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The Voyage


The Coming of the Mayflower

N.C. Wyeth (1882–1945)

They were encountred many times with crosse winds, and mette with many feirce stormes, with which ye shippe was shroudly shaken...

–William Bradford

The Mayflower and Speedwell twice set sail from England and returned because the Speedwell leaked. After the second return, the Speedwell was deemed unseaworthy, although no specific leak was found. A significant reorganization of the voyage followed.


On September 6th, 1620, 102 passengers and 25-30 crew members crowded on board the Mayflower and set sail again, a month behind schedule. They were leaving behind some of the passengers and vital supplies, and they would be crossing the Atlantic Ocean at the height of the storm season.

The Mayflower was a modest merchant ship built to carry crew and cargo. It had no passenger cabins, beds, dining rooms, or toilets. It also had very little ventilation. The passengers stayed on the "gun deck," which measured about five and a half feet tall, preventing anyone taller from standing upright. At that time, all ships were cargo ships; the concept of passenger ships would not emerge for another two hundred years.

The 66-day voyage was eventful. A baby was born; a young passenger died; a main mast cracked and fell during a storm, casting doubt on the ship's fate until its repair; and a male passenger fell overboard, requiring a dramatic rescue. In addition, the seas were often stormy, and the relentlessly cold and wet passengers suffered from seasickness, scurvy, dehydration, and hunger.

On November 9th, the ship sighted American land, and the passengers rejoiced. However, as they approached the upper end of Cape Cod, they realized they were north of the area where King James had authorized them to settle. After deliberating with the shipmaster, the Mayflower changed direction to sail south along the coast to its intended destination.

Within a day, joy turned to terror as treacherous shallow waters and crashing waves threatened to splinter the ship. They could not continue south. Harsh winter weather was upon them, food and drink supplies were nearly gone, and passengers and crew were ill and dying. Having no choice, they reversed their course and sailed back to Cape Cod to look for a place to settle.


The Arrival of the Pilgrim Fathers

by Antonio Gisbert, c. 1864


1. By the time the Pilgrims left England, they had already been living on the ship for over a month.

2. The Mayflower was a "sweet ship," used to haul wine, but her sweet aroma of spilled wine would have worn off quickly with so many seasick passengers aboard.

3. Ship Master Christopher Jones owned the Mayflower with three other investors.

4. In those days, navy ship commanders were called captains, and merchant ship commanders were called masters.

5. The Mayflower was better suited for short trips along the European coast than long voyages across the Atlantic Ocean.

6. Some of the Speedwell crew later confessed to a plot to abandon the voyage. Indeed, the ship made many successful voyages after its return.

7. The Pilgrims set sail four years after William Shakespeare died.

8. Beer was the main beverage, even for children, because it was cleaner than water.

9. At least two dogs sailed on the Mayflower: a Mastiff and an English Springer Spaniel.

10. A few lucky passengers slept in hammocks, but most slept on the deck floor.

11. The Pilgrims mostly stayed below on their windowless deck because the crew was afraid they would get swept overboard.

12. The passengers had to relieve themselves in buckets on the ship.

13. One sailor told the seasick pilgrims he couldn't wait to throw their dead bodies overboard and keep their belongings. Ironically, he was the first to die and be buried at sea.

14. Very few women had traveled across the Atlantic to North America before.

15. There were eighteen women onboard. All were married, and three were in their last trimester of pregnancy.

16. John Howland got swept overboard during a storm, yet miraculously grabbed onto a rope in the water and held on long enough to be rescued with a boat hook.

17. The passengers ate salted meat and "hardtack," a dry biscuit, at most meals.

18. One of the mischievous Billlington boys fired off his father's musket near a barrel of gunpowder and started a fire aboard ship. Luckily no harm was done.

19. The baby born at sea was named Oceanus.

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