When James I came to the throne, he adopted a moderate Protestant religious policy. Both Catholics and Puritans were forbidden to practice their religions. Many extreme Puritans left England for Holland where Puritanism was accepted.
In 1607 Walter Raleigh had founded the colony of Virginia in America and a number of English companies had begun trading tobacco and other products between the colony and England.
One stock company, anxious to protect their business interests in Virginia recruited 35 members of the radical, Puritan, English Separatist Church, who had fled to Holland. The stock company agreed to finance the voyage for them and in return they would look after the company’s business in Virginia. Other Puritans keen to start a new life in America joined the voyage.
The Mayflower left the port of Southampton in August 1620 but was forced to put into Plymouth for repairs. The 102 passengers and 30 crew eventually left Plymouth for America on 16th September 1620 and steered a course for Virginia. The ship was a double-decked, three-masted vessel and initially the voyage went well but then storms blew up which blew them off course.
Land was sighted on November 9th and anchor was dropped. A landing party of sixteen men left the ship on November 15th but failed to find a suitable site to establish a settlement. They set sail again and resumed their search. On December 17th they reached Plymouth Harbour and dropped anchor.
On December 21st the first of the Pilgrim Fathers set foot on what would become Plymouth settlement. The harsh winter weather meant that they were unable to build adequate shelter and many of the travellers died during that first winter. Those that survived the winter went on to build houses and defences. In the late spring of 1621 a native American Samoset Indian offered to show the settlers how to farm the land and become self-sufficient if the men would help them fight a rival tribe. The settlers agreed and the Plymouth settlement flourished.
This painting shows the Pilgrim Fathers landing at Plymouth Harbour. Their ship, the Mayflower, can be seen in the distance.