The Mayflower

Whether one traces his Americanism back three centuries to the Mayflower, or three years to the steerage, is not half so important as whether his Americanism of today is real and genuine. No matter by what various crafts we came here, we are all now in the same boat.

Calvin Coolidge

The Mayflower is arguably one of the more famous ships in nautical history. Had it not carried the Pilgrims across the stormy north Atlantic back in 1620 it would have likely faded away with little fanfare. Such was the fate of many other ships of that era. Like many similar ships, the Mayflower was intended to haul cargo up and down the European Atlantic coast.

Then it got used to haul a group of men, women, and children all the way to the new world across the Atlantic. The Ship’s Captain, Christopher Jones, was technically not a captain, but rather the ship’s master. This is according to Caleb Johnson on his website about the Mayflower. ( Johnson explains the title “Captain” referred to military ships during that chapter of history.

Master Jones was born in England the late 1500s. He named his first ship Josian, after his wife. He sold that ship in 1608, and then bought the Mayflower, and three other ships. Jones was about fifty years old when he was hired to take the Mayflower to the New World.

After confirming the new arrivals were determined to take their chances on Cape Cod, Master Smith sailed the Mayflower back to England. Shortly after returning to England the Mayflower was stranded along the Thames. It was eventually sold for scrap lumber. There have been reports that the ship was hauled inland and turned upside down to form a barn. However, Johnson considers that theory an urban legend that cannot be confirmed.

We do know from historical accounts of the crossing that the ship nearly capsized in the frigid North Atlantic. After a decade of hauling cargo up and down the East Coast of Europe the Mayflower was already in questionable condition. Then the passenger count significantly expanded because the companion ship, the Speedwell had to be abandoned and all the ship’s passengers and cargo crammed into the Mayflower. Failed attempts to repair the Speedwell delayed the journey until late summer, putting the ship at risk crossing during the storm-prone fall and early winter.

Fortunately the Pilgrims had brought tools to hoist lumber to build themselves homes in the new land. These were used to repair the main mast that had cracked under the stress of the North Atlantic storm.

The conditions on board must have been truly horrific with 102 passengers and an additional crew of around thirty. One of the staff was the Pilot, John Clarke. Clarke had been a ship’s pilot on a previous voyage to Jamestown in Virginia in 1611, in the fleet delivering Sir Thomas Dale to govern that new colony. Clarke stayed and worked hauling cargo around the Bay for about six weeks until he was taken prisoner by the Spanish. First they took him to Havana, Cuba and later to Spain. Clarke was imprisoned for five years and then released back to England in 1616. He made one other voyage to Jamestown in 1618 with a cargo of cattle before being hired for the Mayflower voyage. (

I have often thought that if it had depended on me to come to the New World under those conditions my family would still be living in England.

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