well north of the goal and a month later sailed across the Massachusetts Bay. By then it was the onset of a brutal New England winter, most of which the Pilgrims spent in harbor on the ship trying to survive. When spring finally arrived, only half of the passengers and half of the crew remained.

Technically, the Pilgrims had no legal right to occupy the land onto which they disembarked, a settlement they named “Plymouth” after the port from which they’d sailed. But they drafted and signed a document they called the Mayflower Compact. They promised to create a “civil Body politick” which would be governed by officials they would elect and ruled by “just and equal laws.”  They promised allegiance to the king of England.

On this land they met the native population, one of whom actually spoke English, having been captured by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before he escaped to London. He and others shared supplies and taught the settlers how to survive in their harsh new land. For at least 50 years harmony and friendship existed between the Pilgrims and native Indians. This sharing and friendship is the origin of the American Thanksgiving, which is still celebrated in November each year even if subsequent history proved less admirable.

Today across the Atlantic in England the world is gathering and competing for the next two weeks in friendship in the XXX Olympic Games. Recalling a bit of history mid summer is perhaps appropriate.




  1. Lou Stovall on July 31, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    Thank you Joanne,

    That little history was a great reminder of my early years in Springfield Massachusetts. I lived with my family
    (grew up) in Springfield. Any reference to the Pilgrims became fodder for discussion in those times. Somehow.we manage to celebrate Thanksgiving these days with hardly a mention of the Pilgrims. Someday when your schedule allows, I would love to have lunch. Actually we might make it a dinner thing.
    You and your husband would make a wonderful evening with Di and myself.

    All the best
    Love, Lou

  2. Joanne Leedom-Ackerman on July 31, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    Would love to get together. Let’s make a plan soon.
    Looking forward to your next exhibit!

  3. Didi Cutler on August 1, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Joanne: What a lovely piece on the pilgrims and so apt right now during the Olympics.
    One of my ancestors was one of those daring types who sailed on the Mayflower. I have always admired their courage. Didi

  4. Vjollca on August 1, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    This is so fitting. The Pilgrims always make me think of this country as the safe shore of freedom. This is true of so many of us, who keep landing here in search of freedoms and opportunities – not so far removed from those the Pilgrims were seeking. The quest remains and the Pilgrims paved the way.
    Thanks for sharing.

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  6. Chiara Macconi on August 6, 2012 at 6:19 am

    thank you Joanne
    always useful to remember at times…it may be a burden or a pleasant opportunity…
    see you soon

  7. Sarah Allen on August 6, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    Wonderful post! I always love learning something new, and these are some great stories.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

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