by Esther Pavao
The Mayflower Compact was the first documented form of self-government the colonists drew up in the New World.
In 1620, the Mayflower set sail from England bearing 101 passengers. Tiring of religious persecution, 41 Separatists made a deal with the Virginia company: they would colonize their tract of land near the mouth of the Hudson River. Investors in London covered the costs of the travel and received in exchange a percentage of the eventual profits once the land was producing. The rest of the passengers were tradesmen whose talents would help establish the new colony.
On arriving at the new continent, they realized they were too far north. The captain tried to turn the ship south, but some unfortunate storms threatened to beach the ship on a sandbar, so they turned back, ending up in Massachusetts and decided to land there.
There was an immediate controversy. Some felt that if they weren't on the Virginia Company's land, their rules shouldn't apply and "none had power to command them." William Bradford, a 30 year old who would eventually write about the colony's experiences wrote that they wanted to "use their owne libertie."
North America was pretty rough terrain, and if the group didn't stick together, they'd most definitely all die. William Brewster, a university graduate, and William Bradford drafted a document that all the men on the ship were required to sign before leaving the ship. The men on the ship voted on the document and all 41 signed it.
The Mayflower Compact in no way diminished King James' authority, merely gave them the authority to make governing decisions of their little colony, called the Plymouth Colony. Some feel it paved the way toward a future democratic government and the Constitution.
The original drafted Mayflower Compact was either destroyed in Revolutionary War looting or stolen. Either way, it's lost, however, we know it's contents and the signers since it's been published a few times:
The compact remained in effect until the Plymouth was made part of the Dominion of New England in 1686 and then part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.