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Desperate Crossing
Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower
@ The History Channel

1500s — The Reformation, launched by Martin Luther, splinters the medieval church. A revolutionary idea drives this massive event - that a person's individual conscience is a valid interpreter of Scripture. This idea, in turn, leads to the creation of dissident Protestant sects, including a Separatist congregation that forms in Scrooby, England, in the early 1600s. This group is known to history as the pilgrims.

1603 — James I is crowned monarch of England, succeeding Elizabeth I. During his reign, until 1625, the English begin colonizing their lands in North America. james insists upon religious obedience in England, demanding "one doctrine... one religion" - i.e. adherence to the tenets of the Church of England, which was begun by Henry VIII in the 1530s. The Scrobby sect wants to seperate entirely from the Church of England, but is mocked and criticized "on every side," writes William Bradford, a young Separatist.

1607-1608 — The pilgrims relocate to the Netherlands. Over the next few years, their congregation will grow to about 300 people.

1617-1620 — In the Netherlands and England, the pilgrims prepare to emigrate, facing vexing legal and financial complexities. Meanwhile, they hire a military leader, Miles Standish (1584?-1656; his first name is sometimes spelled "Myles"). During this period, King James I is informed of their proposed voyage but decides not to object.

July 23, 1620 — In the first leg of their trip to the New World, a group of pilgrims departs the Netherlands for England on board the Speedwell.

August 5, 1620 — The Speedwell and the Mayflower embark for America from England. The Speedwell proves leaky and can't be trusted to make the trip, so all the voyagers pile on board the Mayflower, which sets out alone in early September with 102 passengers, including many people who aren't Separatists. A team of professional sailors guides the ship westward.

October, 1620 — The latter part of the voyage is scary and storm tossed, with rampant seasickness, limited sanitation, and major doubts about the Mayflower's safety. In the midst of it all, a baby boy is born to Elizabeth and Stephen Hopkins and given the name Oceanus.

November 9, 1620 — After nine weeks at sea, the voyagers sight Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The ship briefly heads south for the Hudson River region but soon turns back north.

November 11, 1620 — After much wrangling, the colonizers create a governmental structure for their venture by signing the Mayflower Compact. Also on this day, the first scouting party goes ashore, making landfall in Nauset, Cape Cod. In coming weeks, a number of scouting expeditions will venture forth on the cape.

December 8, 1620 — In Eastham, Cape Cod, natives from the Wampanoag tribe attack pilgrim scouts, having had enough, says historian Len Travers in the film, of "these people tramping around on their lands, frightening their people, stealing their corn, and digging up their graves." No one is hurt, but the pilgrims hav "blown it," says Travers, as far as getting along with natives at Cape Cod. The pilgrims look to the mainland, west of the cape.

December 11, 1620 — The pilgrims supposedly land at Plymouth Rock in Plymouth Harbor. Soon thereafter they begin constructing Plymouth Colony (New Plymouth). The first permanent European in New England.

January, 1621 — Constuction of housing continues ashore. The Coloniest suffer grieviously from illness, including scurvy, which attacks the immune system. Death is rife.

March 16, 1621 — a lone Indian, Samoset, walks into New Plymouth and says "Welcome." This is the first substantive contact between the settlers and the natives. Samoset, a visitor from Maine, converses with the pilgrims, and soon informs the Wampanoag people that the colonists wish peace.

March 22, 1621 — Massasoit (1580?-1661), a Wampanoag chief, visits New Plymouth with a group of warriors and with Squanto (also know as Tisquantum; d. 1622), an interpreter from the Pawtuxet tribe. The two sides negotiate a peace agreement. (Several years earlier, the Wampanoag confederation had been weakened by disease. Massasoit is seeking alliances against neighboring tribes that he feels pose a threat to his people.) Massasoit observes the 1621 treat faithfully until his death.

Spring, 1621 — The colonists plant crops, guided by Squanto. Meanwhile, Edward Winslow (1695-1655) develops a deep interest in Wampanoag language and culture, becoming an essential diplomatic link between the two sides. In June, Winslow helps expedite a visit by pilgrim leaders to the home of Massasoit. The stength of the alliance is a key factor in the colony's survival.

Summer, 1621 — The pilgrims build more lodgings and prepare for winter.

Autumn, 1621 — The newcomers conduct a three-day harvest festival, with food, games, and merriment. Native people show up - whether they were invited or not is unclear - and are invited to partake. This happy, boisterous event is fhe forerunner of modern-day Thanksgiving Day. "Yes," says author Nathaniel Philbrick in the film, "the pilgrims created a community of fellow worshippers. But it was the Indians who made them realize that the great work of living is living with others. And that is the true importance of the pilgrim story."

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Desperate Crossing
The History Channel DVD:
Desperate Crossing