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Mayflower Compact


Man Sharpening A Quill [detail]

by Rembrandt (1632)

In these hard & difficulte beginings they found some discontents & murmurings arise amongst some, and mutinous speeches & carriags in other...

–William Bradford

Trouble arose on the Mayflower as the passengers prepared to step onto American land. Some Strangers argued that since they were about to settle outside of King James's jurisdiction, they were no longer obligated to settle with the Saints and honor their seven-year labor contracts. Indeed, there would be no laws in place to ensure they did.

The Strangers wanted to strike out on their own, yet others realized they might all die in the wilderness if the group broke apart and scattered. The Saints were determined to stop the brewing rebellion. Rather than struggle ashore with no laws, they suggested governing themselves until the king could issue an official charter.

They wrote an agreement called the Mayflower Compact, which the 41 adult males signed. Simply put, the Saints and Strangers agreed to create laws by a majority vote and to enforce and obey the laws for the common good. The signers then elected a governor. They intended for this temporary government to serve and protect them until they could get a legal charter from King James.

Although written in haste and desperation, the Mayflower Compact set a historical precedent in America. Instead of a government between the people and a monarch, it created a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Later, the compact would serve as a foundation for the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.



In ye name of God Amen· We whose names are underwriten, the loyall subjects of our dread soveraigne Lord King James by ye grace of God, of great Britaine, franc, & Ireland king, defender of ye faith, &c

Haveing undertaken, for ye glorie of God, and advancemente of ye Christian faith and honour of our king & countrie, a voyage to plant ye first colony in ye Northerne parts of Virginia· Doe by these presents solemnly & mutualy in ye presence of God, and one of another; covenant, & combine our selves togeather into a civill body politick; for our better ordering, & preservation & furtherance of ye ends aforesaid; and by vertue hearof to enacte, constitute, and frame such just & equall Lawes, ordinances, Acts, constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete and convenient for ye generall good of ye Colonie: unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In witnes wherof  we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cap= Codd ye ·11· of November, in ye year of ye raigne of ye soveraigne Lord King James of England, France, & Ireland ye eighteenth and of Scotland ye fifty fourth. Ano: Dom ·1620·


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 advancement 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 hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November in the year of the reign of the sovereign Lord King James of England, France, and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. AD 1620.


Mayflower Compact

by N. C. Wyeth, 1938


Ye was a common spelling of the word "the." The th sound was spelled with the now obsolete letter þ (thorn), which foreign-made printing presses did not have, so printers substituted y, which resembled þ in Gothic script.


There were no English spelling rules at the time. Writers spelled words (even names!) phonetically, with great variation.


The original Mayflower Compact was lost, but William Bradford saved a rewritten copy and a list of the signers.


Ano Dom [anno Domini, A.D.] is Latin for "in the year of our Lord."


The King James reference states his "royal style" or title. He had ruled Scotland for 54 years since the death of his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots. He had ruled England and Ireland for 18 years since Queen Elizabeth's death. English monarchs at that time also ceremoniously styled themselves as King or Queen of France by right of succession through the female bloodline of Isabella, born to French King Philip IV and married to English King Edward II.


At the time of the signing, John Carver was elected first governor. He had negotiated the land charter and financial backing for the Separatists.


Plymouth never received a formal charter from King James. The Mayflower Compact remained in effect until Plymouth merged with the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.


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