Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 1899

The Mayflower Compact was the first governing document of Plymouth Colony. It was written by the male passengers of the Mayflower, consisting of separatist Congregationalists who called themselves "Saints", and adventurers and tradesmen, most of whom were referred to by the Separatists as "Strangers". Later both groups were referred to as Pilgrims or Pilgrim Fathers. The Separatists were fleeing from religious persecution by King James of England.


The Mayflower Compact was signed aboard ship on November 11, 1620 by the Pilgrims (21-Nov-1620 on the modern Gregorian Calendar). They used the Julian Calendar, also known as Old Style dates, which, at that time, was ten days behind the Gregorian Calendar. Signing the covenant were 41 of the ship's 101 passengers, while the Mayflower was anchored in what is now Provincetown Harbor within the hook at the northern tip of Cape Cod.

Reasons for the Compact

The Mayflower was originally bound for the Colony of Virginia, financed by the Company of Merchant Adventurers of London. Storms forced them to anchor at the hook of Cape Cod in what is now Massachusetts; it was unwise to continue with provisions running short. This inspired some of the Strangers to proclaim that, since the settlement would not be made in the agreed-upon Virginia territory, they "would use their own liberty; for none had power to command them." To prevent this, the Pilgrims chose to establish a government. The Mayflower Compact was based simultaneously upon a majoritarian model (taking into account that women and children could not vote) and the settlers' allegiance to the king. It was in essence a social contract in which the settlers consented to follow the compact's rules and regulations for the sake of order and survival. The Pilgrims had lived for some years in Leiden, a city in the Dutch Republic. "Just as a spiritual covenant had marked the beginning of their congregation in Leiden, a civil covenant would provide the basis for a secular government in America."

Document Text

William Bradford's handwritten transcription of the Mayflower Compact.

The original document has been lost, but three versions exist from the 17th century: printed in Mourt's Relation (1622), which was reprinted in Purchas his Pilgrimes (1625); hand-written by William Bradford (1590-1657) in his journal Of Plimoth Plantation (1646 - see image); and printed by Bradford's nephew Nathaniel Morton in New-Englands Memorial (1669). The three versions differ slightly in wording and significantly in spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. William Bradford wrote the first part of Mourt's Relation, including its version of the compact, so he wrote two of the three versions. The wording of those two versions is indeed quite similar, unlike that of Morton. Bradford's handwritten manuscript is kept in a vault at the State Library of Massachusetts.

Modern version

In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc.

Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.

The 'dread sovereign' referred to in the document uses the archaic definition of dread, meaning awe and reverence (for the King). Also, as noted above, the document was signed under the Old Style Julian calendar, since England did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752. The Gregorian date would be November 21.

Mayflower Compact Signers

Mayflower at Provincetown Harbor

  1. Mr. John Carver (1565-1621) - (separatist) 1st Governor of Plymouth Colony, but he and his wife both died in that terrible first winter.
  2. William Bradford (1590-1657) - (separatist) 2nd Governor and in 1651 wrote the first detailed history of the pilgrims.
  3. Mr. Edward Winslow (1595-1655) - (separatist) later 3rd Governor of Plymouth Colony. After his wife Elizabeth died he married fellow Mayflower passenger Susanna White (1593-1680) in the first recorded marriage of Plymouth.
  4. Mr. William Brewster (1567-1644) - (separatist) traveled with wife and two sons onboard the Mayflower and more family followed later.
  5. Mr. Isaac Allerton (1586-1658) - (separatist) traveled with wife, 3 children, and brother-in-law (Degory Priest).
  6. Capt. Myles Standish (c1584-1656) - (planter) he became the famous first militia commander of the colony.
  7. John Alden (c1599-1687) - (crewman) A ship's crewman who stayed and joined the pilgrims and today has one of the largest posterity descendant groups in North America.
  8. Mr. Samuel Fuller (1580-1633) - (separatist) First physician of the colony. (See Brother #21 below)
  9. Mr. Christopher Martin (c1582-1621) - (planter) Governor of the pilgrims on the Speedwell, he and all his family died the first winter.
  10. Mr. William Mullins (c1572-1620) (planter) traveled with wife and children who all died in the first winter except one daughter who married fellow passenger John Alden (#7 above) and would together start a very large posterity in North America.
  11. Mr. William White (1570-1621) (planter) traveled with wife and children, including one son, Peregrine White (1620-1704) born aboard ship about the time of the Compact signing.
  12. Mr. Richard Warren (c1580-1628) (planter) - his wife and children followed in 1623. He became a major leader amongst the planters.
  13. John Howland (1592-1672) - (servant) 22-year servant of Governor Carver who today has one of the largest posterity descendant groups in North America.
  14. Mr. Stephen Hopkins (1581-1644) (planter) He had previously been shipwrecked at Bermuda and then stayed briefly at Virginia Colony before returning to England to join the Pilgrims group. He traveled with his wife and children, including a son, Oceanus Hopkins (1620-1627), born during this voyage.

    The Pilgrims Landing by Mike Haywood

  15. Edward Tilley (c1588-1621) (separatist) both him and his wife died, but were survived by a niece and nephew.
  16. John Tilley (1571-1621) (separatist) both him and his wife died also, but survived by daughter Elizabeth who married John Howland and have produced one of the largest posterity descendant groups in North America.
  17. Francis Cooke (1583-1663) (separatist) traveled on Mayflower with his 13 year old son.
  18. Thomas Rogers (-1621) (separatist) Even though he died, his wife and children came to Plymouth later and survived him.
  19. Thomas Tinker (-1621) (separatist) He, his wife and child all died that first winter.
  20. John Rigsdale (-1621) (planter)
  21. Edward Fuller (1575-1621) (separatist) both him and his wife died, but son John survived. (See brother #8 above)
  22. John Turner (c1585-1621) (separatist) both he and his two sons died that first winter.
  23. Francis Eaton (1596-1633) (planter) carpenter by trade.
  24. James Chilton (1556-1620) (separatist) survived by his daughter Mary.
  25. John Crackstone (c1575-1620) (separatist) Traveled with son - both dead by 1628.
  26. John Billington (1580-1630) (planter) Hanged in 1630 for murder of a fellow colonist.
  27. Moses Fletcher (c1564-1621) (separatist)
  28. John Goodman (c1595-1621) (separatist)
  29. Degory Priest (1579-1621) (separatist) bother-in-law to Isaac Allerton (#5 above). His wife and two daughters came over in 1623.
  30. Thomas Williams (1582-1621) (separatist)
  31. Gilbert Winslow (1600-1663) (brother of Edward above) Returned to England.
  32. Edmund Margesson (1586-1621) (planter)
  33. Peter Browne (bef1600-1633) (planter)
  34. Richard Britteridge (-1620) (planter)
  35. George Soule (c1593-1678) servant to Edward Winslow (separatist)
  36. Richard Clarke (-1621) (planter)
  37. Richard Gardiner (1600-1621) (planter) left after 1623 to become a mariner.
  38. John Allerton (1590-1621) (crewman) brother of John Allerton above.
  39. Thomas English (c1590-1621) (crewman)
  40. Edward Doty (bef1600-1655) - Servant to Stephen Hopkins (planter).
  41. Edward Leister (c1598-) - Servant to Stephen Hopkins (planter), later moved to Virginia.


Mayflower 2016a.jpg

Category; Plymouth Colony