In his history of the Plymouth Colony, William Bradford writes quite dramatically, and often movingly, of the voyage on the Mayflowerand the settlers' first winter in the new land. The voyage over "fast and furious seas" was dangerous and miserable. Many of the Pilgrims suffered from seasickness, and they also endured the hateful taunting and verbal abuse of some of the rough sailors who made up the crew. One of the Pilgrims, a young man named John Howland, was swept overboard but was saved and brought back onboard the ship.
A terrible situation developed about halfway through the voyage when one of the main beams cracked, making it very uncertain that the ship could complete the voyage. Temporary repairs were made, and the ship sailed on, sometimes meeting with violent storms that forced them to drop the sails and drift helplessly in the ocean.
When they finally landed, their misery continued. The winter was fierce. The people stayed aboard the ship, trying to survive on the rations that were left. They had not taken food to prepare for being stranded during the winter. In the section of his history called "The Starving Time," Bradford writes that in two or three months, at least half of the Pilgrims had died, sometimes two or three a day--of starvation, scurvy, and other illnesses. Out of more than 100 Pilgrims, barely 50 lived. Those that lived also were terribly sick. At one time, only six or seven were well enough to care for the others.
In March, the Indians finally made contact with the settlers. Samoset, who spoke broken English, came first. He told them of Squanto, another Indian who had actually been to England and spoke English well. Squanto stayed with the Pilgrims at Plymouth for the rest of his life, acting as their teacher and guide. He taught them how to plant corn and where to fish. He also was "their pilot to bring them to unknown places for their profit." Bradford considered Squanto "a special instrument sent of God."
During that first spring, Chief Massasoit and the Pilgrims made a peace agreement that had lasted 24 years when Bradford wrote his history. Without the assistance of these Native Americans, the Plymouth Colony most likely would have perished.