The one hundred passengers of the Mayflower required sixty-five days to sail from Plymouth, England to America, departing their familiar European world on the sixth of September, 1620 and reaching the New World and sighting American soil at the Cape Cod Highlands of Truro, the ninth of November, 1620. After a failed attempt to round Monomoy and the south shore of the Cape and head toward the Hudson River, they reversed course and sailed north along the Cape's Great Outer Beach, entered Cape Cod Bay, and set anchor in East Harbor, also known as Provincetown Harbor (now the nearly land-locked, brackish water Pilgrim Lake of North Truro and Provincetown). Their arrival in this sheltered harbor occurred on the 11th of November, just prior to the winter season. They devoted a month to exploring various regions of the Outer Cape on land and from bayside waters with their small boat, or shallop, facing "much foul weather."8 The sixth of December, the shallop exploration party headed to Plymouth and determined that it offered a far more safe harbor and a more auspicious place to establish a colonial settlement. The exploration party returned to report to those who remained at Cape Cod, and on the fifteenth of December, the Mayflower weighed anchor from East Harbor and sailed across Cape Cod Bay, safely entering Plymouth Harbor the following day. Construction of a settlement with houses "for common use" began thereafter.9
With the steady arrival of new settlers from England over the course of the ensuing decade and a half, restless Plymouth Colony inhabitants secured permission to establish new settlements away from Plymouth. Some sought out Cape Cod, and the Cape experienced its earliest permanent European settlements during the late 1630s and 1640s, with Sandwich (1637), Barnstable (1639), Yarmouth (1639), and Eastham, or Nauset (1644) receiving small or large groups of founding families. New villages established in Brewster (1656), Chatham (1656), Falmouth (1660) added to these settlements, along with several small villages or precincts in what are now the towns of Harwich, Dennis, Orleans, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown. Additional communities were established on the Cape's south shore. Yet, Branford wrote thirty years later,
"Of these hundred persons which came first over in this first ship together, the greater half died in the general mortality, and most of them in two or three months' time. And for those which survived, though some were ancient and past procreation, and others left the place and country, yet of those few remaining are sprung up above 160 persons in this thirty years, and are now living in this present year 1650, besides many of their children which are dead and come not within this account."10
Meetinghouses and adjacent burying grounds were constructed and laid out in each of these Cape Cod towns and villages from an early date. The high death rate on the Cape and in Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colony, throughout the seventeenth century, along with associated malnutrition and disease, complications of childbirth, and a high fertility rate, resulted in frequent burials in these cemeteries. Population growth lagged in the 1640s but renewed in later decades, yet the death rate remained high. Death also was introduced with King Philip's War (mid-1670s), an exception to the generally peaceful relations between Native Americans and the Europeans and Africans.