Nearly all adult men onboard the Mayflower signed the Mayflower Compact, which set a very basic set of rules for what would become the new colony of Plimouth—today, Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, courtesy Library of Congress

Download this file

  • Audience versions of this page: Family

    On November 11, 1620, 41 “Pilgrims” signed the Mayflower Compact. The Mayflower Compact was the first governing document of what would become Plimouth Plantation—today, the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Pilgrims—at the time called “Separatists” or “Saints”—were seeking greater religious freedom in the British colonies of the New World.
     
    The settlers’ ship, the Mayflower, was anchored off Cape Cod when the document was drafted and signed. When they left the port of Plymouth, England, a month earlier, colonists were intending to settle near the mouth of the Hudson River—then a part of the British colony of Virginia. However, stormy weather and shifting sandbars forced the ship north to the safer harbor of what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts.
     
    Mayflower passengers did not have permission, from either the British colonial government or Native American inhabitants, to settle in the region. For this reason, some passengers still wanted to stick to the original plan and head back south. The Mayflower Compact was designed to formally unite all passengers as a legal, legitimate colony loyal to King James I. 
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    anchor Verb

    to hold firmly in place.

    colony Noun

    people and land separated by distance or culture from the government that controls them.

    community Noun

    group of organisms or a social group interacting in a specific region under similar environmental conditions.

    design Verb

    to plan and outline.

    draft Verb

    sketch or outline.

    formal Adjective

    official or standardized.

    govern Verb

    to make public-policy decisions for a group or individuals.

    harbor Noun

    part of a body of water deep enough for ships to dock.

    Encyclopedic Entry: harbor
    inhabitant Noun

    resident.

    intend Verb

    to expect or aim to do something.

    legal Adjective

    allowed by law.

    legitimate Adjective

    following a set of laws or rules.

    mouth Noun

    place where a river empties its water. Usually rivers enter another body of water at their mouths.

    Encyclopedic Entry: mouth
    Native American Noun

    person whose ancestors were native inhabitants of North or South America. Native American usually does not include Eskimo or Hawaiian people.

    New World Noun

    the Western Hemisphere, made up of the Americas and their islands.

    permission Noun

    authorization to do something.

    Pilgrim Noun

    early settler of Plimouth Colony, Massachusetts.

    port Noun

    place on a body of water where ships can tie up or dock and load and unload cargo.

    Encyclopedic Entry: port
    region Noun

    any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

    Encyclopedic Entry: region
    sandbar Noun

    underwater or low-lying mound of sand formed by tides, waves, or currents.

    settler Noun

    person who migrates and establishes a residence in a largely unpopulated area.

    storm Noun

    severe weather indicating a disturbed state of the atmosphere resulting from uplifted air.

    town Noun

    human settlement larger than a village and smaller than a city.

    weather Noun

    state of the atmosphere, including temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity, precipitation, and cloudiness.

    Encyclopedic Entry: weather