Who Were the Pilgrims?
The Pilgrims were a group of approximately 100 people who in 1620 sailed on the Mayflower ship to North America, known then as the New World from England; they were seeking freedom from religious oppression. The party landed at present-day Cape Cod, Mass and created a settlement at Plymouth Harbor.
More than 50 percent of the Pilgrims died during their first winter in the New World due to inadequate nutrition and shelter. The remaining Pilgrims benefited from Squanto, a Native American, who taught them to plant corn and where and how to fish. By the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims harvested so much corn that they shared a feast with local Native Americans; it was this meal that served as the original Thanksgiving.
The Pilgrims maintained civil relations with the local Native Americans. Squanto acted as a liaison between the English and the natives, as he was the most familiar with the English language and customs. According to the Pilgrim Museum, Squanto spent time in London with a sea captain that had taken him against his will. When he returned to his home land, he was able to be an interpreter for other natives because of his experience overseas. Squanto remained with the colony until his death in 1622.
Back in England, King James I, and later Charles I, continued to be intolerant to religious nonconformists. Religious oppression drove many of the oppressed to follow in the Pilgrims’ path. In 1693, two more ships packed with those seeking religious freedom followed.