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400th anniversary of the Mayflower reaching the “New World”

Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, painting by William Halsall (1882)

MENOMONIE (WQOW) - Four centuries ago, in 1620, the pilgrims wanted to leave England because they felt the Church of England was corrupt. UW-Stout history professor Chris Marshall said deciding to cross the Atlantic ocean was more than a search for religious freedom.

"Because it was the Church of England, there was no separation of church and state," he said. "So dissent against the Church of England was dissent against the English state."

They meant to go to the already established Virginia Colonym but they were battered with bad weather and ended up much farther north. Those aboard the Mayflower were not all pilgrims. Some were just the crew. So, stuck where they were, the crew and the pilgrims had to create a social contract, the Mayflower Compact, that they would work together as a community.

During their first winter, many of those who had survived the voyage died from disease. Those that survived were helped by the Wampanoag, a tribe living in the area. Historians say the pilgrims relationship with them may have been positive at first, but that didn't last.

"That friendly relationship during that first harvest festival you saw in 1621 is going to unfortunately very rapidly break down," Marshall said.

Today, many people can trace their family lineage back to those first Mayflower passengers, including Menomonie resident Robin Shay.

"I discovered while doing genealogy that, I think its my third great grandmothers middle name was Bradford, her name was Unice Bradford Butz," Shay said. "And I thought that must be a family name because that's a funny middle name."

She decided to see if she may be related to Plymouth Colony's second governor, and after a few years, she was able to collect the certificates and census records to send to the Mayflower Society in Plymouth.

"And then their genealogists look it over and then they sent me back a certificate that said yeah you're a descendant of William Bradford," she said.

The history of the Mayflower still lives with us in how the Mayflower Compact would set the groundwork for the U.S. constitution. It lives with us as so many Americans are descendant of those on board. And it lives with us in the devastating effect Europeans had on Native American populations already living here. 400 years later we are still feeling the effect of this foundational moment in us history.

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Felicity Bosk

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