The pilgrims were some of North America’s first European settlers. Who were they? And what did they bring with them on their perilous journey to the new world? Most importantly, was there any gold at the First Thanksgiving?
Many of the pilgrims were wealthy
When the first Mayflower expedition set off for the New World in 1620, travelers included wealthy pilgrims. As members of elite Puritan families in England, some pilgrims held vast estates with profitable farmland. However, settling in the new world meant foregoing their wealthy status in England and committing to a life of the bare essentials.
Little information exists about what the pilgrims carried on their rough and dangerous journey. For many years, experts theorized what items may have comprised the pilgrims’ belongings.
It wasn’t until 2012 that historians uncovered a manuscript that listed the provisions of some of the original Mayflower settlers. Though many of the pilgrims were quite wealthy, you wouldn’t guess it from what they carried with them. The official provision list included only the necessities: food, drink, clothing, tools, and weapons.
In search of god and gold
As one historical study noted, the pilgrims did not venture to the new world in hopes of finding wealth but rather to escape the religious persecution that was widespread in Europe.
But the same cannot be said for the wealthy merchants that financed the Mayflower expedition. After witnessing the profitability of the Jamestown colony two decades prior, these financiers expected to see their share of gold once the Plymouth Colony established basic commerce in the vast, unsettled region of contemporary New England.
Their hopes, however, were ultimately dashed. The Plymouth colony’s first winter was disastrous; disease and starvation reduced the colony’s population by two-thirds. And though initial encounters with the surrounding indigenous tribes resulted in the fabled First Thanksgiving, relations quickly reverted to conflict.
The Plymouth colony eventually survived and is regarded as one of the most significant settlements in North American history. The individual pilgrims brought very little physical gold to the region, and what gold they did have was mostly contained in jewelry and keepsakes. Nonetheless, their investment in the New World opened the door to generations of wealth.
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