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The Mayflower Voyage



Understanding the Pilgrims

The Scrooby Separatists

Life in Holland & Departure to New England

The Mayflower Voyage

The First Winter

The "First Thanksgiving"


Pilgrim Clothing

17th-century Wampanoag Clothing

Departure to America:

It was not possible to just go to the New World and settle. A patent or license to colonize was necessary and it took a sizable investment as well. The English claim in America, called "Virginia" in its entirety, was divided between two chartered companies which were established to promote settlement and manage the resulting "plantations" or colonies for the English Crown. The London Virginia Company had jurisdiction over the land from what is today North Carolina to New Jersey, and the Plymouth (Devon) Virginia Company from New York to Maine. In 1618, the Pilgrims began negotiations with the Virginia Company of London, with hopes of getting some assurance from the King that they would be left alone to practice their religion in America. Although the King would not formally promise this, the Pilgrims decided to accept what they viewed as his implicit assent and go ahead with their plans.

The Pilgrims were unable to acquire a patent from the moribund Virginia Company of Plymouth. Instead they accepted a patent and permission to settle in the Virginia territory from the London Company. The needed capital to finance the venture was promised by a London merchant, Thomas Weston, who offered to organize a group of "merchant adventurers" (speculators) who would invest the money necessary for a voyage to America. The Pilgrims sent two agents, Robert Cushman and John Carver, to England to work with Weston to prepare for the expedition. The Leiden congregation decided which of the group would go on the first voyage and which would wait until the plantation had been established. They also bought a small 60 "tun" (tun barrels it could hold, rather than tons of water displaced) vessel called the Speedwell. The first emigrants left the port of Delftshaven, amid tears, prayers and farewells on July 22, 1620.

The Pilgrim group sailed to Southampton, a city on the English south coast, where they were joined by additional immigrants recruited by Weston and the merchant adventurers on a 180 tun ship out of London, Christopher Jones master. This ship was the MAYFLOWER. Following a five week dispute over the contract with the adventurers, the passengers on the two ships set sail for America on August 5. Their voyage was soon interrupted when the smaller Speedwell was discovered to be leaking badly. They put into the port of Dartmouth, Devonshire, and repairs were made, but the condition re-occurred once they were under sail again. The two ships were forced to make port a second time, in neighboring Plymouth.

There it was decided to leave the defective Speedwell behind, and continue with the MAYFLOWER alone. Some of the Speedwell's passengers and cargo were transferred to the larger ship, and on September 6, 1620, the MAYFLOWER set sail across the North Atlantic and its famous 102 passengers, into history.

The Ocean Crossing:

The beginning of the crossing was pleasant "with a prosperous wind which continued divers [many] days together," although many of the passengers were seasick. There then followed a period of many storms and crosswinds, which cracked a main beam in `tween decks and caused the upper works to leak badly. The conditions were severe enough to raise questions about the capacity of the MAYFLOWER to make the voyage. After much debate it was decided to go on as they were nearly halfway across the ocean and the ship was fundamentally sound.

There were only two casualties during the voyage. A sailor (who had greatly harassed the passengers) died before they were half way over, and William Butten, a servant of Samuel Fuller, died just before they sighted land. John Howland came close to being the third fatality when he was swept overboard during a storm, but he was able to seize a trailing topsail halyard and was rescued. There was one birth during the time at sea; Elizabeth Hopkins had a son, who was named appropriately "Oceanus."

Plimoth Plantation
P. O. Box 1620
Plymouth, MA 02362
(508) 746-1622

© Plimoth Plantation, Inc. 1999