Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Voyage of the Mayflower

Originally, the Mayflower set out with a companion ship the Speedwell, but the Speedwell had a leak so both ships turned back. On the second attempt, the ships reached the Atlantic Ocean but again were forced to return to Dartmouth because of the Speedwell's leak.

It would later be revealed that there was in fact nothing wrong with the Speedwell. The crew had sabotaged it in order to escape the year-long commitment of their contract.

After reorganization of the passengers and crew, the final sixty-six day voyage was made by the Mayflower alone. Some of the original company stayed behind, while others switched places with passengers on the Mayflower. With 102 passengers plus crew, each family was allotted a very confined amount of space for personal belongings. The 'tween deck of the Mayflower where the passengers lived was 8o feet long and 24 feet wide at it's widest part. And the passengers area was a large open area below decks with the deck area reserved for the crew.

The ship probably had a crew of twenty-five to thirty, along with other hired personnel; however, only the names of five are known, including John Alden. William Bradford, who penned our only account of the Mayflower voyage, wrote that John Alden "was hired for a cooper [barrel-maker], at South Hampton where the ship victuled; and being a hopefull yong man, was much desired, but left to his owne liking to go or stay when he came here; but he stayed, and maryed here."

The intended destination was an area near the Hudson River in "North Virginia". However the ship was forced far off-course by inclement weather and drifted well north of the intended Virginia settlement. As a result of the delay, the settlers did not arrive in Cape Cod till the onset of a harsh New England winter.

The settlers remained on the ship until homes were built in the spring. Disease took it's toll in the crowded conditions on ship board. Of the 102 passengers plus crew members, only 52 survived the winter.

One of the interesting stories for the John Howland descendants is the tale of how John Howland was washed overboard in a storm. Fortunately for his many descendants (including the house hunk), he was able to grasp a rope trailing in the water and the sailors pulled him back aboard.

Quite a few years ago, the house hunk and I visited the Mayflower II, an accurate replica of the original Mayflower. What struck me about the area below decks was the tiny, tiny area available to the settlers. There was no privacy. Most of the settlers slept on pallets or hammocks. And they shared their space with the supplies.

A bricked box served as a stove. The diet was limited and included salt pork, hard biscuits and dried beans. Small wonder that so many died of a combinations of scurvy, tuberculosis, and possibly pneumonia. Of the eighteen adult women who sailed on the Mayflower, only four survived to spring. Four women, helped by half a dozen teenaged girls were responsible for the care and feeding of the colony.

While we can't credit the colonists with establishing the first Thanksgiving, we can certainly honor them for the spirit and strength they exhibited when they sailed from Plymouth, England. Due to their incredible will, there are thousands of descendants today who can proudly state, "My ancestor came on the Mayflower."

For an easy website with wonderful information and pictures regarding the Mayflower and Plimoth Colony please click HERE!



  1. Thanks for the history. Certainly they left these details out when I went to school. Not as glamorous or fruitful as they made it sound.

    Happy Thanksgiving!


  2. Interesting post. I had not heard of the Speedwell story. thanks for sharing.