What beliefs and character traits that typified the Pilgrims enabled them to survive in the hostile environment that greeted them in the New World? Did some of the same traits that helped them survive limit them in other ways? How so?

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The Pilgrims were originally known as Separatists because they wanted to separate from the Church of England, select their own leaders, and establish their own practices. The persecution they endured as a result of their beliefs caused them to flee to Holland. However, this was unsatisfactory, because they wanted to...

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The Pilgrims were originally known as Separatists because they wanted to separate from the Church of England, select their own leaders, and establish their own practices. The persecution they endured as a result of their beliefs caused them to flee to Holland. However, this was unsatisfactory, because they wanted to retain their English language and way of life. The leaders eventually decided to relocate to America. They obtained two ships to transport the colonists to the New World, the Speedwell and the Mayflower. Because the Speedwell quickly developed leaks and had to return to England, the Mayflower carried on the voyage alone.

The Pilgrims, who called themselves Saints, were joined by numerous other colonists, whom they referred to as Strangers. The voyage was rough, and many passengers became sick on the way. They were originally supposed to settle near the Virginia Colony, but bad weather caused them to change their plans and settle on the shore of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Because they were no longer in the Virginia Colony's territory, the men signed a document known as the Mayflower Compact that became the foundation of government for the fledgling colony.

During the first winter, over half the colonists died due to severe weather conditions, poor shelter, and lack of adequate nutrition. The Native Americans in the area assisted the Pilgrims in learning how to fish, hunt game, and plant crops.

The beliefs and character traits that enabled the Pilgrims to survive the persecution, difficult voyage, and hostile environment of the New World included their solidarity and respect for their leaders. These traits enabled them to remain united in the face of adversity and agree on basic governing principles such as those found in the Mayflower Compact.

The text of this compact expresses their commitment to remain united and obey laws established for the good of the colony "for the glory of God." Their belief that God was with them in their search for a place where they could freely practice their religious beliefs was a strong factor in their survival.

The same religious zeal that caused the Pilgrims to remain steadfast in establishing their colony in the New World eventually caused a negative and limiting effect on Native American relations.

As in the rest of New England, the Pilgrims were intent on expanding their colony, which involved the acquisition of more and more land. This eventually resulted in the Native American uprising known as King Philip's War. While there were quite a few casualties among the colonists, the vast majority of those killed were Native Americans.

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In Philbrick's book Mayflower, he examines the very human aspects of the Pilgrims, even the parts that don't coincide with the tolerance they themselves sought. This group of 102 English passengers hoped to find religious tolerance in a new setting, so tradition leads all of us (centuries later) to put a positive spin on the Thanksgiving story. We all sort of envision this brief struggle between the Pilgrims and Native Americans which fast forwards quickly to a happy scene of Thanksgiving and tolerance for everyone. But Phibrick asserts that this leaves out much of the truth.

When the Pilgrims arrived in this area, they didn't know that disease had greatly lessened the Native American population over the previous two years there; this contributed to the sparse populations they believed inhabited this area. It was a tough climate at a tough time of the year, and they surely had to cling to their religious faith to give them hope of survival. However, they also had very human instincts to survive (at all costs, perhaps), and when they found a stash of native corn buried and hidden, they took it for themselves. This directly contradicted their Puritan views, but it shows that the Puritans were as complex as any other group of people and clung to any means of possible survival, even if it put them in conflict with their new neighbors.

The Pilgrims did believe in loving their neighbors, as commanded by the Bible, and this surely had some foundation in forming an alliance with the Pokanoket sachem, Massasoit. Both Massasoit and the Pilgrims realized that together they could offer and receive more protection than they could hope to accomplish alone, so this made strategic sense. Again, this shows the complexities of the Pilgrim culture in the New World. While they continued to worship and study the Bible, they also faced situations they had no experience in working through, and they ultimately needed to survive these unknown conditions. Their new alliances showed that they were people of faith but also practical human beings.

The behavior of the Pilgrims is also not what one would expect from a group who initially sought religious tolerance and who is often characterized as a solely peace-seeking group. Miles Standish once placed the head of a Native soldier atop a Plymouth fort, which is not the characteristic, typical Pilgrim image. He was a calculating and cruel soldier, and his behavior was denounced by Reverend John Robinson: "It is . . . a thing more glorious, in men’s eyes, than pleasing in God’s or convenient for Christians, to be a terror to poor barbarous people. And indeed I am afraid lest, by these occasions, others should be drawn to affect a kind of ruffling course in the world."

All of this goes to show that the Pilgrims were as diverse a group of people as any other, and though they sought religious freedom in the New World, they were also human and desperately clung to hope of survival. Their actions did not always reflect the God they served, and their relationships with the Native Americans was complex and constantly changing, depending on shifting needs of both groups.

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The Pilgrims were Puritans, and they were given their name because they wanted to purify the Anglican Church. Unlike most of the later Puritans who colonized Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Pilgrims were Separatists, in that they wanted to separate themselves entirely from the Anglican Church rather than purifying it from within. The Pilgrims were persecuted in England, and so they were motivated to immigrate to the New World and to establish a settlement. Their ability to survive the rigors of the New World came in part from their knowledge that England was a hostile environment to them--one they could not easily return to. In addition, the Pilgrims, like other Puritans, believed in predestination--the idea that one's status as saved or not saved was determined before birth. Being successful on earth was a sign that one had received God's favor and was among the elect, or saved, so the Puritans practiced the Protestant work ethic. They were determined to prove their elect status so they worked diligently, surviving in the New World.

Their beliefs also limited them in that they were not open to new cultures, such as the Native Americans, and so they treated them with hostility. They believed the Native Americans were not among the elect, so the Pilgrims were not tolerant of them. The Pilgrims and other Puritans could not tolerate any dissent. 

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