The Pilgrims were a group of English people who came to America seeking religious freedom during the reign of King James I. After two attempts to leave England and move to Holland, a Separatist group was finally relocated to Amsterdam where they stayed for about one year.
From there the group moved to the town of Leiden, Holland, where they remained for about ten years, able to worship as they wished under lenient Dutch law. Fearing their children were losing their English heritage and religious beliefs, a small group from the Leiden churches made plans to settle in Northern Virginia - as New England was known at the time.
In August 1620 the group sailed for Southampton, England, where other English colonists who hoped to make a new life in America met them. They planned to make the crossing to America in two ships, the Speedwell and the Mayflower. However, after many problems the Speedwell was forced to return to England where the group was reorganized.
In their second attempt to cross the Atlantic, they boarded the Mayflower in September 1620 bound for the New World. The 102 passengers who crowded aboard the Mayflower for the crossing consisted of members of the Leiden congregation, English families, and individuals who hoped to get rich or escape an unhappy life. The Leiden congregation became the "Saints" and the remainder of the passengers, the "Strangers".
They arrived as winter was settling in and endured significant hardships as they struggled to establish a successful colony at Plymouth. Although the Leiden congregation had sent its strongest members with various skills for establishing the new colony, nearly half of the passengers died the first winter of the "great sickness."
Those who arrived in Plymouth on the Mayflower and survived the initial hardships today are considered Pilgrims with no distinction being made on the basis of their original purposes for making the voyage.
The Mayflower Pilgrims and their fellow travelers were authors of the first true governing document created in a New World colony. The Mayflower Compact is considered to have set the stage for the Constitution of the United States.
In time the Plymouth colony flourished and lead the way to establishing religious freedom and creating the foundations of the democracy Americans enjoy today. The Pilgrim's celebration of the first Thanksgiving has grown to become a festive national holiday.