Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall (1882)
The Mayflower embarked about sixty-five passengers in London, probably off Blackwall or Wapping, about the middle of July 1620 and proceeded down the Thames into the English Channel and then on to Southampton Water, the rendezvous, where for seven days she awaited the coming of the Speedwell, bringing the Leyden church members, who had sailed from Delfts-Haven about the 22nd of the month (Bradford).
About August 5th, the two ships set sail for their destination. The unseaworthy Speedwell sprang a leak shortly after they put into Dartmouth for repairs. After the repairs, a new start was made. They were more than two hundred miles beyond Land’s End at the southwestern tip of England when Speedwell sprung another leak. Since it was now early September they had no choice but to abandon Speedwell and make a determination on its 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. Soon after Mayflower continued on her voyage to America, Speedwell was sold, refitted, and ,according to Bradford, “made many voyages…to the great profit of her owners.” Bradford later assumed that the Speedwell master Mr. 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 50 persons, including about 36 men before the mast, bringing the total persons on board the Mayflower to about one hundred and fifty.
In early September, western gales begin to make the North Atlantic a dangerous place for sailing. The Mayflower provisions, already quite low when departing Southampton, became much less by delays of more than of a month. And the passengers, who had been aboard ships for all this time, were quite worn out by now and in no condition for a very taxing lengthy Atlantic journey cooped up in cramped spaces in a small ship. But on September 6, 1620, the Mayflower sailed from Plymouth with what Bradford called “a prosperous wind.”
The known names of the ship’s crew are as follows: Christopher Jones Captain/Governor; masters mates: John Clarke (Pilot), Robert Coppin (Pilot), Andrew Williamson and John Parker; Surgeon: Doctor Giles Heale; Cooper: John Alden. Alden would later marry Priscilla, daughter of William Mullins, Mayflower passengers, and together would have a large family.
Tradition has it that the last port in England for the Mayflower was actually not Plymouth but Newlyn in Cornwall on the Land's End peninsula when it was found that the water picked up at Plymouth was contaminated. Scholarly works do not mention this stop but Newlyn has a plaque to this effort on their quay. Only the year "1620" is provided, with no date.
Aboard the Mayflower were many stores that supplied the pilgrims with the essentials needed for their journey and future lives. Among these stores it is assumed that they would have carried tools and weapons, including cannon, shot, and gunpowder, as well as some live animals, including dogs, sheep, goats, and poultry. Horses and cattle would come later. The Mayflower would also carry two boats: a long boat and a “shallop”, a sort of twenty-one foot dinghy. She also carried twelve artillery pieces (eight minions and four sakers), as the Pilgrims feared they might need to defend themselves against the Spaniards, Frenchmen, or the Dutch, as well as the Natives.
It had been a miserable passage with a huge wave crashing against the ship’s topside until a structural support timber fractured. So far the passengers had suffered agonizing delays, cold and the scorn and ridicule of the sailors but had done everything they could the help the carpenter repair the fractured ship’s beam. A mechanical device called screw-jack was loaded on board which was to help them in the construction of homes in the New World. The beam was loaded into place with the screw jack making the Mayflower secure enough to continue the voyage.
There were two deaths, but this was just a precursor of what happened after their arrival in Cape Cod, when almost half the company would die in the first winter.
On November 9/19, 1620, they sighted land, which was Cape Cod. After several days of trying to sail south to their planned destination of the Colony of Virginia where they had already obtained permission from the Company of Merchant Adventurers to settle, 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 11/21. 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 11/21, in what is now Provincetown Harbor. The Mayflower Compact was signed that day.
On Monday, November 27 an exploring expedition was launched to search for a settlement site under the direction of Christopher Jones. 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 thirty-four persons in an open shallop – twenty-four passengers and ten sailors. They were obviously not prepared for the bitter winter weather they encountered on their reconnoiter, the Mayflower passengers not used to the winter weather much colder than back home. Due to the bad weather encountered on the expedition, they were forced to spend the night ashore ill-clad in below freezing temperatures with wet shoes and stockings that became frozen. “(s)ome of our people that are dead,” Bradford wrote,”took the original of their death here.”
The settlers, explored the snow-covered area and discovered an empty native village. 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, as they moved down the coast to what is now Eastham, they explored the area of Cape Cod for several weeks, 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 local native, the Nausets, at First Encounter Beach, in December 1620.
However, Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation records that they took "some" of the corn to show the others back at the boat, leaving the rest. Then, later, they 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 as a mixture of scurvy, pneumonia and tuberculosis. When it ended, there were only 53 passengers, just over half, still alive. Likewise, half of the crew died as well. In the spring, they built huts ashore, and on March 21/31, 1621, the surviving passengers disembarked from the Mayflower. The Mayflower lay in New Plymouth harbor through the winter of 1620-1. On April 5/15, 1621, the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth to return to England, where she arrived on May 6/16, 1621.
Due to the fear of Indian attack, in late February 1621, the settlers decided to mount “our great ordnances” on the hill overlooking the settlement. Christopher Jones supervised the transportation of the “great guns” – about six iron cannons that ranged between four and eight feet in length and weighed almost half a ton. The cannon were able to hurl iron balls as big as 3 ½ inches in diameter asbfar as 1,700 yards. 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 after his crew members began to be ravaged by the same diseases that were felling the Pilgrims, he realized he had to remain in Plymouth Harbor “till he saw his men began to recover.”
On April 5 the Mayflower, her empty hold ballasted with stones from the Plymouth Harbor shore, set sail for England. 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 westerlies that had buffeted her coming out, pushed her along going home and she arrived at home port of Rotherhithe in London on May 6, 1621 – less than half the time 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. It is suggested that his journey to the New World may have taken its toll on him. For the next two years the Mayflower lay at her berth in Rotherhithe, not far from the grave of Captain Jones at St. Mary’s church there. By 1624 the Mayflower was no longer useful as a ship and although her subsequent fate is unknown, she was probably broken up about that time. The Mayflower was the final casualty of a voyage that had cost her master, Christopher Jones, everything he could give.”