Plymouth Colony: A Biblical Legacy of Self-Government and Freedom

By Brittany Grim
SBS Upper School History Teacher

In November 1620, more than 100 people set sail from England on a ship called the Mayflower, in hopes of finding religious freedom in a new world unknown to many. The Pilgrims wanted to separate from the Church of England, but since that was the established religion in England they were persecuted for their political beliefs.

In his book Of Plimoth Plantation, William Bradford says, “They shook off the yoke of antichristian bondage, and as the Lord’s free people joined themselves into a church estate, in the fellowship of the gospel…whatsoever it should cost them.”

This group of settlers were willing to do whatever it took to gain freedom to practice their religion without the fear of persecution. 

Upon arrival in America, The Mayflower Compact was drafted and signed by all the men aboard the Mayflower. This document laid out the Christian foundation that the settlers hoped to establish, and instituted a “civil body politick” to keep order within society. It sets up the first self-governing colony in America, and laid the foundation for democracy in America. The government established in Plymouth not only reflected the political desires for the colonists, but also their religious beliefs. 

A Biblical Model of Governing

Throughout the Bible the idea of self-government is seen repeatedly. Romans 13:1 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” This passage in Romans goes on to say that we are to obey the authorities God has placed in charge of us, lest we face judgment for disobedience. The Pilgrims sought to set up a government free of persecution and based on God’s Word. This was evident not only in The Mayflower Compact, but also in their society and the way they carried out their daily lives. 

The Pilgrims self-governed accordingly while upholding Biblical principles in their daily lives. This can be seen in their relationship with the Native Americans. Soon after landing in Plymouth, the Native Americans and the Pilgrims signed a peace treaty that would last for more than two generations. They treated the Natives with kindness and helped one another, something that was not seen in many other early American colonies. 

The Pilgrims came to America for religious freedom. They established not only a colony that allowed for the free practice of their religion, but one on which American democracy was modeled. While The Mayflower Compact is no longer widely remembered, the ideas which it created have lasted over four centuries and are still prevalent in America today. The Pilgrims were simply looking to establish a system of government that would work for their colony, but had a huge impact on American democracy and the formation of the United States.

Featured picture from the Library of Congress. Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 1899. Public Domain.