Moving Across the Atlantic on the Mayflower

By Becky Harris

When you open up your history books, the information and facts found on the pages will take you back in time to places, events and into the lives of important people that existed a long time ago. One of these factual occurrences that make up American History is the Voyage of the Mayflower, a ship carrying the first group of people to a new colony in America. The people sailed from England to Massachusetts, not on a luxury cruise liner, but a wooden ship with masts. The vessel was called the Mayflower and it is an important part of American History.

Early History

Even though the Mayflower is best known for its voyage across the Atlantic Ocean carrying the pilgrims to America, it wasn't always a passenger ship. It was originally intended for use as a cargo ship. It carried wine, supplies and goods from France to England. History shows that the Mayflower ship was at least 12 years old before it brought the passengers to Plymouth. Even though the cargo ship weighed 180 tons, it was narrow enough to fit through coves and dock in small harbors. When built, it had a length of 90-110 feet and a width of 25 feet. As you can imagine, since the vessel had 3 large masts, it was the wind that made it possible to move across the waters delivering the goods and supplies. The design of this cargo ship was actually a Fluyt, its style being created and crafted by the Dutch in the 1600's. So in reality, the Mayflower was a Dutch Cargo Fluyt.

The Voyage

The Mayflower became a passenger water vessel in 1620. The ship carried 102 Englanders or Pilgrims from South Hampton, England to a new colony in the Americas. Another ship that was supposed to accompany the Mayflower on this voyage was the Speedwell, but at the time, the extra ship was not in good enough shape to make the trip alongside the Mayflower.

Life onboard the Mayflower for 66 days proved to be rough, rugged and strained. The ship's captain at this time was Christopher Jones. Meals on board were not very nutritious; the food consisted of salted fish and beef, cheese and hard tack. There was also a total lack of privacy, with people living in cramped quarters.

Along with the captain and the 102 passengers, aboard the vessel were crew members. The crew added about 25-30 extra people living in cramped quarters. Passengers onboard were assigned tiny cabins, and those with families built or constructed temporary walls or dividers that provided a little privacy within their quarters.

The ship had 3 decks; one for the passengers, one for the cargo and the upper deck. Within these decks were areas such as the steerage room, the crew's cabin, and the captain's room, which was at one end of the upper deck.

After arriving in Plymouth on December 26, 1620 and anchoring for a few months, the Mayflower set sail in April of 1621 to return to England. Its delayed return was the result of the ship being in a dilapidated state. Repairs were greatly needed because of the wear and tear and the age of the vessel after completing the famous voyage.

The Passengers

The passengers on the Mayflower voyage to America consisted of men, women and children. They were both Puritans and Pilgrims. Also aboard were folks with no religious affiliations, such as tradesmen, craftsmen, laborers, orphans and indentured servants, or those who worked without pay. There were 30 children aboard, 19 boys and 11 girls.

Even though the 102 passengers were sailing together and going to the same destination with one purpose in mind—arriving and building a new life in a new land—they were separated into two groups of people, calling themselves the saints and the strangers. Their religious beliefs divided them; this made the voyage even more troublesome as they had difficulty getting along.

When the passengers boarded the Mayflower, they not only brought along their personal belongings, they also brought with them their livestock such as goats and sheep. Other families bought their pets. To amuse themselves and to help pass the time at sea, they entertained themselves by playing board games. Most of the time was spent below deck, especially during storms. They did a lot of praying and singing during the week. However, on Sunday, they spent the entire day in service below deck, where it was cold, dark and damp.

Despite the many hardships the passengers faced, only two people died. One child was born aboard the Mayflower before making it to the new world.

Late History

When the pilgrims left England for the new world, their goal was to arrive in Virginia. However, during this famous voyage, the ship got off course and they became lost at sea. While searching for land, the first area they came upon was Plymouth Rock. This is how they happened to settle in the new colony; ruling and governing themselves in their new society.

After arriving, they were not quick to move on shore, they did so little by little; spending most of their time still living aboard the Mayflower while they built their new society on shore. Their first winter after their arrival found most of the passengers dying as the newcomers fell ill with disease before experiencing life on shore.

The first outsider to join the colony was a Native American man by the name of Squanto, who became the mediator between the local Indians and the Plymouth leaders. After the arrival of the Mayflower to Plymouth, three more ships made their voyage to the colony. These ships were the Fortune in 1621, and the Anne and Little James in 1623. The passengers on all four ships, including the Mayflower became known as the "Old Comers" of Plymouth Colony.

The Mayflower II

The original Mayflower ship is long gone, not in existence or operation any longer. As a matter of fact, history tells us that there are no remnants of this famous ship to be found. However, a duplicate vessel was constructed in memory of the Mayflower and its voyage. The Mayflower II was built between 1955 and 1957 in Devon, England at the Upham Shipyard. Even though the Mayflower II is said to be a replica of the original, there are some major differences. The original Mayflower had 3 masts when sailing, but the replica ship has 4. In the original Mayflower, when the crew and passengers went to the different levels of the ship, they climbed wooden make-shift ladders. However, the Mayflower IIwas created with a modern winding staircase and ramps for easy accessibility of visitors. In 1957, the replica ship sailed from England to America and docked in Plymouth, Massachusetts. That is where the ship resides today.

Reprinted with permission by Becky Harris and