Plymouth Colony was a 17th Century British settlement and political unit on the east coast of North America. It was established in 1620; it became part of the Dominion of New England in 1686; in 1691 Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay Colony were combined. Plymouth Colony included parts of New England, centered around Plymouth, Barnstable, and Bristol counties in Massachusetts. The Colony included parts of present-day Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Maine. She claimed land north to Nova Scotia, south to Pennsylvania, and west to the Pacific Ocean. Her modern successor is now the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one of the fifty United States.
Legacy. Plymouth Colony was an early example of a successful English Colony in North America. The Colony's good reputation contributed to the expansion of the British colonial system, including the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Indians who learned the English language while serving earlier, less successful, settlements were instrumental in helping Plymouth Colony leaders establish early good relations with native tribes. They also taught survival skills such as using dead fish as fertilizer for maize. The tradition of the American Thanksgiving feast goes back to the Plymouth Colony (although French, and Spanish settlements in North America, and even Jamestown had earlier Thanksgiving meals). About one in ten modern Americans has at least one ancestor who was among the first Mayflower arrivals in Plymouth Colony.
Separatists. Plymouth Colony was founded by English religious Separatists (and some Anglicans) who became known as Pilgrims. Some members of the group were jailed in England in 1607. By 1609 most had emigrated to Amsterdam, and then Leiden in the Netherlands. Not comfortable with the Dutch culture, and in still in danger from English authorities, by 1618 the Pilgrims decided to move farther away. They obtained a British patent and financial backing to colonize the mouth of the Hudson River. After many delays they sailed to Cape Cod, had difficulties going south to the Hudson River, and decided to settle at Plymouth. Since they were not in compliance with their patent, they drew up a document for self-government known as the Mayflower Compact.
First winter. During the first winter 45 of 102 Pilgrims died from diseases such as scurvy. Those men who were healthy enough built seven residences and four common houses on shore while the women, children, and sick stayed aboard the Mayflower, some for six months. Provisions were not taken ashore until the end of January 1621. Only 53 Pilgrims (4 adult women) survived to celebrate the first Thanksgiving in November 1621.
Growth. In November 1621 the Forture brought 37 new settlers, many from Leiden. They brought few provisions and were at first a burden to the infant colony. The colony used the Fortune to send goods (many furs), enough to stay current with their payments to their backers and creditors in England, except that the ship was captured by the French. In 1623 two ships brought 97 settlers, but some were unprepared for the harsh life, and returned to England a year later. The remainder of these settlers did not care to be bound by the debts of the original settlers and were granted a separate residence. A ship arrived late in 1623 that harbored in Plymouth, but then sailed on to revive the failed colony at Waymouth as part of the Plymouth Colony. A ship in 1624 brought the first cattle, and a few more settlers. By January 1630 enough new settlers had arrived to bring the population of the colony to 300. By the time Massachusetts Bay Colony was merged with Plymouth Colony 61 years later in 1691, continued immigration and births had increased the Plymouth Colony population to an estimated 7,000.
Colony records. For ancestors who lived in Plymouth Colony prior to 1691, try searching:
Towns. The town was the primary administrative unit and political division of Plymouth Colony. Most of the genealogically significant records were kept at the town level. Look for ancestors in their respective town records. For a list of towns and descriptions of their records, see Category:Towns in New England.
Counties. Plymouth Colony was not divided into formal counties until 1685, in preparation for the Dominion of New England when three Plymouth Colony counties were formed:
- Barnstable - Early towns: Barnstable 1639, Eastham 1644, Falmouth 1661, Rochester 1638, Sandwich 1637, and Yarmouth 1639.
- Bristol - Early towns: Bristol by 1675 (ceded to RI), Dartmouth 1664, Freetown 1683, Little Compton 1682 (ceded to RI), Rehoboth 1644, Swansea 1667, and Taunton 1639.
- Plymouth - Early towns: Bridgewater by 1656, Duxbury 1637, Marshfield 1632, Middleborough by 1669, Plymouth 1620, and Scituate 1628.
Other early Plymouth Colony settlements included:
- Kmusser, "Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1620-1691 Province of Massachusetts Bay 1691-1775" (map) in Wikimedia Commons at File:Masscolony.png (accessed 15 July 2012).
- Wikipedia contributors, "Plymouth Colony" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plymouth_Colony (accessed 15 July 2012).
- Wikipedia contributors, "Thanksgiving (United States)" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Thanksgiving (accessed 15 July 2012).
- Wall Street Journal.