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What Is the Plymouth Colony?

While the Pilgrims were originally from England, they had actually spent the decade prior to their trip to America living in the Netherlands.
Today, tourists can visit the original location of the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts.
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  • Written By: Rebecca Mecomber
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2014
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The Plymouth Colony was a business venture between a group of English families and merchants from 1620 to 1691. This colony was based in the then-unexplored Cape Cod region of what is now Massachusetts. Despite the relatively brief lifespan of the colony and its early financial failures, the Plymouth Colony is considered one of the important foundational landmarks in U.S. history. In 1691 the colony was dissolved, when it was incorporated into the larger Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Unlike other English and French colonies slowly popping up in the New World, the germination for the Plymouth Colony began with religious freedom and not financial gain. A group of worshipers, finding their Biblical methods of religion tainted by the established Church of England, separated themselves from the Anglican Church and met together privately. Known as Separatists, these people were persecuted for their beliefs and imprisoned as well as had their homes raided. The group fled to Holland for a period before obtaining permission to settle on the American continent.

To finance their expedition, the Separatists contracted with a group of English merchants, the Merchant Adventurers. They supplied the Separatists with funds for sea travel and supplies in exchange for raw materials and goods harvested from the American continent. After a series of delays, the group set sail on the famed ships Mayflower and Speedwell in September 1620.

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The colony's start in the New World was shaky from the beginning. Turbulent weather threw the ships off course, and the group landed north of their expected destination, which had been legally granted to them. The group arrived at the onset of winter, unprepared for the harsh conditions of the northern part of the continent. That first winter, half the colonists perished. Assistance from the local natives saved the newcomers from complete disaster, and a thanksgiving feast was held the following year.

The colonists named their establishment Plimouth Plantation, and despite their hardships the colony was slowly growing. They experienced several setbacks, such as new arrivals of religious Puritan settlers but few accompanying supplies, and the increasing deficit to the Merchant Adventurers for slow or missing revenue shipments. After a political revolution in England, Plymouth Colony's charter was not renewed and was absorbed into a larger royal colony.

Despite the financial failures and early dissolution of the colony, Plymouth Colony shines as an example of self-sufficient government and religious freedom that later defined the independent United States. When the group's ships wandered off course in 1620, the Separatists created their own covenant, the Mayflower Compact. This covenant established the first written record in modern times of government by consent of the people. Founded on religious freedom, the Plymouth Colony paved the way for other religious groups seeking refuge in the New World. Tourists can visit the original location of the colony in Massachusetts, viewing the stone, Plymouth Rock, upon which the Separatists allegedly alighted from the Mayflower.

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