The Mayflower and Speedwell set sail twice from England, only to return both times because the Speedwell leaked so badly. Finally, the Speedwell was abandoned and the voyage reorganized. On September 6, 1620, 102 passengers and about 30 crew members crowded aboard the Mayflower and set out again. The reorganization put them a whole month behind schedule. They were forced to leave behind some of the passengers and vital supplies, and they would be crossing the Atlantic at the height of storm season.
The Mayflower was a modest merchant ship designed to carry crew and cargo. There were no cabins, no beds, no dining room, no toilets, and very little ventilation. The Separatists sacrificed their comfort willingly.
The 66-day voyage was eventful. A young passenger died, a baby was born, a main beam cracked and fell during a storm, casting doubt upon the ship's fate until its repair, and one of the male passengers fell overboard, requiring a dramatic rescue. The seas were frequently stormy, with passengers hurt from being thrown against the ship's sides. They also endured relentless seasickness, scurvy, hunger, cold and wet.
In November 1620, when the ship finally touched America on the bleak and barren upper end of Cape Cod, the passengers realized that the storms had blown them off course. They had landed at the wrong place. The land they were legally authorized to settle lay at least a week's voyage to the south. They set sail once again, this time along the coast.
Soon they encountered the most dangerous part of their entire voyage. As treacherous shallow waters and crashing waves threatened to destroy the ship, the passengers and crew thought they were all going to die. They could not continue. The harsh winter was upon them, they hardly had any food left, and passengers were already sick and dying. They steered the Mayflower back toward Cape Cod to look for a place to settle.
By the time the Pilgrims left England, they had already been living on the ship for over a month.
The mayflower, Epigea repens, is a low spreading shrub with pale pink to white flowers also known as Trailing Arbutus.
The Mayflower was a "sweet ship" because she had been used to haul wine, but her sweet aroma of spilled wine wore off quickly with so many passengers aboard.
Ship Master Christopher Jones owned the Mayflower with three other investors.
In those days, navy ship commanders were called captains and merchant ship commanders were called masters.
The Pilgrims set sail 4 years after William Shakespeare died.
Beer was the main beverage, even for children, because it was considered safer than water.
At least two dogs sailed on the Mayflower, a Mastiff and an English Springer Spaniel.
A few lucky passengers slept in hammocks, but most slept on the deck floor.
The Pilgrims did not appreciate the crew's coarse language, and the crew did not care for the Pilgrims' prayers and singing.
The passengers had to use buckets to relieve themselves.
When the passengers became sea sick, which happened quite often, the crew would call them "glib-gabbety puke-stockings."
One particularly crude sailor told the sea-sick passengers he looked forward to dumping their dead bodies overboard and taking all their belongings. Ironically, he got sick, died, and was the first body thrown overboard.
Very few women had traveled across the Atlantic to North America before.
There were 18 women onboard. All were married and three were in their last trimester of pregnancy.
Passenger John Howland got swept overboard during a storm, yet miraculously grabbed onto a rope in the water and held on long enough to be pulled up and rescued with a boat hook.
The passengers ate salted meat and "hardtack," a dry biscuit, at most meals.
Most passengers went without baths and wore the same clothing for all sixty-six days of the voyage.
One of the mischievous Billlington boys got into a barrel of gunpowder, fired off his father's musket, and started a fire aboard ship. Luckily no harm was done.
The baby born at sea was named Oceanus.
"Virginia Territory" referred to all land in America claimed by England. Their chartered destination was not in present-day Virginia. It was between present-day New York City and New Jersey at the mouth of the Hudson River.
The pilgrims almost certainly had access to a New England map drawn by Simon van der Passe, which was based on one drawn by John Smith.
Passenger List →