What hardships did the Plymouth colony face?

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When the Mayflower anchored at Plymouth Harbor on 16 December 1620, there were 99 people aboard (four had died earlier at Cape Cod and one was born there). In a little more than three months, until the end of March 1621, William Bradford recorded the deaths of 44 of them. The Plymouth colony therefore lost almost half its population over the first winter the pilgrims spent in America.

The first factor in this alarming death toll was bad timing. The Mayflower arrived at the beginning of a bitter Winter which meant both severe cold (and the concomitant risk of pneumonia) and a complete lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. Those who did not die of pneumonia or other ailments related to the severe weather conditions were likely to succumb to scurvy, which is caused by lack of vitamin C, or simply to starvation. The shortage of food grew more serious as the winter progressed, and Bradford records that 30 of the 44 deaths occurred in February or March.

Although the colonists continued to endure great hardships, their lot improved with the coming of spring and the assistance of the Wampanoag in growing food, fishing, and hunting, so their second winter was not nearly so difficult as their first.

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The problems that the Pilgrims faced in the early history of the Plymouth colony show how much of a risky thing it was to try to settle in the New World.

First, the Pilgrims faced the problem of very bad timing.  They arrived in Massachusetts on November 9 and did not find a place that they felt was suitable to live until December 11.  This was important because it meant that they did not have time to really get settled in before the really bad weather came.  If they could have gotten settled sooner, they might have had better homes and been better prepared for the winter.

Second, they faced the problems that came with the technology of the time.  Their arrival in the New World was delayed for months because of problems with a ship that was supposed to accompany the Mayflower to the New World.  In addition, they ended up in Massachusetts rather than their intended destination to the south. 

Third, they faced the problems of disease and starvation.  This was true even though the Pilgrims were luckier than many people.  The Mayflower stayed with them through the winter, providing shelter and a source of food.  They had a relatively good site on which to live and had access to corn that the Indians had stored.  Even so, various diseases and hunger caused about half of them to die in the first winter.

Finally, they faced issues of political legitimacy and setting up a government.  There was some question among the people as to the legality of their charter now that they had landed in the wrong place.  This meant the colony’s leaders met some resistance.  This was the reason for the writing of the Mayflower Compact.

Even with all their advantages, the Plymouth colonists had a very hard time surviving the initial winter.  This shows the dangers that attended attempts to colonize the New World. 

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Plymouth Colony faced a slew of difficulties in their first year of colonization:

Disease:  Many of the Pilgrims died from pneumonia and scurvy.  Scurvy is actually a deficiency of Vitamin C, but the Pilgrims did not have access to any fresh fruits of vegetables that are a good source of that vitamin.

Starvation:  The men, women, and children aboard the Mayflower had to survive the long winter by eating the leftover food from their voyage.  This serious food shortage on board the Mayflower led to starvation.  Many of the mothers on the ship saved their food and gave it to their children instead of eating it themselves. A larger percentage of the children survived because of this; however, fourteen out of the eighteen adult women died during the first winter.

Severe Weather:  The Pilgrims arrived at North America during a very hard and unforgiving winter.  They attempted to last out the winter on the ship, because the snow and ice made it too difficult for the men to build shelters on land.

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