The Mayflower Voyage

The Mayflower was the famous vessel that transported over a hundred passengers, many of them religious separatists, from England to the “New World” of America in 1620. The ship, of around 180 tons burden and 106 feet in length, would set sail from London in July 1620. It is assumed that her master, Christopher Jones, initially sailed to Harwich to say farewell to his wife and children, before moving on to Southampton.

They stayed at the port, stocking up on provisions and crew, while waiting for a ship to arrive from the Netherlands, the smaller, frailer Speedwell. They left together at the start of August, but the Speedwell quickly sprang a leak so they had to pull into nearby Dartmouth for repairs. After this false start, they set off again, this time making it a good 200 miles from the west coast until once again the Speedwell sprang a leak, so they returned to England once more, this time to Plymouth.

After determining the best course of action was to leave the Speedwell behind and sell it on, some of her passengers decided to cram onto the Mayflower, while others stayed behind; so the newly-stocked Mayflower, with 102 passengers and around 30 crew members on board, finally set sail for America on the 6th of September.

The journey took two whole months, and was fairly eventful. During the voyage, one passenger, John Howland, fell overboard and had to be rescued; another, William Butten, died en route, just a few days shy of land. Also, one of the ship’s main beams cracked along the way, and required the use of a large iron screw to fix it.

Despite these issues, the Mayflower safely made it to America, anchoring at Cape Cod on the 11th of November. Their intended destination was Virginia, and the burgeoning colony there, however tumultuous conditions and dwindling supplies put paid to that idea.

As they had arrived far later than planned, it was now fast approaching winter, which meant the Mayflower was to remain anchored ashore as a base of operations, providing shelter as the passengers and crew searched for provisions and a good location to build a settlement. Unfortunately, around half of them did not survive the winter, but those that did were able to finally disembark for good as spring arrived.

Satisfied that everyone could now manage by themselves, and that the surviving crew had recovered well enough, Christopher Jones sailed in the Mayflower back to England in April 1621, returning in half the time, only a single month’s voyage. It is perhaps implied that the report of the voyage did not go down well, due to the fact it took the best part of year in total, and the passengers ended up in the “wrong” location, but history has taught us it was in fact one of the most successful voyages of all.