William Bradford says that he will compose the second part of his journal in somewhat less detail than the first, “noting only the principal doings, chronologically.” He’ll begin with the governmental compact that the Pilgrims drew before going ashore. There are some “mutinous speeches” by the people aboard the ship whom the Pilgrims don’t know, and some passengers suggest that when the group arrives in America, they will have no leader. However, the Pilgrims draw up a deed in the name of God and King James, explaining that they will abide by just laws and submit to the authority of a governor for the greater good of the colony itself. The Pilgrims then choose John Carver, “a godly man,” to become their first governor.
As Bradford notes, Book Two proceeds year-by-year, and contains much more detail than Book One. Bradford begins by circling back to describe the voyage to New England, which he’d previously glossed over. The agreement he’s describing is the famous Mayflower Compact, often considered one of the first examples of a democratic “social contract” between citizen and society. Bradford obscures the fact that many, and possibly most, of the Mayflower passengers weren’t Pilgrims at all, and needed some guarantee that their rights would be respected on land. It’s surprising that Bradford devotes very little time to an agreement that’s so frequently taught in history classes nowadays—as the historian James Loewen argued, the Mayflower Compact was more important to historians than to the actual Mayflower settlers.
Within a few months of arriving in America, about half the colonists in Cape Cod die from disease and the cold weather, so that only about fifty people remain. At times, there are no more than half a dozen healthy people, including William Brewster and Captain Myles Standish. The sailors begin to desert one another, refusing to take care of the sick for fear of risking their own lives. When some of the Pilgrims become sick after drinking water from the river, the sailors drink only beer.
The Pilgrims didn’t understand what germs were, but they knew that when they drank certain kinds of water, they died. Beer was safe to drink because it was sterile—in fact, it’s been argued that English settlers could never have survived in American without beer!
A major turning point in the colonists’ history comes on the 16th of March, when an Indian approaches the Pilgrims, speaking a few words of English. The Indian, whose name is Samoset, explains that he’d traveled back to England with some English fisherman, from whom he learned the language. Samoset refers the Pilgrims to another Indian, named Squanto, whose English is even better than his own. Squanto greets the Pilgrims and introduces them to his chief, named Massasoyt. In this way, the Pilgrims are able to make a treaty with the Indians. According to this treaty, the Indians and the Pilgrims won’t attack one another or steal from one another, and they’ll fight alongside one another if either group becomes involved in a war.
Squanto is one of the most important figures in Plymouth history—had it not been for him, it’s likely that the Pilgrims would have starved to death due to their ignorance of agriculture. The agreement that the Native Americans and the Pilgrims draw doesn’t last very long: over the course of the next thirty years, both sides break the treaty, attacking and stealing from one another.
In addition to making introductions with Massasoyt, Squanto shows the Pilgrims how to plant corn and fish. He’d been carried back to England by an English captain, who’d intended to sell him as a slave in Spain. Squanto managed to escape from the captain and find work in Newfoundland, when he met another captain, Dermer, who brought him back to his home just a few months before the Pilgrims arrived. Captain Dermer noted that the Indians who lived near Cape Cod were cruel and dangerous, but also observed that the soil in the area was perfect for English crops. Dermer was captured by Indians, and his men were murdered. He managed to escape and reach Virginia. There are many other reports of the Indians’ savagery and bloodthirstiness, Bradford says.
Bradford credits Squanto with showing the Pilgrims how to plant corn and develop thriving agriculture, which is more than other English settlers were willing to do when describing Native Americans. However, Bradford also falls back on the old stereotypes about Native American “savages”—he might praise individuals, but claims that as a whole Native Americans are bloodthirsty, cruel, etc., Of course, the Native American tribes of New England were probably less aggressive, selfish, and “savage” than many European nation states of the era.