Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: February 05, 2019
Webpage updated: February 05, 2019




The group that much later became known as the Pilgrim Fathers were separatists from the Church of England.   They came from Nottinghamshire and left the Church of England in 1606 to form their own church.   Because of continued persecution by the authorities, the congregation fled to Holland, where, in Leiden, they found the toleration they sought to worship as they chose.   Although they remained here for some eleven years, conditions were poor and they realised that their children were growing up to be Dutch rather than English so they decided with the backing of a consortium of London merchants to emigrate to the English colonies in north America, then known collectively as Virginia after the virgin queen, Elizabeth I.

The "Mayflower" was a 180-ton vessel that had been previously employed in the shipment of wine.  She was about 12-years-old when the leader of the Separatist congregation at Leiden in Holland, Mr John Carver, chartered her for a voyage to America.   The ship was prepared for the voyage at Southampton, England.  It is curious that the ship was not mentioned by name in William Bradford's famous account of the voyage, nor has she been described.

In the meantime, another vessel, the 60-ton "Speedwell" set sail from the port of Delftshaven amid tears and prayers on July 22nd 1620 with 35 members of the congregation and their leaders, William Bradford and William Brewster.  They joined the "Mayflower" and the English Separatists at Southampton, from where they sailed on August 5th 1620 with about 120 passengers between them.

Twice the Pilgrims were forced back into English ports, first Dartmouth and then Plymouth, by dangerous leaks in the "Speedwell".   Tradition says that while at Plymouth, which at that time had a growing Puritan congregation itself,  they stayed at the Island House on the Barbican, where today there is a plaque listing the names of all the passengers.   Here, too, they took the decision to leave the "Speedwell" behind and thus 102 Pilgrims and crew set sail from Plymouth on September 6th 1620 for their epic journey across the Atlantic.  During the long voyage a young baby boy was born to Elizabeth Hopkins, who named him Oceanus.

The ship sighted land at Cape Cod on November 9th 1620 and it was while at anchor here that another boy, Peregrine White, was born.   The group sailed south in search of the land in Virginia to which they had been granted rights but they encountered a dangerous shoal before reaching the sought after Hudson River.  They changed course for the north again and set anchor at modern-day Provincetown on November 11th.  Here, and on that day, the 41 men in the group signed the so-called "Mayflower Compact" by which they agreed to establish a formal civil body to run the colony.  They then elected Mr John Carver to be their first governor. 

Captain Miles Standish led the first expedition on land on November 15th, when he took 16 armed men to explore the area.  A second expedition saw 34 men using the shallop, a small coasting craft that had been stored in pieces on board the "Mayflower",  to get ashore where they found that the native American population had fled before they arrived. 

After several other runs ashore, during which they encountered the natives and were fired at, they eventually went ashore at a place called Plymouth, where on Monday December 11th, they found cleared fields and fresh running water.  They had at last found a suitable place for a community and the construction of a settlement began on December 23rd.  Interestingly, it was not the Pilgrims who gave the place its named of Plymouth, as commonly thought, but a Captain John Smith, who had mapped this coastline in 1615.  It took the name from the Plymouth Virginia Company, to which King James had granted a Charter for colonisation in 1606.

Although the "Mayflower" was supposed to leave the settlement once it had been established, the Captain, Christopher Jones, allowed the ship to stay on through the first winter of 1620-21.  This was just as well because even with the shelter of the ship, half the colonists died during the harsh weather.  The "Mayflower" eventually left the American shore on April 5th 1621.

Although there is no record of the "Mayflower" itself, in 1926 a Mr R C Anderson constructed a model based on information about 16th-century merchants of its tonnage.  The ship's dimensions were thus quoted as 90 feet (27.4 metres) long, 26 feet (7.9 metres) in the beam, and with a 64 foot (19.5 metres) keel.  Her hold was 11 feet (3.4 metres) deep.  This model is now in the Pilgrim Hall at New Plymouth.

In 1951 naval architect and maritime historian William A Baker began to make plans for a copy of the "Mayflower" for the Plimouth Plantation Museum.  However, in 1955 the Plantation was approached by a group from England, Project Mayflower Ltd, who wanted to build a new "Mayflower" and sail her to America as well.

This new vessel would be 181 tons burden (or 236 tons displacement) and 106 feet long x 25 feet beam by 13 feet draft.  Carved into the stern would be the hawthorn or English May flower.

Construction began at the Brixham, Devon, shipyard of Messrs J W & A Upham on July 4th 1955.  They used historically-accurate materials such as English oak timber, Stockholm tar, hand forged nails, linen canvas sails and true hemp rope.  She would be steered with a wheel instead of a tiller and have a modern generator, two-way radio and superior pumps.  For added luxury she would also had a refrigerator in the galley.  The ship was launched on September 22nd 1956 and sailed to Plymouth for fitting out.

The "Mayflower II" sailed from Plymouth, England, on April 20th 1957 under the Australian mariner Alan Villiers, with an international crew of 31, and arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts, on June 13th 1957.  

She is still moored at Plimouth Plantation but she only occasionally sets sail away from her berth, and nearly always under tow.