On This Day, Dec. 21, 1620 – Pilgrims Land at Plymouth Rock


1620 – The “Mayflower“, and its passengers, pilgrims from England, landed at Plymouth Rock, MA.

One of the greatest twists of fate in human history occurred on that epochal voyage. The Pilgrims were originally bound for Virginia to live north of Jamestown under the same charter granted to citizens of Jamestown. Fate charted a different course. Lost at sea, they happened upon a piece of land that would become known as Cape Cod. After surveying the land, they set up camp not too far from Plymouth Rock. They feared venturing further south because winter was fast approaching.

The 102 travellers aboard the Mayflower landed upon the shores of Plymouth in 1620. 

The Pilgrims had an important question to answer before they set ashore. Since they were not landing within the jurisdiction of the Virginia Company, they had no charter to govern them. Who would rule their society?

In the landmark Mayflower Compact of 1620, the Pilgrims decided that they would rule themselves, based on majority rule of the townsmen. This independent attitude set up a tradition of self-rule that would later lead to town meetings and elected legislatures in New England.

Like the Virginia House of Burgesses established the previous year, Plymouth colony began to lay the foundation for democracy in the American colonies.

1898 – Scientists Pierre and Marie Curie discovered the radioactive element radium.

1913 – Arthur Wynne published a new “word-cross” puzzle in the “New York World” in England. The name was later changed to “crossword.”

1914 – Marie Dressler, Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand and Mack Swain appeared in the first six-reel, feature-length comedy. The film was entitled “Tillie’s Punctured Romance“.

1925 – Sergei Eisenstein’s film “Battleship Potemkin” was first shown in Moscow.

1937 – Walt Disney debuted the first, full-length, animated feature in Hollywood, CA. The movie was “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

1944 – Horse racing was banned in the United States until after the end of World War II.

1945 – Gen. George S. Patton died in Heidelberg, Germany, of injuries from a car accident.

1948 – The state of Eire (formerly the Irish Free State) declared its independence.

1951 – Joe DiMaggio announced his retirement from major league baseball.

1958 – Charles de Gaulle was elected to a seven-year term as the first president of the Fifth Republic of France.

1968Apollo 8 was launched on a mission to orbit the moon. The craft landed safely in the Pacific Ocean on December 27.

1968 – Crosby, Stills and Nash performed together in public for the first time.


1970 – Elvis Presley went to the White House to volunteer his services to President Richard Nixon on fighting the nation’s drug problems. Elvis gave Nixon a chrome-plated Colt .45 and Nixon gave Elvis a Narcotics Bureau badge.

1971 – The U.N. Security Council chose Kurt Waldheim to succeed U Thant as secretary-general.

1978 – Police in Des Plaines, IL, arrested John Wayne Gacy Jr. and began unearthing the remains of 33 men and boys that Gacy was later convicted of killing.

1988 – 270 people were killed when Pan Am Boeing 747 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, due to a terrorist attack.

1990 – In a German television interview, Saddam Hussein declared that he would not withdraw from Kuwait by the UN deadline.

1995 – The city of Bethlehem passed from Israeli to Palestinian control.

1996 – After two years of denials, House Speaker Newt Gingrich admitted violating House ethics rules.

1998 – The first vaccine for Lyme disease was approved.

2001 – The Islamic militant group Hamas released a statement that said it was suspending suicide bombings and mortar attacks in Israel.

2002 – Larry Mayes was released after spending 21 years in prison for a rape that maintained that he never committed. He was the 100th person in the U.S. to be released after DNA tests were performed.


Source: On-This-Day.com; USHistory.org