The Mayflower Had a Life Before Delivering Pilgrims to Plymouth
In September 1620, after several delays, the Mayflower began a most notorious journey from Plymouth, England, to the tip of Cape Cod. The vessel, carrying 102 passengers and about 30 crew, spent 10 weeks crossing the Atlantic Ocean, arriving in the New World in November.
Most passengers were English Separatists – pilgrims who, unlike the Puritans who hoped to reform the Church of England, sought to separate from the church to worship as they saw fit without penalty.
The Pilgrims sought refuge in Holland before daring to cross the Atlantic to establish an English settlement. Earlier settlements in Jamestown and what is now Maine didn't go as planned, and the odds were against the Pilgrims succeeding.
In July 1620, the Pilgrims departed Holland aboard the vessel Speedwell, a much smaller ship than the Mayflower. The ships were to rendezvous in England and sail in tandem to North America, but repeated problems with the Speedwell forced the Pilgrims to leave it behind and make the journey with only the Mayflower.
Owned in part by Christopher Jones, who captained the vessel to America, the Mayflower, built sometime before 1609, was 100 feet long with a capacity of 180 tons.
The Mayflower had a life before the Pilgrims.
According to Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, before the Pilgrim's voyage, Jones sailed the Mayflower, a Dutch cargo fluyt, "back and forth across the Channel with English woolens to France and returning to London with French wine."
"Wine ships such as the Mayflower were known as 'sweet ships," since the inevitable spilling of the acidic wine helped to temper the stench of the bilge," Philbrick wrote.
Hats, hemp, Spanish salt, hops, and vinegar were among the cargo transported aboard the Mayflower to Norway. Philbrick wrote that Jones "may even have taken the Mayflower on a whaling voyage to Greenland."
The Mayflower went out of service between 1622-1624 after depositing the Pilgrims in North America and may have been dismantled in 1624.
The Mayflower II, a replica of the 17th century Mayflower, was constructed in the 1950s in England. It docks in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where the Pilgrims eventually settled.