The Mayflower

In 1620, the Mayflower carried aboard it a group of people known as English Separatists, also called Pilgrims. This group of people was fleeing England to escape religious persecution. In total the Mayflower had 102 passengers when it began its journey.

The Mayflower was a cargo ship. Its exact dimensions are unknown, but most merchant ships at the time were 180-ton ships that were anywhere from 90 to 110 feet long and about 25 feet wide. A crew of at least 25 would have been needed to man it. The ship was around 12 years old when it set sail.

The Mayflower was chartered by a group of pilgrims from Leiden. In particular a pilgrim named William Brewster used his friendship with Sir Edwin Sandys, treasurer of the London Company, to arrange a financial agreement. The agreement allowed a small part of Brewster’s group to travel up to Southampton to settle in the New World.

They wanted to leave England because they were facing economic difficulties as many Separatists were poorly educated farmers who had no political standing. They were also unhappy with their failure to achieve success in their society so they decided to try and start over again in America.

The trip was grueling. The Mayflower was not equipped to handle passengers adequately. That meant people were living in cramped conditions. The weather also blew the ship off course multiple times. When they were forced to wait out the winter, there was a large outbreak of scurvy, pneumonia, and tuberculosis.

The ship set sail from Southampton, England September 16th (depending on the format of date) and arrived at Provincetown Harbor, now Cape Cod, on November 21st, 1620. The winter forced them all to stay in Cape Cod Bay and it wasn’t until March 28, 1621 that the pilgrims were able to move ashore at Plymouth.

One baby was born aboard the ship while it was on its way and a second was born as they all waited out the winter. At least 42 of the pilgrims aboard the ship died that winter. They died from things like scurvy or lack of shelter. The cramped, squalid condition aboard the ship also contributed to the deaths so by the time the colony was established, only 53 people survived the trip and only four were adult women.

By the end of the trip, the ship had drifted off course and they missed their original landing destination at the edge of the Virginia colony. After waiting out the winter, the settlers went ashore and established huts in March of 1621. This was the beginning of the Plymouth colony. The pilgrims signed a treaty with the resident Native American tribe and then set up their economy around crop and fur trading.

The original Mayflower returned to England and its fate is unknown. However, there is a replica, the Mayflower II, near Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts

The voyage of the Mayflower was significant because it symbolized the true “colonization” of America for some people. However, they forget that the pilgrims were not the first settlers here. It proved to people that the colonies were the perfect places to begin a new life. Many other settlers came to America after hearing about the Mayflower’s journey and helped the United States become the melting pot of the world.