Year
1620
Month Day
December 18

Mayflower lands at Plymouth Harbor

On December 18, 1620, the British ship Mayflower lands at modern-day Plymouth, Massachusetts, and its passengers prepared to begin their new settlement, Plymouth Colony.

The famous Mayflower story began in 1606, when a group of reform-minded Puritans in Nottinghamshire, England, founded their own church, separate from the state-sanctioned Church of England. Accused of treason, they were forced to leave the country and settle in the more tolerant Netherlands. After 12 years of struggling to adapt and make a decent living, the group sought financial backing from some London merchants to set up a colony in America. On September 6, 1620, 102 passengers–dubbed Pilgrims by William Bradford, a passenger who would become the first governor of Plymouth Colony–crowded on the Mayflower to begin the long, hard journey to a new life in the New World.

On November 11, 1620, the Mayflower anchored at what is now Provincetown Harbor, Cape Cod. Before going ashore, 41 male passengers–heads of families, single men and three male servants–signed the famous Mayflower Compact, agreeing to submit to a government chosen by common consent and to obey all laws made for the good of the colony. Over the next month, several small scouting groups were sent ashore to collect firewood and scout out a good place to build a settlement. Around December 10, one of these groups found a harbor they liked on the western side of Cape Cod Bay. They returned to the Mayflower to tell the other passengers, but bad weather prevented them from landing until December 18. 

READ MORE: How the Mayflower Compact Laid a Foundation for American Democracy

After exploring the region, the settlers chose a cleared area previously occupied by members of a local Native American tribe, the Wampanoag. The tribe had abandoned the village several years earlier, after an outbreak of European disease. That winter of 1620-1621 was brutal, as the Pilgrims struggled to build their settlement, find food and ward off sickness. By spring, 50 of the original 102 Mayflower passengers were dead. The remaining settlers made contact with returning members of the Wampanoag tribe and in March they signed a peace treaty with a tribal chief, Massasoit. Aided by the Wampanoag, especially the English-speaking Squanto, the Pilgrims were able to plant crops–especially corn and beans–that were vital to their survival. The Mayflower and its crew left Plymouth to return to England on April 5, 1621.

Over the next several decades, more and more settlers made the trek across the Atlantic to Plymouth, which gradually grew into a prosperous shipbuilding and fishing center. In 1691, Plymouth was incorporated into the new Massachusetts Bay Association, ending its history as an independent colony.

READ MORE: What's the Difference Between Puritans and Pilgrims

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

President Donald Trump impeached

After weeks of discussions among legislators, the House of Representatives voted to impeach the 45th President, Donald Trump, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress on December 18, 2019. The vote fell largely along party lines: 230 in favor, 197 against and 1 present. ...read more

Japan invades Hong Kong

Japanese troops land in Hong Kong on December 18, 1941, and slaughter ensues. A week of air raids over Hong Kong, a British crown colony, was followed up on December 17 with a visit paid by Japanese envoys to Sir Mark Young, the British governor of Hong Kong. The envoys’ message ...read more

Slavery abolished in America with adoption of 13th amendment

Following its ratification by the requisite three-quarters of the states earlier in the month, the 13th Amendment is formally adopted into the U.S. Constitution, ensuring that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States, or any place subject ...read more

The Tokens earn a #1 hit with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”

The song that topped the Billboard pop chart on December 18, 1961, was an instant classic that went on to become one of the most successful pop songs of all time, yet its true originator saw only a tiny fraction of the song’s enormous profits. The story begins in Johannesburg, ...read more

Fraudulent “Piltdown Man” fossil discovered

After three years of digging in the Piltdown gravel pit in Sussex, England, amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson announces the discovery of two skulls that appear to belong to a primitive hominid and ancestor of man, along with a canine tooth, a tool carved from an elephant’s ...read more

Woodrow Wilson marries Edith Bolling Galt

On December 18, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson marries Edith Galt in Washington, D.C. The bride was 43 and the groom was 59. It was the second marriage for Wilson, whose first wife died the year before from a kidney ailment. Edith, who claimed to be directly descended from ...read more

Last member of Irish secret society is executed

John Kehoe, the last of the Molly Maguires, is executed in Pennsylvania. The Molly Maguires, an Irish secret society that had allegedly been responsible for some incidences of vigilante justice in the coalfields of eastern Pennsylvania, defended their actions as attempts to ...read more

Nixon announces start of “Christmas Bombing” of North Vietnam

Following the breakdown of peace talks with North Vietnam just a few days earlier, President Richard Nixon announces the beginning of a massive bombing campaign to break the stalemate. For nearly two weeks, American bombers pounded North Vietnam. On December 13, peace talks ...read more

Battle of Verdun ends

The Battle of Verdun, the longest engagement of World War I, ends on this day after ten months and close to a million total casualties suffered by German and French troops. The battle had begun on February 21, after the Germans—led by Chief of Staff Erich von ...read more