Britain Mayflower II

In this June 12, 1957, file photo, the barque Mayflower II prepares to moor in this harbor at the tip of Cape Cod, 53 days after departing from Plymouth, England. In 1957 Peter Padfield was a crew member on the sailing ship the Mayflower II, a replica of the square-rigged English merchant vessel that carried a group of dissatisfied Protestants across the Atlantic Ocean in 1620.

September marked the 400th anniversary of when the Mayflower departed Plymouth, England. Its “cargo” consisted of 102 passengers and about 30 crew. They were bound for the New World and a new beginning.

The ship

The Mayflower was an English merchant vessel that normally could carry about 180 tons of wine and dry goods and had been in service for nearly 20 years between British ports and those in France, Norway, Germany and Spain. It was about 85 feet in length on deck and 105 feet below deck.

The Mayflower’s master (captain) and part owner was Christopher Jones. This was the first recorded trip “across the pond” for both master and ship. It was hired in London in July 1620 and began loading food and supplies in Southampton, England.

About half of the passengers were living in Leiden, Netherlands and had hired the Speedwell to take them from Delfthaven, Netherlands, to Southampton to join the Mayflower for the trip. But several attempts to fix a leaky Speedwell were unsuccessful so it was decided the Mayflower would go it alone. Cargo and some passengers boarded a very crowded Mayflower; other passengers returned to the Netherlands or to England.

It arrived back in England in the spring of 1621 and made a run to France. A record of it does not appear again until May 1624 when it was appraised for probate and described as being in ruins. The Mayflower likely sold for scrap that year.

The trip

The Mayflower finally departed for the New World on September 6, 1620, and took 66 days to cross the Atlantic. There were winter storms, some so treacherous that the sails could not be used and the ship simply drifted. Long periods of seasickness left many passengers barely able to stand up during the voyage.

Their intended destination was the northern part of Virginia Colony and the Hudson River (today New York City), as the passengers had heard good reports about this area but the Mayflower missed it by a few degrees. When rough seas nearly shipwrecked it, they decided to stay and explore their present landing site, Cape Cod.

The passengers

The 102 passengers can be divided into two groups. The “separatists” were those who wanted to live free from the Church of England. The other group, known as “saints” or “strangers” were skilled tradesmen or had their own reasons for leaving England. And for some, the chance of freedom and adventure just could not be passed up. Together, they came be known as Pilgrims. (It was not until the early 1800s that the word “Pilgrim” became the common term applied to all the Mayflower passengers — and even to others who arrived in Plymouth in those early years.)

During the voyage, the passengers lived primarily on the gun deck and ventured to the upper deck only occasionally during calm weather, when there was less danger of being swept overboard. Living space for 102 people was only about 58 feet by 24 feet. The females, primarily, lived in this small area for up to 6 weeks after their arrival while the men were on land building storehouses and living structures.

No official lists exist of items the passengers should have brought, but historians have come up with some key items: biscuit, beer, salt, dried beef, oats, peas, cider, shirts, shoes, stockings, sewing needles, canvas sheets, blankets, 20 pounds of powder, iron pot, kettle, frying pan, spoons of wood, napkins, soap, hoes, axes, hammers, shovels, nails, locks for doors, grinding stone.

Some were worried that the “weak bodies of women” would not endure a long sea voyage or the subsequent construction of a colony. Husbands had to decide whether to bring their wife or have her come later. Eighteen wives accompanied their husbands, three of whom were in advanced pregnancy.

Daughters also were left behind, to come later when there were suitable accommodations. There were no single women on the Mayflower except a few teens who were approaching marriageable age.

One passenger, William Butten, was swept overboard and one boy was born at sea, appropriately named Oceanus Hopkins. The first child born in the colony was another boy named Peregrine (Latin for pilgrim) White.

During their first winter in the New World, the colonists suffered greatly from lack of shelter, scurvy and deteriorating conditions aboard ship. Those who died were 75% of the women (only 5 women survived), 50% of the men, 36% of the boys, and 18% (2) of the girls. They were buried on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Are you a descendant of a Mayflower passenger? For a full list, go to

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