American Portraits

The Pilgrims’ Courageous Journey

In this lesson, students will learn about the journey the Pilgrims took before landing at Plymouth Rock and settling in the New World. They will learn about the numerous setbacks they had to overcome in their journey and come to understand the courage often required to accomplish one’s purpose.

Founding Principles

Freedom of Religion image

Freedom of Religion

The freedom to exercise one's own religious beliefs without interference from the government is essential to the existence of a free society.

Narrative

In 1620, the Pilgrims undertook an arduous voyage across the Atlantic to North America. The settlers had to overcome uncertainty, disease, hunger, cold, and apprehension. The story of the Pilgrims is truly one of determination and courage….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How does having the courage to persevere in the face of hardship help us fulfill our purpose?

Virtue Defined

Courage is the capacity to overcome fear in order to do good.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will learn about the journey the Pilgrims took before landing at Plymouth Rock and settling in the New World. They will learn about the numerous setbacks they had to overcome in their journey and come to understand the courage often required to accomplish one’s purpose.

Objectives

  • Students will analyze the courage displayed by the Pilgrims in making their journey across the Atlantic.
  • Students will understand how they can be courageous in their own lives.
  • Students will apply their knowledge of courage in their own lives.

Background

The story of the Pilgrims began in the rural Nottingham-Yorkshire region of England. It was there that a small congregation of the Church of England gathered. These men and women believed that the Church of England had lost its way and was no longer worshiping God as it should. They made up a growing group known as the Puritans, who believed the Church of England was too corrupt to reform. Instead, the Puritans wished to create an entirely new, pure church. Over previous decades, pressure had been building upon groups like the Puritans. The English government saw these religious dissenters as a threat to the fabric of English society.

In 1607, the Bishop of York became aware of the Puritan meetings and began to crack down on them. The congregation knew they could no longer exercise their faith in England. They had to leave the world they knew for one that provided at least the potential of freedom.

The congregation decided to flee to Holland, which was not an easy decision. In the age before reliable and quick transportation, most rural peoples never traveled more than a few miles from their home in their lifetimes. The world beyond their villages and counties was utterly foreign to them. Additionally, the English government would not allow anyone to leave without permission. The congregation fled in secrecy.

When they arrived in Holland, they were greeted by a strange place that differed in culture and size from their home villages. They settled in the city of Leiden, which was home to tens of thousands of people. The busy commercial city was distinctly opposite to the slow-paced and seasonal life the English farmers had grown up in. It was not long before the culture and character of the city began to separate the Pilgrims from the agrarian English values and heritage they prized. Additionally, the English government continued to monitor their activity with the help of Holland’s officials. The Puritans knew they could not stay.

Where could they go and still maintain their heritage and lifestyle? Continued religious and political unrest on the continent of Europe meant moving further inland was not an option. They looked west, to a new and unknown world.

Vocabulary

  • Rural
  • Holland
  • Agrarian
  • Puritan
  • Turbulent
  • Joint-stock company
  • Congregation
  • Rendezvoused
  • Plodded
  • Gale
  • Covenant
  • Deprived

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

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Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • Who were the Pilgrims?
  • Why were they willing to risk the voyage to the new world?
  • What does the Pilgrims’ courage say about their identity as a community?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Philbrick, Nathaniel. Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War. New York: Penguin, 2006.

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