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The Mayflower was an English cargo ship best known for being the ship that carried the English Puritans, better known as the Pilgrims, to the New World from Plymouth, England, in 1620. The Pilgrims and Separatists made up around one third of the passengers with the remainder made up of hired hands, farmers and servants. The Mayflower was also the location for the signing of the Plymouth Colony’s historic first governing document the ‘Mayflower Compact’.

Where was Mayflower Built?
There are no records to confirm where, or when, Mayflower was built, however some 1609-11 Port Books state that Mayflower was ‘of Harwich’ which suggests that Harwich, Essex, is where she was built and launched. It should also be noted that some later documents record Mayflower as ‘of London’, although she did use Rotherhithe in London as her base.

What Type of Ship was Mayflower?
Mayflower was a cargo ship built in the style of a Dutch cargo fluyt. She was square rigged with three masts; the mizzen or rear mast, the main mast and the fore or front mast. She would have had a beakhead bow, a forecastle, an aft-castle and three to four decks.

How Big was Mayflower?
The exact specifications of Mayflower will never be known as she was built before the time of standardized measurements. However, she was believed to have been approximately 110 feet in length with an estimated beam of 25 feet and a draft of roughly 12 feet. Mayflower was also believed to have had the capacity to carry 180 tons of cargo.

What Armament Did Mayflower Generally Carry?
It is estimated that Mayflower would have carried around twenty cannons of differing sizes. Among these would most likely have been minions, which would have fired cannonballs of between 3.5 and 5.0 pounds. Cannons were necessary on ships at this time to protect them from pirates and privateers.

Mayflower Early Voyages
The first recorded voyage of Mayflower was from London to Trondheim in Norway, and back, around August 1609. On her return journey the the Captain had thrown some of the goods overboard to lighten the ship in a storm. This led to legal action being taken by Andrew Pawlings who had chartered the ship. Mayflower was recorded as being on the River Thames several other times, and on at least one occasion was carrying wine which had most likely come from France.

Who Chartered Mayflower for the Pilgrim Voyage?
Separatist Thomas Weston chartered Mayflower in the early summer of 1620 from Christopher Jones (Captain and quarter owner) and Robert Child (Quarter owner). Weston was instrumental in starting and financing the Plymouth Colony.

Mayflower Begins her Journey
The Mayflower began her journey in Rotherhithe, on the River Thames, where 65 passengers had boarded. She sailed along the Thames to the English Channel where she followed England’s south coast and anchored in Southampton Water to rendezvous with the Speedwell on July 22, 1620.

Mayflower and Speedwell
Speedwell was sailing from Holland, with Separatists, and was to meet with Mayflower before they crossed the Atlantic Ocean together to set up their colony in Virginia. Unfortunately Speedwell suffered with leaks and had to be repaired before they left, delaying their start by two weeks. Mayflower and Speedwell finally set off on August 5, however further leaks in Speedwell left them having to put into Dartmouth for more repairs. After resuming their journey and sailing 200 to 300 miles beyond Lands End, Speedwell developed another leak and the ships had to sail back to England, putting in to Plymouth.

Mayflower Heads for the New World
Unfit for the voyage, Speedwell was left at Plymouth and her passengers boarded Mayflower, who finally set off on her voyage to the New World on September 16, with 102 passengers and around 30 crew. At this time Mayflower’s provisions were low because of the earlier delays, and the passengers were becoming fatigued having been on board from the start.

Mayflower’s Difficult Voyage
The delayed start made the voyage a difficult one with strong gales blowing from the west and shortages of food and other supplies. A key structural timber was damaged by the constant crashing of the large waves, which led to the passengers aiding the crew in securing the fractured beam with a jackscrew.

Mayflower Arrives in the New World
Present day Cape Cod was sighted on November 9, 1620, leading Mayflower to head south to reach their intended destination of the Colony of Virginia. After two days of battling against the winter seas, they returned to Cape Cod Hook and anchored there on November 11.

The Mayflower Compact is Signed
The male passengers on the Mayflower drew up the Mayflower Compact in order to establish a government. The Compact was signed by 41 men aboard the Mayflower on November 11, 1620. The first signatory was John Carver who would become the Plymouth Colony’s first Governor.

Winter Aboard Mayflower
When the Pilgrims went ashore they were met with winter conditions far worse than they had expected. As a result, they spent the first winter living aboard Mayflower. They paid a heavy price for living on board over the winter as a contagious disease killed all but 53 of the passengers. The Pilgrims finally disembarked on March 21, 1621.

Mayflower Guns Defend the Settlement
With a fear of attack from the natives, it was decided to defend the new settlement by installing around six of Mayflower’s cannons on the hill overlooking the site. With the guns able to fire 3.5 inch cannonballs almost a mile, the settlement was well defended.

Mayflower’s Return is Delayed
Christopher Jones had intended to return Mayflower to England as soon as a suitable settlement site had been found, however his crew fell to the same disease as the Pilgrims and he was forced to remain in Plymouth Harbor until they recovered. Mayflower lost half of her crew, including the cook, three quartermasters, the boatswain and the gunner before the others recovered enough to set sail for England on April 5, 1621.

Fate of Mayflower
Mayflower arrived back at Rotherhithe on May 6, 1621. Jones continued to sail her as a merchant ship until he died after returning home from France on March 5, 1622. Mayflower remained at her birth for the next couple of years and, after being valued for probate at around £128, was most likely dismantled and sold as scrap.

Mayflower Replica
A replica of Mayflower, Mayflower II, was built at the Upham Shipyard in Brixham, Devon, England, and launched on September 22, 1956. She was sailed from Plymouth, Devon, on April 20, 1957, arriving in New York on July 1. She is normally moored in Plymouth Massachusetts as a museum ship.

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Published 2018

Global Anchor Limited

Modified 2018

By James Drake

Characteristics - Information - Guide - Art - Pictures - Images - Facts and Information - Passengers - Crew - Cannons - Puritans - Separatists - Mayflower Compact