The Mayflower Compact: 391 Years Ago Today

When the Pilgrim Dissenters sent by the Virginia Company to plant a colony in the “northern parts of Virginia” were blown off-course by a storm into the coast of Massachusetts. No longer under the jurisdiction of the Virginia Company or its governor, they realized that they needed a new governing document. So before they landed, the men of the colony drafted what we know today as the Mayflower Compact. The date of the Compact’s signing states that it took place on November 11, 1620. This is because it was signed under the Old Style Julian calendar. England did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752. The Gregorian date would be November 21, 1620:

In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are under-written, 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 of another, covenant and combine our selves 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 eleventh of November [New Style, November 21], in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Dom. 1620.1

 Quite a politically incorrect document, wouldn’t you say? How far we have fallen.

  1. The Mayflower Compact, 1620; recorded in William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation (various editions); cf. The Sacred Rights of Conscience: Selected Readings on Religious Liberty and Church-State Relations in the American Founding, ed. Daniel L. Driesbach and Mark David Hall (Indianapolis: The Liberty Fund, 2009), 86-88. []