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Mayflower, Day by Day - Monday, 14 December 1620

14 Dec 2020 2:06 AM | Soule (Administrator)

At anchor in Cape Cod harbour; First death since arrival

Carpenter completing repairs on shallop. Much discussion of plans for settlement: “Robert Coppin, our pilot, made relation of a great navigable river and good harbor in the other headland of this bay, almost right over against Cape Cod, being in a right line not much above eight leagues distant, in which he had been once; and because that one of the wild men with whom they had some trucking stole a harping iron [harpoon] from them, they called it Thievish Harbour [probably modern Boston, Massachusetts - you may draw whatever conclusions you wish from Boston’s original name being “Thievish” -- although Boston is 49 miles west of Provincetown, but Coppin’s memory was certainly hazy ]. And beyond that place they were enjoined not to go, whereupon a company was chosen to go out upon a third discovery.”  Master Jones urged that the settlers should explore with their shallop at some distance; he refused, given the season, to stir from the present anchorage until a safe harbour had been discovered where they would settle permanently, and where the Mayflower might go without danger.

Edward Thompson, an indentured servant of William White, died today, the first to die aboard the ship since it anchored in the harbour. Jeremy Bangs notes that the servants of Pilgrims known to have lived in Leiden (such as the Whites) may also be counted as from Leiden, because their apprenticeships or similar terms of service must have been contracted there (and not in England: see Strangers and Pilgrims, p. 446f.).  Caleb Johnson indicates that Edward was not yet 21, since he did not sign the Mayflower Compact: it is possible, however, that he could not sign because his health was so poor.  He might have been over 21 (as Bradford calls him a “servant” and not a “lad”) and was one of the men who did not sign (comprising as much as 20% of the adult male passengers).  I have frequently wondered about the dynamic in the community of having more than three quarters of the adult male passengers signing (whether all signatures were voluntary, or some were coerced, cannot now be determined), yet a substantial number of adult male passengers did not sign (for reasons that cannot now be known).  The fact that he was indentured to William White would suggest that his not signing was not for religious reasons or from a desire to bolt once it became clear that the group was not headed to the Hudson River; at this distance it is impossible to tell for certain.  Thom(p)son is a common enough name, and “it is unlikely anything conclusive can be determined [about his English origins] unless he can be tied with an association to his master William White (whose English origins are also unknown)” (Mayflower Passengers, p. 233).  Winslow and Bradford both give as a reason for speeding up a choice of a permanent settlement, the fact that people were now dying onboard the Mayflower; this must have added significant pressure to come to a quick determination.

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