Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall (1882)
|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.|
|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.|
|Capacity:||Unknown, but carried c. 135 people during the historical voyage to what they would call Plymouth Colony|
The Mayflower was an English ship that famously transported the first English Puritans, known today as the Pilgrims, from Plymouth, England to the New World in 1620. There were 102 passengers, and the crew is estimated to have been about 30, but the exact number is unknown. This voyage has become an iconic story in some of the earliest annals of American history, with its story of death and of survival in the harsh New England winter environment. The culmination of the voyage in the signing of the Mayflower Compact was an event which established a rudimentary form of democracy, with each member contributing to the welfare of the community. There was a second ship named Mayflower that made the London to Plymouth, Massachusetts voyage several times.
The Pilgrim ship Mayflower was square-rigged and beak-bowed with high, castle-like structures fore and aft that served to protect the ship's crew and the main deck from the elements—designs that were typical with English merchant ships of the early 17th century. Her stern carried a 30-foot high, square aft-castle which made the ship extremely difficult to sail against the wind and unable to sail well against the North Atlantic's prevailing westerlies, especially in the fall and winter of 1620, and the voyage from England to America took more than two months as a result. The Mayflower's return trip to London in April–May 1621 took less than half that time, with the same strong winds following.
No dimensions of her hull can be stated exactly, since this was many years before such measurements were standardized. She probably measured about 100 feet (30 m) in length from the forward end at the beak of her prow to the tip of her stern superstructure aft. She was about 25 feet (7.6 m) at her widest point, with the bottom of her keel about 12 feet (3.6 m) below the waterline. William Bradford estimated that Mayflower had a cargo capacity of 180 tons. Surviving records from that time indicate that she could certainly accommodate 180 casks of wine in her cargo hold. The casks were great barrels holding hundreds of gallons of claret wine each.
This was a ship that traditionally was heavily armed while on trading routes around Europe, due to the possibility of encountering pirates and privateers of all types. And with its armament, the ship and crew could easily be conscripted by the English monarch at any time in case of conflict with other nations. By 1620, the Mayflower was aging, nearing the end of the usual 15-year working life of an English merchant ship in that era.
The general layout of the ship was as follows:
Aft on the main deck in the stern was the cabin for Master Christopher Jones, measuring about ten by seven feet (3 m × 2.1 m). Forward of that was the steerage room, which housed a whipstaff (tiller extension) for sailing control; not a wheel, as in later ships. Also here was the ship's compass and probably also berths for the ship's officers. Forward of the steerage room was the capstan, a vertical axle used to pull in ropes or cables. Far forward on the main deck, just aft of the bow, was the forecastle space where the ship's cook prepared meals for the crew; it may also have been where the ship's sailors slept.
The poop deck was above the cabin of Master Jones, on the ship's highest level above the stern on the aft castle. The poop house was on this deck, which may have been for passengers' use either for sleeping or cargo. On normal merchant ships, this space was probably a chart room or a cabin for the master's mates.
The gun deck was where the passengers resided during the voyage, in a space measuring about 50 by 25 feet (15.2 m × 7.6 m) with a five-foot (1.5 m) overhead (ceiling). But it was also a dangerous place in conflict, as it had port and starboard gun ports from which cannon could be run out to fire on the enemy. The gun room was in the stern area of the gun deck, to which passengers had no access due to it being the storage space for powder and ammunition for the ship's cannons and any other weapons belonging to the ship. The gun room might also house a pair of stern chasers, small cannons used to fire out the stern of the ship. Forward on the gun deck in the bow area was a windlass, equipment similar in function to the capstan in steerage, which was used to raise and lower the ship's main anchor. There were no stairs for the passengers on the gun deck to go up through the gratings to the main deck. To get up to the main deck, passengers were required to climb a wooden or rope ladder.
There was no facility for a latrine or privy on the Mayflower, and ship's crew had to fend for themselves in that regard. Gun deck passengers most likely used a bucket as a chamber pot, affixed to the deck or bulkhead to keep it from being jostled at sea.
The largest gun was a minion cannon which was brass, weighed about 1,200 pounds (545 kg), and could shoot a 3.5 pound (1.6 kg) cannonball almost a mile (1,600 m). The Mayflower also had on board a saker cannon of about 800 pounds (360 kg), and two base cannons that weighed about 200 pounds (90 kg) which shot a 3 to 5 ounce ball (85–140 g). She carried at least ten pieces of ordnance on the port and starboard sides of her gun deck: seven cannons for long range purposes, and three smaller guns often fired from the stern at close quarters that were filled with musket balls. Later at New Plymouth, Mayflower Master Jones unloaded four of the pieces to help fortify the colony against invaders, and would not have done so unless he was comfortable with the armament that he still had on board.
Below the gun deck was the cargo hold where the passengers kept most of their food stores and other supplies. Other items included most of their clothing and bedding. The hold also stored the passengers' personal weapons and military equipment – armor, muskets, gunpowder, and shot, as well as swords and bandoliers. It also stored all the tools that the Pilgrims would need, as well as all the equipment and utensils needed to prepare meals in the New World. It is also known that some Pilgrims loaded trade goods on board, including Isaac Allerton, William Mullins, and possibly others; these also most likely were stored in the cargo hold.
It is not known when and where the Mayflower was built, but it is likely that she was launched at Harwich in the county of Essex, England. She was designated as "of Harwich" in the Port Books of 1609–11, although later known as "of London". Harwich was also the birthplace of Mayflower master Christopher Jones about 1570.
Captain Jones became master of the Mayflower 11 years prior to the Pilgrims' voyage, sailing the ship cross-Channel taking English woolens to France and bringing French wine to London. In addition, he had also transported hats, hemp, Spanish salt, hops, and vinegar to Norway, and may have taken the Mayflower whaling in the North Atlantic in the Greenland area. She had traveled to Mediterranean ports, being then owned by Christopher Nichols, Robert Child, Thomas Short, and Christopher Jones, the ship's master. In 1620, Jones and Robert Child still owned their quarter shares in the ship, and it was from them that Thomas Weston chartered her in the summer of 1620 to undertake the Pilgrim voyage. Weston had a significant role in the Mayflower voyage, due to his membership in the Company of Merchant Adventurers, and he eventually traveled to the Plymouth Colony himself.
There were 26 vessels bearing the same name as the Pilgrim ship in the Port Books of England in the reign of James I (1603–1625), and the reason for this popularity of the name has never been found. One particular Mayflower that has caused historical confusion is a Mayflower erroneously identified as one of the 1620 Pilgrims. This ship was partly owned by John Vassall and was outfitted for Queen Elizabeth in 1588, during the time of the Spanish Armada, a war for which Vassall outfitted several ships. However, there are no records of Vassall's Mayflower after 1594. The identity of Captain Jones's Mayflower is based on records of the time of her home port, her tonnage (est. 180–200 tons), and the master's name in 1620 in order to avoid confusion with the many other Mayflower ships.
Records dating from August 1609 first note Christopher Jones as master and part owner of the Mayflower when his ship was chartered for a voyage from London to Trondheim in Norway and back to London. The ship lost an anchor on her return, due to bad weather, and made short delivery of her cargo of herrings. Litigation resulted, and this was still proceeding in 1612.
Christopher Jones is described in a document of January 1611 as being "of Harwich", and his ship is called the Mayflower of Harwich (in the county of Essex). Records of Jones's ship Mayflower show that the ship was twice on the Thames at London in 1613, once in July and again in October and November. Records of 1616 again state that Jones's ship was on the Thames, carrying a cargo of wine, which suggests that the ship had recently been on a voyage to France, Spain, Portugal, the Canaries, or some other wine-producing land.
After 1616, there is no further record which specifically relates to Jones's Mayflower until 1624. This is unusual for a ship trading to London, as it would not usually disappear from the records for such a long time. And no Admiralty court document can be found relating to the pilgrim fathers' voyage of 1620, although this might be due to the unusual way in which the transfer of the pilgrims was arranged from Leyden to New England. Or some of the records of the period may have been lost.
About 65 passengers embarked the Mayflower in London at its homeport in the Rotherhithe district on the Thames about the middle of July in 1620. She then proceeded down the Thames into the English Channel and then on to the south coast to anchor at Southampton Water. The Mayflower waited there for seven days for a rendezvous on July 22 with the Speedwell, coming with Leiden church members from Delfshaven in Holland.
The two ships set sail about August 5, but the unseaworthy Speedwell sprang a leak shortly after, and the ships were put into Dartmouth for repairs. The two ships made a new start after the repairs, and they were more than 200 miles (320 km) beyond Land's End at the southwestern tip of England when Speedwell sprang another leak. It was now early September, and they had no choice but to abandon the Speedwell and make a determination on her passengers. This was a dire event, as the ship had wasted vital funds and was considered very important to the future success of their settlement in America. Speedwell was sold soon after the Mayflower continued on her voyage to America. According to Bradford, she was refitted and "made many voyages... to the great profit of her owners." Bradford later assumed that Speedwell master Reynolds's "cunning and deceit" (in causing what may have been man-made leaks in the ship) had been motivated by a fear of starving to death in America.
In addition to the 102 passengers, the officers and crew consisted of about 25–30 persons, bringing the total persons on board the Mayflower to approximately 130.
In early September, western gales begin to make the North Atlantic a dangerous place for sailing. The Mayflower's provisions were already quite low when departing Southampton, and they became lower still by delays of more than a month. The passengers had been on board the ship for this entire time, and they were quite worn out and in no condition for a very taxing, lengthy Atlantic journey cooped up in cramped spaces in a small ship. But the Mayflower sailed from Plymouth on September 6, 1620 with what Bradford called "a prosperous wind".
The last port in England for the Mayflower was traditionally thought to be Plymouth; however, there is continued controversy that the ship had to stop at Newlyn in Cornwall on the Land's End peninsula before sailing west. It was believed that the water picked up at Plymouth had caused fever and cholera in the city, so Newlyn provided fresh water to the ship. Newlyn has a plaque to this effect on the side of a building on its quay, erected in remembrance of Plymouth historian Bill Best Harris, whose research is believed to have uncovered this little-known detail about the voyage.
Aboard the Mayflower were many stores that supplied the pilgrims with the essentials needed for their journey and future lives. It is assumed that they carried tools and weapons, including cannon, shot, and gunpowder, as well as some live animals, including dogs, sheep, goats, and poultry. Horses and cattle came later. The Mayflower also carried two boats: a long boat and a "shallop", a 21-foot boat powered by oars or sails. She also carried 12 artillery pieces (eight minions and four sakers), as the Pilgrims feared that they might need to defend themselves against enemy European forces, as well as the natives.
The passage was a miserable one, with huge waves constantly crashing against the ship's topside deck until a key structural support timber fractured. The passengers had already suffered agonizing delays, shortages of food, and other shortages, and were now called upon to provide assistance to the ship's carpenter in repairing the fractured main support beam. This was repaired with the use of a metal mechanical device called a jackscrew, which had been loaded on board to help in the construction of settler homes. It was now used to secure the beam to keep it from cracking further, making the ship seaworthy enough.
The crew of the Mayflower had some devices to assist them en route, such as a compass for navigation, as well as a log and line system to measure speed in nautical miles per hour (knots). Time was measured with the ancient method of an hour glass.
There were two deaths, but this was only a precursor of what happened after their arrival on Cape Cod.
On November 9, 1620, they sighted present-day Cape Cod. They spent several days trying to sail south to their planned destination of the Colony of Virginia, where they had obtained permission to settle from the Company of Merchant Adventurers. However, strong winter seas forced them to return to the harbor at Cape Cod hook, well north of the intended area, where they anchored on November 11. The settlers wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact after the ship dropped anchor at Cape Cod, in what is now Provincetown Harbor, in order to establish legal order and to quell increasing strife within the ranks.
On Monday, November 27, an exploring expedition was launched under the direction of Capt. Christopher Jones to search for a suitable settlement site. As master of the Mayflower, Jones was not required to assist in the search, but he apparently thought it in his best interest to assist the search expedition. There were 34 persons in the open shallop: 24 passengers and 10 sailors. They were obviously not prepared for the bitter winter weather which they encountered on their reconnoiter, the Mayflower passengers not being accustomed to winter weather much colder than back home. They were forced to spend the night ashore due to the bad weather which they encountered, ill-clad in below-freezing temperatures with wet shoes and stockings that became frozen. Bradford wrote, "Some of our people that are dead took the original of their death here" on that expedition.
The settlers explored the snow-covered area and discovered an empty native village, now known as Corn Hill in Truro. The curious settlers dug up some artificially made mounds, some of which stored corn, while others were burial sites. Nathaniel Philbrick claims that the settlers stole the corn and looted and desecrated the graves, sparking friction with the locals. Philbrick goes on to say that they explored the area of Cape Cod for several weeks as they moved down the coast to what is now Eastham, and he claims that the Pilgrims were looting and stealing native stores as they went. He then writes about how they decided to relocate to Plymouth after a difficult encounter with the Nausets at First Encounter Beach in December 1620.
However, Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation steadfastly denies such revisionist theories. Bradford records that they took "some" of the corn to show the others back at the boat, leaving the rest. They later took what they needed from another store of grain, paying the locals back in six months, and it was gladly received.
Also there was found more of their corn and of their beans of various colors; the corn and beans they brought away, purposing to give them full satisfaction when they should meet with any of them as, about some six months afterward they did, to their good content.
During the winter, the passengers remained on board the Mayflower, suffering an outbreak of a contagious disease described[by whom?] as a mixture of scurvy, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. When it ended, only 53 passengers remained—just over half; half of the crew died, as well. In the spring, they built huts ashore, and the passengers disembarked from the Mayflower on March 21, 1621.
The settlers decided to mount "our great ordnances" on the hill overlooking the settlement in late February 1621, due to the fear of attack by the natives. Christopher Jones supervised the transportation of the "great guns"—about six iron cannons that ranged between four and eight feet (1.2 to 2.4 m) in length and weighed almost half a ton. The cannon were able to hurl iron balls 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) in diameter as far as 1,700 yards (1.5 km). This action made what was no more than a ramshackle village almost into a well-defended fortress.
Jones had originally planned to return to England as soon as the Pilgrims found a settlement site. But his crew members began to be ravaged by the same diseases that were felling the Pilgrims, and he realized that he had to remain in Plymouth Harbor "till he saw his men began to recover." The Mayflower lay in New Plymouth harbor through the winter of 1620–21, then set sail for England on April 5, 1621, her empty hold ballasted with stones from the Plymouth Harbor shore. As with the Pilgrims, her sailors had been decimated by disease. Jones had lost his boatswain, his gunner, three quartermasters, the cook, and more than a dozen sailors.
The Mayflower made excellent time on her voyage back to England. The westerly winds that had buffeted her coming out pushed her along going home, and she arrived at the home port of Rotherhithe in London on May 6, 1621, less than half the time that it had taken her to sail to America."
Jones died after coming back from a voyage to France on March 5, 1622, at about age 52. For the next two years, the Mayflower lay at her berth in Rotherhithe, not far from Jones' grave at St. Mary's church. By 1624, she was no longer useful as a ship; her subsequent fate is unknown, but she was probably broken up about that time.
Some families traveled together, while some men came alone, leaving families in England and Leiden. Two wives on board were pregnant; Elizabeth Hopkins gave birth to son Oceanus while at sea, and Susanna White gave birth to son Peregrine in late November while the ship was anchored in Cape Cod Harbor. He is historically recognized as the first European child born in the New England area. One child died during the voyage, and there was one stillbirth during the construction of the colony.
According to the Mayflower passenger list, just over a third of the passengers were Puritan Separatists who sought to break away from the established Church of England and create a society along the lines of their religious ideals. Others were hired hands, servants, or farmers recruited by London merchants, all originally destined for the Colony of Virginia. Four of this latter group of passengers were small children given into the care of Mayflower pilgrims as indentured servants. The Virginia Company began the transportation of children in 1618. Until relatively recently, the children were thought to be orphans, foundlings, or involuntary child labor. At that time, children were routinely rounded up from the streets of London or taken from poor families receiving church relief to be used as laborers in the colonies. Any legal objections to the involuntary transportation of the children were overridden by the Privy Council. In 1959, it was conclusively shown that the four More children were sent to America because they were deemed illegitimate. Three of the four More children died in the first winter in the New World, but Richard lived to be approximately 81, dying in Salem, probably in 1695 or 1696.
The passengers mostly slept and lived in the low-ceilinged great cabins and on the main deck, which was 75 by 20 (23 m × 6 m) at most. The cabins were thin-walled and extremely cramped, and the total area was 25 ft by 15 ft (7.6 m × 4.5 m) at its largest. Below decks, any person over five feet (150 cm) tall would be unable to stand up straight. The maximum possible space for each person would have been slightly less than the size of a standard single bed.
Passengers would pass the time by reading by candlelight or playing cards and games such as Nine Men's Morris. Meals on board were cooked by the firebox, which was an iron tray with sand in it on which a fire was built. This was risky because it was kept in the waist of the ship. Passengers made their own meals from rations that were issued daily and food was cooked for a group at a time.
Upon arrival late in the year, the harsh climate and scarcity of fresh food caused many more deaths, and provisions were short due to the delay in departure. Living in these extremely close and crowded quarters, several passengers experienced scurvy, a disease caused by a lack of the essential nutrient vitamin C. There was no way to store fruits or vegetables without their becoming rotten, so many passengers did not receive enough nutrients in their diets. Passengers with scurvy experienced symptoms such as rotten teeth which would fall out, bleeding gums, and stinking breath.
Passengers consumed large amounts of alcohol such as beer with meals which was known to be safer than water, which often came from polluted sources causing diseases. All food and drink was stored in barrels known as "hogsheads".
William Mullins took 126 pairs of shoes and 13 pairs of boots. These clothes included oiled leather and canvas suits, stuff gowns and leather and stuff breeches, shirts, jerkins, doublets, neckcloths, hats and caps, hose, stockings, belts, piece goods, and haberdasherie. At his death, his estate consisted of extensive footwear and other items of clothing, and made his daughter Priscilla and her husband John Alden quite prosperous.
No cattle or beasts of draft or burden were brought on the journey, but there were pigs, goats, and poultry. Some passengers brought family pets such as cats and birds. Peter Browne took his large bitch mastiff, and John Goodman brought along his spaniel.
According to author Charles Banks, the officers and crew of the Mayflower consisted of a captain, four mates, four quartermasters, surgeon, carpenter, cooper, cooks, boatswains, gunners, and about 36 men before the mast, making a total of about 50. The entire crew stayed with the Mayflower in Plymouth through the winter of 1620–1621, and about half of them died during that time. The remaining crewmen returned to England on the Mayflower, which sailed for London on April 5, 1621.
Banks states that the crew totaled 36 men before the mast and 14 officers, making a total of 50. Nathaniel Philbrick estimates between 20 and 30 sailors in her crew whose names are unknown. Nick Bunker states that Mayflower had a crew of at least 17 and possibly as many as 30. Caleb Johnson states that the ship carried a crew of about 30 men, but the exact number is unknown.
Three of Mayflower's owners applied to the Admiralty court for an appraisal of the ship on May 4, 1624, two years after Captain Jones' death in 1622; one of these applicants was Jones' widow Mrs. Josian (Joan) Jones. This appraisal probably was made to determine the valuation of the ship for the purpose of settling the estate of its late master. The appraisal was made by four mariners and shipwrights of Rotherhithe, home and burial place of Captain Jones, where the Mayflower was apparently then lying in the Thames at London. The appraisement is extant and provides information on ship's gear on board at that time, as well as equipment such as muskets and other arms. The ship may have been laid up since Jones' death and allowed to get out of repair, as that is what the appraisal indicates. The vessel was valued at one hundred and twenty-eight pounds, eight shillings, and fourpence.
What finally became of the Mayflower is an unsettled issue. Charles Edward Banks, an English historian of the Pilgrim ship, claims that the ship was finally broken up, with her timbers used in the construction of a barn at Jordans village in Buckinghamshire. Tradition claims that this barn still exists as the Mayflower Barn, located within the grounds of Old Jordan in South Buckinghamshire. In 1624, Thomas Russell supposedly added to part of a farmhouse already there with timbers from a ship, believed to be from the Pilgrim ship Mayflower, bought from a shipbreaker's yard in Rotherhithe. The well-preserved structure was a tourist attraction, receiving visitors each year from all over the world and particularly from America, but it is now privately owned and not open to the public.
Another ship called the Mayflower made a voyage from London to Plymouth Colony in 1629 carrying 35 passengers, many from the Pilgrim congregation in Leiden that organized the first voyage. 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. This ship also made the crossing from England to America in 1630 (as part of the Winthrop Fleet), 1633, 1634, and 1639. It attempted the trip again in 1641, departing London in October of that year under master John Cole, with 140 passengers bound for Virginia. It never arrived. On October 18, 1642, a deposition was made in England regarding the loss.
The Pilgrim ship Mayflower has a famous place in American history as a symbol of early European colonization of the future United States.
The main record for the voyage of the Mayflower and the disposition of the Plymouth Colony comes from the letters and journal of William Bradford, who was a guiding force and later the governor of the colony.
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|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Mayflower.|
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