The Second Peirce Patent

The Second Peirce Patent

1 June 2021

Dated June 1, 1621, the Second Peirce Patent is the oldest existing state document of New England - and it's currently on display in our 'Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy' exhibition having travelled back across the Atlantic for the first time in 400 years.

The document is owned by Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts - the oldest continuously operating public museum in America. Working with The Box, this unique object was restored so it could be displayed in Plymouth.

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 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.

Image courtesy of Pilgrim Hall Museum, Massachusetts
Image courtesy of Pilgrim Hall Museum, Massachusetts

In preparation for its journey to Plymouth, the 400-year old parchment document with four brown wax seals was restored by specialists at the Northeast Document Conservation Centre in Massachusetts, USA. They humidified and flattened small, folded areas of damage, repaired tears in the parchment and tension mounted it to ensure it could be displayed safely.

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

A close up of the Second Pierce Patent at The Box, Plymouth

Speaking just after the conservation work had taken place, Donna Curtin, Executive Director, 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.

Curator of the 'Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy' exhibition, Jo Loosemore 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 welcome such a significant document to Plymouth for the first time in four centuries.

You can see this important piece of Anglo-American history when you book a ticket for 'Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy'. The exhibition has been extended and will now be on display until 2 January 2022.

If you'd like to find out even more, listen to this specially-recorded podcast all about the Second Peirce Patent.