The Mayflower and Speedwell set sail twice from England and returned both times because the Speedwell leaked. After the second return, the Speedwell was deemed unseaworthy. 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. They were 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.

photo of Mayflower II mast against blue sky

Photo by See-ming Lee / CC BY-SA 2.0

photo of Mayflower II ship interior with nets, ropes, and basket

Photo by Christine Bowler / All Right Reserved

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 deck where the passengers stayed measured about five and a half feet tall, which prevented anyone taller from standing up straight. 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 the crew was able to repair it; and a male passenger fell overboard, requiring a dramatic rescue. The seas were often stormy, and the passengers suffered seasickness, scurvy, hunger, and relentless cold and dampness.


On November 9th, the ship sighted American land, and the passengers rejoiced. As they approached the upper end of Cape Cod, they realized they were north of the area that the king 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 utter fear. Treacherous shallow waters and crashing waves threatened to splinter the ship and kill everyone aboard. They could not continue south. Harsh winter weather was upon them, their food and drink supplies were almost gone, and passengers were already ill and dying. Having no choice, they reversed their course and sailed back to 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.

Did You Know?

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 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.

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.