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The Puritans were members of a religious reform movement that arose within the Church of England in the late 16th century. Prior to 1800 the Separatists who landed at Plymouth Rock were known as the “first-comers” or “forefathers.”

Roughly half of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower died that first winter from starvation, exposure and disease. With the help of the native Wampanoag people, the Pilgrims learned to fish and farm their new lands, resulting in the famous feast of Thanksgiving attended by natives and new arrivals in 1621.

The Separatists first fled to the Netherlands, a wealthy maritime superpower that was far more religiously diverse and tolerant. But while life in Holland was peaceful, it wasn’t English, and the Separatists feared that their children were losing their native culture. They decided that the only way to live as true English Christians was too separate even further and establish their own colony in the New World.

Lead by William Bradford didn’t name his community “Pilgrims,” and wouldn’t have heard the term in his lifetime. The first usage of capital-P “Pilgrim” appeared around 1800, when a group of citizens in Plymouth proposed the creation of a Pilgrim Society to organize the annual celebration of the founding of the Plymouth Colony in 1620.

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