Colonial And Early American

The Pilgrims first Winter in America

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"The Pilgrims first Winter in America"
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The Pilgrims' determination to survive in America is evidenced in the historical records that indicate the harsh conditions of their first winter. It is in these records that one can readily see how the principles they held dear contributed to their ability to overcome incredible odds and circumstances.

The Mayflower put down anchor at the tip of Cape Cod, near what is presently called "Provincetown" in late November 1620. The colonists took some time to come ashore and explore their new home and see what it had to offer before determining where they would settle. From all accounts, It was pleasant simply to be off the ship after 66 days of travel and the women and children took full advantage of the opportunity, while the men began to explore the surrounding areas.

It was not long though before the first Indians were sighted. The colonists eventually happened upon summer Indian dwellings along the western shores of Cape Cod and encountered their first Indian attack. Fortunately, they were able to stave off the attack since the Indians had bows and arrows, but the pilgrims had guns and gunfire. Consequently, the pilgrims moved further along the coast determining that the mainland was the best location for their colony. On December 21 they landed in the area known as Plymouth Harbour and determined that Plymouth would be the best location for their settlement. What seemed to determine this was the fact that this location had water and a high hill, offering them greater protection (especially after their Indian encounter). They noticed that although the area was sandy, below this was excellent black soil for planting crops. This area was also wooded offering an abundance and variety of trees and hearty woods, good for constructing buildings and making furnishings.

Although they were unaware, the colds that many had been experiencing on arrival would ultimately become the "Great Sickness". It is believed that harsh conditions and perhaps lack of proper food contributed to the severity of the illness, along with harsh winter weather. A number of the ship's crew would not return, as this sickness continued through the winter months unabated. By spring, half the original population would be dead from the illness. Most families would loose at least one member, and in some cases, entire families were lost.

Even though so many were sick, it was imperative to build shelter. This required cutting timber and falling trees. It had been agreed that each family would build their own home, but that they would also construct a "common house" together. The purpose of the common house was storage supply for the community. Whenever weather permitted, the community worked together over the winter months to build these needed shelters. In spite of all the problems, several cottages were built along with the common house, which would be used as a "hospital" for the sick. By mid-March the colonists set to work to till the land and prepare for planting. It was of the utmost importance to plant the seed for their gardens ensuring that they would soon have a fresh food supply.

When spring finally arrived in 1621, it has been reported that the captain of the Mayflower offered to take any colonists back to England if they wanted to return. Not one did!


More about this author: Susan E. Carr

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