The settlers probed for a good place to land and soon discovered Plymouth Harbor, on the western side of Cape Cod Bay. They set foot on shore-supposedly on a rock now carved with the year 1620—on December 21, with the main body of settlers disembarking on December 26. They could hardly have picked a less favorable time and place for their landing. A bitter New England winter was already under way, and the site boasted neither good harbors nor, given its flinty soil, extensive tracts of fertile land. As at Jamestown, people began to die: during the first winter, more than half of them. But these settlers were also very different from their earlier Jamestown counterparts. They were neither moneyed gentlemen, on the one hand, nor indentured servants on the other. Most were yeoman farmers, hard workers who were by right and inclination free.
From their number emerged a succession of able leaders, including John Carver (ca. 1576-1621), the first governor of Plymouth Colony; William Bradford (1590-1657), governor for more than 30 years and the colony’s most able early historian, the author of History or Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647; William Brewster (1567-1644); Edward Winslow (1595-1655), the colony’s indispensable diplomat, who negotiated a treaty with local Indian chief Massasoit, established vital fur-trading enterprises, and managed relations with England; and Myles Standish (ca. 1584-1656), a professional soldier who served as the colony’s military adviser, established its defenses, negotiated with Indians, represented the interests of Plymouth in England (1625-26), and was a founder of Duxbury, Massachusetts, in 1632. But even able leadership would have failed to bring the colony through the first dreadful winter without the aid and succor of the neighboring Wampanoag Indians. Two in particular, Squanto (a Pawtuxet living among the Wampanoags) and Samoset (an Abnaki), gave the Pilgrims hands-on help in planting crops and building shelters. Samoset introduced the settlers to Massasoit, principal leader of the Wampanoags, and Squanto served as interpreter between the chief and the Pilgrim leaders. Throughout his lifetime, Massasoit (that was what the English called him; his Indian name was Wawmegin, “Yellow Feather”) treated the settlers as friends.