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Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, by William Halsall
Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall (1882)
Name: Mayflower
Namesake: Crataegus monogyna (may)
Owner: Christopher Jones (¼ of the ship)
Maiden voyage: Before 1609
Out of service: 1622–1624
Fate: most likely taken apart by Rotherhithe shipbreaker c. 1624.
General characteristics
Class and type: Dutch cargo fluyt
Tonnage: 180 tons +
Length: c. 80–90 ft (24–27.5 m) on deck, 100–110 ft (30–33.5 m) overall.
Decks: Around 4
Capacity: Unknown, but carried c. 135 people to Plymouth Colony

The Mayflower was the famous ship that transported the Pilgrims from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts (United States), in 1620.

The vessel left England on September 6, and after a gruelling journey marked by disease, the ship dropped anchor inside the hook tip of Cape Cod (Provincetown Harbor) on November 11 (dates in Old Style, Julian Calendar). The Mayflower originally was destined for the Hudson River, north of the 1607 Jamestown Settlement.

However, the Mayflower went severely off-course as the winter approached and remained in Cape Cod Bay (mapped in 1602 by Gosnold).

On March 21, 1621, all surviving passengers, who had inhabited the ship during the winter, moved ashore as Plymouth Colony, and on April 5, the Mayflower, a privately commissioned vessel, returned to England (details below).

In 1623, a year after the death of captain Christopher Jones, the Mayflower was dismantled for scrap lumber in Rotherhithe, London, England.

Cape cod bay
Mayflower arrived inside tip of Cape Cod fishhook, 11 November 1620

Ship

The Mayflower was used primarily as a cargo ship, involved in active trade of goods (often wine) between England and other European countries,

(principally France, but also Norway, Germany, and Spain). At least between 1609 and 1622, it was mastered by Christopher Jones, who would command the ship on the famous transatlantic voyage, and based in Rotherhithe, London, England. After the famous voyage of the Mayflower, the ship returned to England, likely dismantled for scrap lumber in Rotherhithe in 1623, only a year after Jones's death in March 1622. The Mayflower Barn, just outside the Quaker village of Jordans, in Buckinghamshire, England, is said to be built from these timbers.

Details of the ship's dimensions are unknown; but estimates based on its load weight and the typical size of 180-ton merchant ships of its day suggest an estimated length of 90–110 feet (27.4–33.5 m) and a width of about 25 feet (7.6 m). The ship was manned by a crew of 25-30.

Replica

Careful research went into designing a replica, the Mayflower II (launched September 22, 1956), to resemble its namesake in every detail. This vessel is now part of the Plimoth Plantation living museum, near Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Pilgrims' voyage

Southampton-MayflowerMemorial
The Mayflower Memorial in Southampton.
Mayflower historical marker DSCN0142
Historical marker in London honoring Mayflower and Captain Jones

Initially, the plan was for the voyage to be made in two vessels, the other being the smaller Speedwell. The first voyage of the ships departed Southampton, England,

on August 5, 1620; but the Speedwell developed a leak, and had to be refitted at Dartmouth.

On the second attempt, the ships reached the Atlantic Ocean but again were forced to return to Plymouth because of the Speedwell's leak.

It would later be revealed that there was in fact nothing wrong with the Speedwell. The crew had sabotaged it in order to escape the year long commitment of their contract.

After reorganisation, the final sixty-six day voyage was made by the Mayflower alone, leaving Plymouth, England on September 6. With 102 passengers plus crew, each family was allotted a very confined amount of space for personal belongings.

The ship probably had a crew of twenty-five to thirty, along with other hired personnel; however, only the names of five are known, including John Alden. William Bradford, who penned our only account of the Mayflower voyage, wrote that John Alden (archaic spellings) "was hired for a cooper [barrel-maker], at South-Hampton, where the ship victuled; and being a hopefull yong man, was much desired, but left to his owne liking to go or stay when he came here; but he stayed, and maryed here."

The intended destination was an area near the Hudson River, in "North Virginia". However the ship was forced far off-course by inclement weather and drifted well north of the intended Virginia settlement. As a result of the delay, the settlers did not arrive in Cape Cod till the onset of a harsh New England winter. The settlers ultimately failed to reach Virginia where they had already obtained permission from the London Company to settle.

To establish legal order and to quell increasing strife within the ranks, the settlers wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact after the ship dropped anchor at the tip of Cape Cod on November 11, in what is now Provincetown Harbor.

The settlers, upon initially setting anchor, explored the snow-covered area and discovered an empty Native American village. The curious settlers dug up some artificially-made mounds, some of which had stored corn while others were burial sites. The settlers stole the corn sparking friction with the locals. They explored the area of Cape Cod for several weeks and decided to relocate after a difficult encounter with the local native Americans, the Nausets.

During the winter the passengers remained on board the 'Mayflower', suffering an outbreak of a contagious disease described as a mixture of scurvy, pneumonia and tuberculosis. When it ended, there were only 53 persons still alive, half of the passengers and half of the crew. In spring, they built huts ashore, and on March 21, 1621, the surviving passengers left the 'Mayflower'.

On April 5, 1621, the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth Colony to return to England, where she arrived on May 6, 1621.

Passengers

St James Memorial Plaque
Mayflower plaque in St. James Church in Shipton, Shropshire commemorating the More children baptism.

The 102 passengers on the Mayflower were the earliest permanent European settlers in New England (remember that the Jamestown settlers were the first permanent English settlement in what would become the United States); some of their descendants have taken great interest in tracing their ancestry back to one or more of these Pilgrims. (See The Society of Mayflower Descendants, "List of passengers on the Mayflower" for a complete accounting. See also "List of Mayflower passengers who died in the winter of 1620–1621".) Throughout the winter, the passengers spent time ashore preparing homesites and searching for food but partly remained based aboard the Mayflower. Only about half of the settlers would still be alive when the Mayflower left in the spring. Governor Bradford noted that about half the sailors died as well.

Second Mayflower

In 1629, a ship called the Mayflower made a voyage from London to Plymouth Colony carrying thirty-five passengers, many from Leiden. This was not the same ship that made the original voyage with the first settlers. This voyage began in May and reached Plymouth in August.

Popular culture

1920USstamp1centPilgrimTercentenaryTheMayflower
Mayflower depicted on a 1920 U.S. postage stamp
Mayflower Society Museum
Edward Winslow's home, now the Mayflower House Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts (1754)

The Mayflower voyage and the ship became famous as an icon of a perilous one-way trip to a new life, with many things named for it:

  • The Mayflower is the emblem of the English football club Plymouth Argyle F.C., who are known as "The Pilgrims" (nickname).
  • Songwriter Paul Simon mentions the ship in his "American Tune" (song).
  • Folk/Rock singer Bob Dylan mentions the ship in his song "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" on the album Bringing It All Back Home.
  • The space-shuttle parody in the movie Airplane II: The Sequel is called Mayflower One.

Many Americans believe themselves to be descended from Mayflower passengers, e.g. that somebody's ancestors go "all the way back to the Mayflower".

While the Mayflower brought one early settlement, it can be compared to other settlements in North America:

However, with the Mayflower voyage in 1620, more emphasis is placed on the so-called "First Thanksgiving" and the peaceful co-existence with the native Wampanoag tribe, as issues of civilized culture, among the 13 original colonies of the U.S.

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