The paper trail
On board the Fortune, now about half way through its almost four month voyage across the Atlantic, was a very important document. When news from Plymouth returned to England in May 1620 along with the Mayflower that the settlers had landed and established a home outside of the area in which they were authorised to do so, the Merchant Adventurers (i.e., the stockholders in the Plymouth Plantation) led by John Peirce went to the Council of New England to get the Pilgrims the rights to live and establish a government of their own at Plymouth. The result was the 1621 Pierce Patent, which supersedes the Mayflower Compact and gives them a much surer legal claim to the land they are living on. It is dated 1 June 1621; the Second Peirce Patent is thus the oldest existing state document of New England in the US. The remarkable document, signed by five Englishmen, gave each settler 100 acres of ground and “all such liberties, privileges, profits and commodities” as the land and rivers “shall yield.” “Liberty” here is used in a technical, legal sense, and not, as we now tend to, meaning personal freedoms. It also references the “churches, schools, hospitals, townhouses, and bridges” the Mayflower passengers and subsequent English colonists would build in America. The 400-year old parchment document with four brown wax seals has been restored by specialists at the Northeast Document Conservation Centre in Massachusetts, and is on display at Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth. The conservators locally humidified and flattened small, folded areas of damage and repaired tears in the parchment. The document was then tension mounted to create a secure display and housing system that would account for the dimensional changes of parchment, the weight of the document, and the suspended wax seals. A number of linen threads were adhered to the edges of the parchment, wrapped around the edge of the mounting board, and secured to the reverse of the board. These linen threads, held in even tension around the parchment, expand and contract in an opposite manner to the parchment with changes in relative humidity. The threads were sewn through a layer of fine, lightweight linen to create the appearance that the object was floating within the mount. The full text is transcribed by Caleb Johnson, and a picture of the patent is shown, at http://mayflowerhistory.com/pierce-patent.
Special thanks to Donna Curtin, executive director of Pilgrim Hall, for showing and describing this to me last Thursday at Pilgrim Hall!