The Mayflower and Speedwell set sail twice from England, only to return both times because the Speedwell leaked. Finally, they abandoned the Speedwell and reorganized the voyage. On September 6, 1620, 102 passengers and about 30 crew members crowded aboard the Mayflower and set out again. The reorganization put them a month behind schedule. They were forced to leave behind some of the passengers and vital supplies, and they would be crossing the Atlantic Ocean at the height of storm season.

Photo by See-ming Lee / CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo by Christine Bowler / All Right Reserved

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. All ships at that time were for cargo; the concept of passenger ships did not emerge for another two hundred years.


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 often stormy, and the passengers endured relentless seasickness, scurvy, hunger, cold and wet.


In November 1620, the passengers joyfully sighted America. Yet as the ship approached the upper end of Cape Cod, they realized they were north of the land they were authorized to settle. After deliberation amongst the passengers and shipmaster, the Mayflower changed direction to sail south along the coast to the mouth of the Hudson River.


Within a day, their joy turned to fear as they encountered the most dangerous part of their entire voyage. Treacherous shallow waters and crashing waves threatened to tear the ship apart. The passengers and crew thought they would surely die.


They faced perilous waters and harsh winter weather. Their food and drink supplies were almost gone. Passengers were already deathly ill and dying. Having no choice, they reversed their course and sailed 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," used to haul wine, but her sweet aroma of spilled wine wore off quickly with so many seasick 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 cleaner 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' constant prayers and singing.

The passengers had to relieve themselves

in buckets on the ship.

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 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 fired off his father's musket

near a barrel of gunpowder and started a fire aboard ship.

Luckily no harm was done.

The baby born at sea

was named Oceanus.

© 2019

Oklahoma Society of Mayflower Descendants