Throughout American history there has been no greater adventure than America itself, which from the time of its earliest settlers has inspired both the exhilaration of discovery and the eternal hope of a new and better life.
This is the forgotten history of the First Pilgrim.
Mary was, like most girls her age, an irrepressible spirit. She ran and played and discovered every square inch of her neighborhood in Sandwich. This both frustrated and secretly delighted her parents, who were strict Puritans who taught their children the divine value of austerity but also realized the spirit of God was well and truly alive in young Mary—perhaps a bit too much.
As much as the family loved their home in England, though, as Puritans they were persecuted for their faith and had to practice in secret. A number of other families were so disgusted and fearful that they fled England for the relative freedom of Holland.
They lived as Separatists, but soon found that the Dutch were just as intolerant as the English. They forced the Puritans into hard labor, and many of them returned to England longing for a place where they could practice their faith freely and openly.
Those who remained in Holland hatched a plan; they would charter two ships and make the dangerous voyage to the New World, a portion of which they could settle as a new Puritan colony.
Their two ships, the Speedwell and the Mayflower, set sail in the summer of 1620, stopping in Southampton to pick up more passengers, like Mary's family, who wanted a new life in a new home.
But the Speedwell sprung a number of leaks and had to turn around. Both ships returned to port in Plymouth, England, where the passengers of the Speedwell boarded the Mayflower for the long, dangerous voyage to America.
Their provisions, already low, hit critical levels because of the delays caused by the Speedwell's leaks, and the Mayflower's 102 passengers crammed into living quarters that could barely fit half that many.
Despite the harsh conditions, Mary--ever the irrepressible spirit--grew more and more excited as land came into view.
The Mayflower docked off the coast of Provincetown, Massachusetts, but could not make the journey south to their intended settlement for several weeks.
Mary's excitement was tempered with impatience. She had waited months to set foot in her new home and now she had to wait a few more weeks? This was almost too much for a 13-year-old.
Finally, though, the Mayflower set sail for the Puritans' new colony--which they planned to name Plymouth in honor of the port from which they had begun their journey.
The ship anchored off the coast, and the Puritans boarded rowboats to take them to shore. Mary's family was in one of the first, and as land got closer and closer, she could contain her excitement less and less.
She could see the sea floor below her and the visions of her new life were too much for her to contain. When the water was shallow enough, she jumped out of the rowboat and with a huge smile on her face, ran to shore.
With that, Mary Chilton became the first pilgrim to set foot on American soil at Plymouth Rock.
Her family's life in her new home was anything but idyllic, though. Neither of her parents survived the harsh first winter in America, and Mary was one of just nine girls who lived long enough to take part in the first Thanksgiving the following Autumn.
But Mary did survive, her irrepressible spirit a metaphor for that of her fellow Pilgrims, who persevered to build a small colony into a thriving community. Mary grew up and married the nephew of the Mayflower's commanding officer, eventually having ten children. They had children, and so did their children.
Among Mary's descendants were some of the most prominent people in AMerica: Nicholas Gilman, a signer of the Constitution, Lucretia Garfield, first Lady of the United States, and even Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush.
Mary lived a long life, passing away peacefully with her family by her side in 1679, but she will forever be that 13-year-old girl so excited about America's possibilities that she--like countless scores of people who came after her--just couldn't wait to explore them.