Front Page Article
The Mayflower Compact and our Government
by Joyce Geiler
The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth 400 years ago this month. They signed the Mayflower Compact, which was an agreement of how they would govern themselves in their new settlement. In these weeks when the nation is still experiencing uncertainty in elected government, it seems an opportune time to examine the relationship of this famous compact and our current government.
The Pilgrims were not the first Europeans to settle in what would become the United States of America. European settlers came from a variety of social and religious groups, including adventurers, farmers, indentured servants, tradesmen, and a few from the aristocracy. Settlers included the Dutch of New Netherland, the Swedes and Finns of New Sweden, the English Quakers of the Province of Pennsylvania, the English Puritans of New England, the English settlers of Jamestown, Virginia, the English Roman Catholics and Protestant Nonconformists of the Province of Maryland, the "worthy poor" of the Province of Georgia, the Germans who settled the mid-Atlantic colonies, and the Ulster Scots of the Appalachian Mountains. These groups all became part of the United States when it gained its independence in 1776. Russian America and parts of New France and New Spain were also incorporated into the United States at various points. The diverse colonists from these various regions built colonies of distinctive social, religious, political, and economic style.
Most readers will have familiarity with both the Jamestown, Virginia colony settlement and the Plymouth settlement in the Massachusetts Colony. This article will contrast and compare the Jamestown settlement and the Plymouth settlement since both contributed to the founding principles of our nation. We will begin the story some thirteen years before the Pilgrim’s landing. The 105 colonists and seamen who set sail from England and settled in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607 carried the Geneva Bible with them. Before finding what would be their permanent settlement, Rev. Robert Hunt (1568–1608) offered the following prayer on April 29, 1607 at Cape Henry (now Virginia Beach, Virginia)
“We do hereby dedicate this Land, and ourselves, to reach the People within these shores with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to raise up Godly generations after us, and with these generations take the Kingdom of God to all the earth. May this Covenant of Dedication remain to all generations, as long as this earth remains, and may this Land, along with England, be Evangelist to the World. May all who see this Cross, remember what we have done here, and may those who come here to inhabit join us in this Covenant and in this most noble work that the Holy Scriptures may be fulfilled.”
Using covenantal language, Hunt declared, “from these very shores the Gospel shall go forth not only to this New World but the entire world.” The following Bible passage was read at the conclusion of the prayer: “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the Lord’s and he ruleth among the nations” (Ps. 22:27–28).
The Jamestown Colony in Virginia, founded in 1607, was the first permanent English settlement in North America. It was the third attempt of the Virginia Company of London to establish a permanent trade center in the Americas following the failures of the Roanoke Colony (1587-1590) and the Popham Colony of 1607-1608 CE. The primary objective of the Jamestown Colony was profit for the shareholders who financed the expedition; and at first, it seemed a failure. Those who had been selected to establish it turned out to be unfit for the task except for Captain John Smith (1580-1631) who was able to negotiate with the native Powhatan tribe and assume leadership of the colonists.
The success of the Spanish had led the English to believe that the Americas were lands of plenty, teeming with gold, silver, and precious gems just waiting to be found; and a large percentage of the colonists were upper-class noblemen who signed on believing they would just pocket whatever gold was found lying about and return home. The reality of the situation was that there was no ready-at-hand gold to be found, that the colonists had arrived too late to plant crops, and that many did not even know how to do so, and that the marshlands – which the indigenous people avoided – was a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Most of the colonists were dead within a few months of their arrival. https://www.ancient.eu/Jamestown_Colony_of_Virginia/
In spite of these seemingly negative attributes of the Jamestown settlement, once settled in the fort, the whole company, except those who were on guard, attended regular prayer and services led by the Reverend Hunt. The endeavor at Jamestown was a business venture. Although Robert Hunt was a God-fearing Episcopal priest whose reputation was one of impeccable character and an earnest pursuit for evangelism, the attributes of the first settlers was not similar. In due time Captain Smith helped establish regulations for law and order.
The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock November 11, 1620 as reckoned by their calendar. The date was November 21, 1620 as reckoned by our current calendar. The Pilgrims were covenant people. In a previous series, we outlined the covenants related to the Pilgrims. They covenanted together while they were still in England in what is called the Scrooby Covenant.
The Scrooby Covenant of 1606 entered into by those who later comprised the Pilgrims reads, “As ye Lord’s free people joined themselves by a covenant of the Lord into a church estate, in ye fellowship of ye gospel, to walk in all his ways, made known or to be made known to them according to their best endeavor, whatever it should cost them, the Lord assisting them. Amen!” https://inthewholeworld.wordpress.com/2007/09/24/the-scrooby-covenant-of-1606/
Unlike other migrations to early America, including the Jamestown settlement, which were composed largely of young unattached men, the Puritan migration in the New England area that included the Pilgrims was overwhelmingly a migration of families. A spiritual covenant had marked the beginning of the Pilgrim congregation in England and their creation of a civil covenant provided the basis for a secular government in America.
The Pilgrims comprised only about one third of the passengers on the Mayflower and knew they would need the majority of the group to remain with them at Plymouth to promote success in their settlement. To preserve unity, Pilgrim leaders drafted the Mayflower Compact before going ashore. The brief document bound its signers into a body politic for the purpose of forming a government and pledged them to abide by any laws and regulations that would later be established “for the general good of the colony.” The compact was signed by nearly all of the Mayflower’s adult male passengers (41 of a total of 102 passengers) before they went ashore at Plymouth. Since two thirds of the passengers were not of the Pilgrim’s Puritan faith, and perhaps not people of faith at all, this was a remarkable government agreed upon by Christians and secular people alike.
The Mayflower Compact was not a constitution but rather an adaptation of a Puritan church covenant to a civil situation. It was an agreement/covenant of self-governmental cooperation to live in accordance with the Christian faith. The Mayflower Compact became the foundation of Plymouth’s government and remained in force until the colony was absorbed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.
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, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour 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 Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, 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 hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620.
Both Settlements Contributed to our National Values
The first English settlement at Jamestown was largely a venture of undisciplined selfishness, but God still arranged for a covenant-believing man, Robert Hunt, to proclaim the covenant purpose for the land’s dedication to the spread of the Gospel. In due time, Captain John Smith recognized the need for law and order, which he instituted in the settlement.
The purpose of the Pilgrim’s settlement in the New World was to ensure the freedom of religion for themselves and their posterity. From the beginning, they recognized that in order for their work to be accomplished a covenanted civil government was necessary. Both settlements demonstrate, among other things, that an orderly, covenantally-agreed upon civil government is imperative for the success of business and the success of the propagation of the gospel and religious freedom. The Pilgrims and later the Thirteen Colonies stood against tyrannical government.
The current election process in the United States will determine whether our nation continues to pursue religious and economic freedom as did our forefathers or allows itself to be strangled by a governmental system that eliminates the God of our forefathers with the resulting loss of those very freedoms.
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