History Behind The Mayflower Compact

In 1620, the small sailing vessel Mayflower set out across the stormy waters of the Atlantic Ocean from Plymouth, England with a patent for the northern part of the Colony of Virginia. Blown off course, it finally dropped anchor off Provincetown on Cape Cod early in November. Most of the 102 passengers were of English origin, Pilgrims seeking a new home free from religious persecution where they might retain their English identity and customs. Some, however, had been hired to supply much needed expertise essential for founding a new community in a new land.

When the Mayflower was safely anchored at Cape Cod, the Pilgrims drew up a civil document, which established the democratic system by which they wished to govern themselves. This document has come to be known as the Mayflower Compact. It was signed in the cabin of the Mayflower by all 41 of the adult male passengers on the 21st of November, 1620 (November 11, Old Style).

John Quincy Adams described the Mayflower Compact as the “first example in modern times of a social compact or system of government instituted by voluntary agreement conformable to the laws of nature, by men of equal rights and about to establish their community in a new country.”