Colonization

The Mayflower was the famous ship that transported the English Separatists, better known as the Pilgrims, from Southampton, England, to Plymouth, Massachusetts.

The vessel left England on September 6, 1620, and after a gruelling 66 day journey marked by disease which claimed two lives, the ship dropped anchor inside the hook tip of Cape Cod in Provincetown Harbor on November 21. The Mayflower originally was destined for the mouth of the Hudson River, near present day New York City, at the northern edge of England’s Virginia colony, which itself was established with the 1607 Jamestown Settlement. However, the Mayflower went off course as the winter approached, and remained in Cape Cod Bay. On March 28, 1621, all surviving passengers, who had inhabited the ship during the winter, moved ashore at Plymouth.

The Mayflower has a famous place in American history as a symbol of early European colonization of the future United States. With their religion oppressed by the English Church and government, the small party of religious separatists who comprised about half of the passengers on the ship desired a life where they could practice their religion freely. This symbol of religious freedom resonates in US society and the story of the Mayflower is a staple of any American history textbook. Americans whose roots are traceable back to New England often believe themselves to be descended from Mayflower passengers.

Initially, the plan was for the voyage to be made in two vessels, the other being the smaller Speedwell, which had transported some of the Pilgrims embarking on the voyage from Delfshaven in the Netherlands to Southampton, England. The first voyage of the ships departed Southampton, on August 15, 1620, but the Speedwell developed a leak, and had to be refitted at Dartmouth on August 27.

On the second attempt, the ships reached the Atlantic Ocean but again were forced to return to Plymouth because of the Speedwell’s leak. It would later be revealed that there was in fact nothing wrong with the Speedwell. The Pilgrims believed that the crew had, through aspects of refitting the ship, and their behavior in operating it, sabotaged the voyage in order to escape the year long commitment of their contract.

To establish legal order and to quell increasing strife within the ranks, the settlers wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact after the ship dropped anchor at Provincetown Harbor on November 21.

The settlers, upon initially setting anchor, explored the snow covered area and discovered an empty Native American village. The curious settlers dug up some artificially made mounds, some of which stored corn while others were burial sites. The settlers stole the corn and looted and desecrated the graves, sparking friction with the locals. They moved down the coast to what is now Eastham, and explored the area of Cape Cod for several weeks, looting and stealing native stores as they went. They decided to relocate to Plymouth after a difficult encounter with the local native Americans, the Nausets, at First Encounter Beach, in December 1620.

During the winter the passengers remained on board the Mayflower, suffering an outbreak of a contagious disease described as a mixture of scurvy, pneumonia and tuberculosis. When it ended, there were only 53 persons still alive, half of the passengers and half of the crew. In spring, they built huts ashore, and on March 31, 1621, the surviving passengers left the Mayflower.

On April 15, 1621, the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth to return to England, where it arrived on May 16, 1621. In 1623, a year after the death of captain Christopher Jones, the Mayflower was most likely dismantled for scrap lumber in Rotherhithe, London.

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