While we have long known dogs to be invaluable members of our families, one of my favorite tales of man's best friend goes all the way back to 17th century America during the earliest years of Pilgrim exploration in the new world.
The first record of dogs in the American colonies comes from the following passage from the journal Mourt's Relation, an account from the founding years of the Plymouth settlement, where the settlers (and their pups!) were establishing their new home in the wilderness.
One of the Mayflower passengers, a man by the name of John Goodman, brought with him his two dogs - a Mastiff and an English Springer Spaniel. These dogs proved to be more than just companions, as they helped to save John's life on a cold winter's night.
From Mourt's Relation...
Friday, the 12th, we went to work, but about noon it began to rain that it forced us to give over work.
This day two of our people put us in great sorrow and care; there was four sent to gather and cut thatch in the morning, and two of them, John Goodman and Peter Brown, having cut thatch all the forenoon, went to a further place, and willed the other two to bind up that which was cut and to follow them. So they did, being about a mile and a half from our plantation. But when the two came after, they could not find them, nor hear any thing of them at all, though they hallooed and shouted as loud as they could, so they returned to the company and told them of it. Whereupon Master Leaver and three or four more went to seek them, but could hear nothing of them, so they returning, sent more, but that night they could hear nothing at all of them. The next day they armed ten or twelve men out, verily thinking the Indians had surprised them. They went seeking seven or eight miles, but could neither see nor hear any thing at all, so they returned, with much discomfort to us all.
These two that were missed, at dinner time took their meat in their hands, and would go walk and refresh themselves. So going a little off they find a lake of water, and having a great mastiff bitch with them and a spaniel, by the water side they found a great deer; the dogs chased him, and they followed so far as they lost themselves and could not find the way back. They wandered all that afternoon being wet, and at night it did freeze and snow. They were slenderly appareled and had no weapons but each one his sickle, nor any victuals. They ranged up and down and could find none of the savages' habitations. When it drew to night they were much perplexed, for they could find neither harbor nor meat, but, in frost and snow were forced to make the earth their bed and the element their covering. And another thing did very much terrify them; they heard, as they thought, two lions roaring exceedingly for a long time together, and a third, that they thought was very near them. So not knowing what to do, they resolved to climb up into a tree as their safest refuge, though that would prove an intolerable cold lodging; so they stood at the tree's root, that when the lions came they might take their opportunity of climbing up. The bitch they were fain to hold by the neck, for she would have been gone to the lion; but it pleased God so to dispose, that the wild beasts came not. So they walked up and down under the tree all night; it was an extreme cold night. So soon as it was light they traveled again, passing by many lakes and brooks and woods, and in one place where the savages had burnt the space of five miles in length, which is a fine champaign country, and even. In the afternoon, it pleased God, from a high hill they discovered the two isles in the bay, and so that night got to the plantation, being ready to faint with travail and want of victuals, and almost famished with cold. John Goodman was fain to have his shoes cut off his feet they were so swelled with cold, and it was a long while after ere he was able to go; those on the shore were much comforted at their return, but they on the shipboard were grieved at deeming them lost.
But the next day, being the 14th of January, in the morning about six of the clock the wind being very great, they on shipboard spied their great new rendezvous on fire, which was to them a new discomfort, fearing because of the supposed loss of men, that the savages had fired them. Neither could they presently go to them, for want of water, but after three quarters of an hour they went, as they had purposed the day before to keep the Sabbath on shore, because now there was the greatest number of people. At their landing they heard good tidings of the return of the two men, and that the house was fired occasionally by a spark that flew into the thatch, which instantly burnt it all up but the roof stood and little hurt. The most loss was Master Carver's and William Bradford's, who then lay sick in bed, and if they had not risen with good speed, had been blown up with powder, but, though God's mercy, they had no harm. The house was as full of beds as they could lie one by another, and their muskets charged, but, blessed be God, there was no harm done. (Source)