Visit Legend and Legacy at The Box to see historic document signed in 1621

May 24, 2021

One of the most significant pieces of Anglo-American history is now on display at The Box in Plymouth, UK.

Signed in 1621, the Second Peirce Patent is the oldest existing state document of New England in the US.

Now, visitors to The Box can see it first-hand as part of the ground-breaking Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy exhibition.

The remarkable historic 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 at The Box Plymouth

When the Mayflower passengers 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 effectively the only official document that granted the colonists from England permission to settle in what would become Plymouth, Massachusetts. 

The Second Peirce Patent

For the first time, the remarkable piece of history has returned 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 museum worked in partnership with The Box to restore this unique item so it could be displayed in Plymouth, UK - the city where the Mayflower made its final stop before its voyage across the Atlantic.

The Second Peirce Patent at The Box Plymouth

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 locally humidified and flattened small, folded areas of damage and repaired tears in the parchment. The document was then tension mounted to create a secure display and housing system that would account for the dimensional changes of parchment, the weight of the document, and the suspended wax seals.

To achieve this end, a number of linen threads were adhered to the edges of the parchment, wrapped around the edge of the mounting board, and secured to the reverse of the board. These linen threads, held in even tension around the parchment, expand and contract in an opposite manner to parchment with changes in relative humidity.

The threads were sewn through a layer of fine, lightweight linen to create the appearance that the object was floating within the mount.

Working with such a historic document presented many conservation challenges, but their expertise has ensured the complete restoration of the Second Peirce Patent.

Second Peirce Patent, Mayflower

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

Donna Curtin, Executive Director of the Pilgrim Hall Museum, commented: “The Peirce Patent is an extraordinary survival from Anglo-America’s earliest beginnings.

"It 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.”

  • Find out more about Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy here.
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