Happy Mayflower Voyage Anniversary! This Sunday, September 6, 2020, marks the 400th anniversary of the third and final attempt by Master Christopher Jones to sail the Mayflower from England to New England. I suspect if Master Jones had known what was in store for him, his crew, and the 102 passengers, he’d have declined the honor.
Jones and his crew sailed the wooden cargo ship Mayflower from London to Southampton in July. He’d probably navigated that route often on trips up and down the western European coast delivering and picking up cargo. This would be his first time transporting passengers and his first trans-Atlantic voyage.
Rendezvous with the Speedwell
On July 22 the Speedwell arrived in Southampton from the Lowlands (Netherlands) with 37 English Separatist religious refugees. They were part of a much larger group of Separatists who’d been living there since fleeing England in 1608. The Leiden Separatists decided to send these few to the New World, while the remainder of the community stayed in Leiden. If these first-to-go settlers succeeded in establishing a new colony, others would join them on future voyages. If it did not go well, these pioneers could return to Leiden. After tearful good-byes at the dock, the Speedwell sailed to join the Mayflower in England.
The Separatists got a charter from King James to establish an English colony at the mouth of the Hudson River, similar to Jamestown established further south in 1607. Late in their negotiations with investors who were financing the trip, the investors insisted they take additional people with them. The Separatists objected. They envisioned a settlement populated entirely with people who shared their beliefs the Established Church of England was beyond reforming.
Take Them or Leave on Your Own
The investors threatened to withhold funding. The Separatists yielded and two groups traveled together. The Separatists thought of the new group as “strangers” and themselves the “saints.” The Stranger group included those seeking financial fortunes, orphaned children assigned to various families, men with specialized skills to build a settlement, and Myles Standish. Standish sailed to provide military protection from pirates and other dangers they might encounter.
The Speedwell started leaking on the short voyage across the English Channel. Passengers on both ships waited while the crew repaired the Speedwell. On August 5 the two ships set off on the grand adventure. The Speedwell would stay with the settlers after the Mayflower returned to England. That way they’d have a way to better explore their new location and fish to help repay their debt to the investors.
Another Day, Another Setback
Shortly after sailing away from Southampton, the Speedwell sprang more leaks. The two ships docked in Dartmouth. The passengers waited while the crew made repairs. On August 21 they set off again. Once again, the Speedwell began to leak. Some speculate the Speedwell crew sabotaged the ship to avoid sailing across the Atlantic and staying on the far side of the ocean for a year or more. The two ships sailed to Plymouth where the Speedwell was pronounced unfit to make the trans-Atlantic voyage.
By this time the initial passengers on the Mayflower had been on board for six weeks. Those on the Speedwell had been on board for a month. Saints and Strangers alike worried about how much of their food for the trip was getting used waiting to sail. They must have also realized the longer they delayed sailing, the worse the weather conditions were likely to be. Yet, they’d made too many sacrifices to abort the trip now.
Enough is Enough
Understandably, some lost their enthusiasm. They reclaimed their things and went home. The rest, moved over to the Mayflower. The new passenger list of 102 consisted of 102 passengers: About 40 Separatists; the rest Strangers. There were 74 males and 28 females, three of them pregnant. About 30 of the passengers were children. Plus around 20 to 30 crew – and two dogs. A mastiff and a spaniel. They crammed together on a ship measuring 90 feet stem to stern; with their living space measuring about 60 feet by 25 feet.
Finally, on September 6, the Mayflower sailed off into history. They would not see land again until November 9 when they arrived, off course, along the coast of Cape Cod.
Stormy Seas Ahead
They sailed into a horrific storm, which blew them off course and cracked the beam supporting the main mast. The crew wanted to turn around, hoping they might make it back to England with a damaged ship. They didn’t think they could sail all the way to the New World and back to England. The passengers produced an enormous screw they’d brought to build their new homes. They repaired the beam and continued sailing west.
They approached land 400 miles north of their intended destination and beyond the area covered by their charter from King James. Some quickly realized being beyond the king’s jurisdiction meant they could make up their own rules. Others realized they’d have total chaos without some governing documents to determine what they would do. This is how we got the Mayflower compact. Several men – they were all men – drafted the document and every adult male passenger was pressured to sign it. Those who were illiterate made their marks, witnessed by the others.
New Life in a New Land
Though land was in sight, it was now winter, so they continued to live on the ship, sending out expeditions to look for a place to establish themselves. The first two expeditions failed to find a suitable place. Three women delivered babies while living on the ship. Stephen and Elizabeth Hopkins added baby boy Oceanus to their family while still sailing toward land. William and Susanna White welcome baby boy Peregrine while anchored in Cape Cod Bay. Mary Allerton delivered a still born child while still living on the ship.
On the third expedition trip the men found a suitable place to establish Plimoth Plantation. The Mayflower sailed across the Bay from Provincetown to modern Plymouth MA, arriving December 25. The English settlers built their new colony on the site of the abandoned Native Patuxet village. The village was deserted shortly before the English arrived due to a deadly pandemic took the lives of everyone in the village who didn’t relocate.
Master Jones took pity on them and postponed his return trip to England until April 5. He and his crew arrived back in England on May 6.
Thank you for taking time to read about the Mayflower voyage. Share it with a friend or sign up for your own free subscription at HowWiseThen. In the weeks to come I’ll be sharing other information about the amazing Mayflower story and events planned to commemorate it – even if most of them will now be virtual.
Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale or Two Cultures is scheduled for release in October. Here are three places available for pre-orders. Others will be available in the weeks to come.
Bookshop.org (Supporting local Indie Bookshops)
Amazon.com/Mayflower-Chronicles-Tale-Two-Cultures/ https://www.bluewillowbookshop.com (in Houston)