Remarkable historic document signed in 1621 to travel to UK in 2020

Feb 26, 2019

One of the most significant pieces of Anglo-American history has been conserved so it can travel to Plymouth, UK, for the first time.

Signed in 1621, the Second Peirce Patent is the oldest existing state document of New England in the US. It effectively was the only official document that granted the Pilgrims permission from England to settle in what would become Plymouth, Massachusetts.

In 2020, the remarkable piece of history will return to ‘Old’ England as part of the city’s Mayflower 400 commemorations. 

The document is owned by Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts - the oldest continuously operating public museum in America. The musuem has been working in partnership with The Box, in Plymouth UK, to restore this unique item so it can be displayed in Plymouth, UK for the first time - the city where the Mayflower made its final stop before its pioneering voyage across the Atlantic.

Second Peirce Patent, Mayflower

The Second Peirce Patent, images courtesy of the Pilgrim Hall Museum

The Box is a major new cultural and heritage centre opening in Plymouth in spring 2020 with the groundbreaking exhibition Mayflower: Legend and Legacy.

Donna Curtin, Executive Director of the Pilgrim Hall Museum, said: “The Peirce Patent is an extraordinary survival from Anglo-America’s earliest beginnings and represents many of the complexities of colonisation, as well as our cultural ties with Great Britain. We are pleased that after nearly four centuries, it will cross the Atlantic for this significant visit.”

When the passengers of the Mayflower arrived in America in the winter of 1620, they chose to establish their colony in Plymouth, Massachusetts, rather than continuing on to northern Virginia as planned. They had no authority from the English Crown to land where they did, nor any permission from the Native Americans already living in and around Cape Cod. The Second Peirce Patent was the first to grant them English permission to settle in Plymouth. 

The Second Peirce Patent

The Second Peirce Patent, images courtesy of the Pilgrim Hall Museum

The 400-year old parchment document with four brown wax seals has been restored by specialists at the Northeast Document Conservation Centre in Massachusetts. They repaired tears and breaks in the paper, and carefully soaked, washed and ironed the linen.

Working with such a historic document presented many conservation challenges, but their expertise has ensured the complete restoration of the Second Peirce Patent which is now ready to travel to England for 2020.  

The document, signed by five Englishmen, gave each settler 100 acres of ground and ‘all such liberties, privileges, profits and commodities’ as the land and rivers ‘shall yield’. It also references the ‘churches, schools, hospitals, townhouses, and bridges’ the Mayflower passengers and subsequent English colonists would build in America.

The Second Peirce Patent will travel across the Atlantic to Plymouth, UK for the first time in 2020 when it will be part of The Box’s ‘Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy’ exhibition.

Councillor Peter Smith, Deputy Leader said: “The 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower gives us the opportunity to display objects which have never been seen in England before. We are honoured to be able to welcome such a significant document to Plymouth for the first time.”

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