The Passengers

When the Mayflower arrived in the New World 400 years ago, it was behind in its planned schedule. Unforeseen difficulties were responsible for the ship to leave England late. As a result, the Mayflower dropped anchor off Cape Code just before a harsh New England winter arrived.

The ship’s 102 passengers and about 30 crew suffered that winter from a lack of shelter, malnutrition and scurvy. They were forced to live aboard the deteriorating vessel and supplies were low.

Of those 102 passengers, 51 are known to have had children. It is estimated that today, about 10 million Americans can claim to be a descendant of a Mayflower Pilgrim. If you want to pursue your possible ancestry, check out these resources to begin your search:

· Caleb Johnson’s Mayflower History (mayflowerhistory.com) collection includes a list of passengers;

· General Society of Mayflower Descendants (themayflowersociety.org) was founded in 1897 and has about 98,000 members. It has member groups in all 50 States, Australia and in Europe representing several countries.

The Colony

With winter fast approaching, the Pilgrims set about building shelters at Plymouth Harbor. They had the necessary tools and built one-room houses of sticks and small branches held together with a mortar-like combination of clay, earth and grass. These structures offered shelter, privacy and security but were far from luxurious.

To defend themselves against what was described to them as “savage barbarians,” the men carried muskets and daggers and wore armor on their hunting excursions. They had several cannon as well.

Over the next couple of years, additional ships (Sparrow, Anne, Little James, Charity) and settlers arrived at the Plymouth Colony. Some estimates put Plymouth’s population at 300 in 1630 and at about 2,000 by 1640. Over the years, other colonies were founded in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut so that between 1630 and 1640, the Massachusetts Bay Colony had more than 20,000 settlers. It was in 1692 that Plymouth Bay and other colonies were absorbed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The Plymouth Colony Archive Project (histarch.illinois.edu/plymouth/index.html) might be of interest as it has documents concerning the social history of Plymouth Colony (1620-1691) such as court records, colony laws, 17th-century journals and memoirs, probate inventories, wills, town plans, maps and fort plans.

The site is laid out like a research room: Click the area you want to enter, such as Grave Art in New England, Probate or Times of Their Lives.

The Plimoth Plantation, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, is one of the top 10 living history museums in the United States. Visitors witness interactions between two 17th century cultures — the native Wampanoag people and English immigrants.

There is a reconstructed Mayflower II ship at the waterfront. Native guides at a Wampanoag home site and the English village play the roles of Plymouth Colony residents.