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Voyage Of The Mayflower

The Thames at Millwall looking towards Rotherhithe

In 1620 a group of disaffected puritans decided to leave England and set up a colony in the New World. Their famous voyage on the Mayflower can be followed along England's south coast. Mayflower was a cargo ship, captained by a man called Christopher Jones. She was based at Rotherhithe, on the Thames in London. Jones had been working Mayflower on trade routes to Europe since 1609. In 1620 he was approached by a puritan group wanting to go to America. He agreed to take the group across the Atlantic, in the company of a smaller ship called Speedwell. Mayflower's owners insisted that the puritans bulk up their group with other passengers to make their voyage financially viable. The puritans and the "strangers" they were obliged to take along with them boarded Mayflower and Speedwell at Southampton on August 5th 1620. A memorial has been erected on Western Esplanade at Southampton to commemorate this event. If an American can officially trace their ancestry back to one of the Mayflower's original voyagers, they can have their name added to the memorial.





Bayard's Cove, Dartmouth

Once at sea the Speedwell developed a serious leak, forcing the ships to dock at Bayard's Cove, Dartmouth. Mayflower and Speedwell were moored here from August 23rd to about August 31st 1620. Bayard's Cove has changed little since that time. A memorial plaque has been erected giving information about the voyage. Looking down the river Dart you follow the course taken by Mayflower and Speedwell out past Dartmouth Castle to open sea.

Once at sea it soon became clear that the Speedwell was still leaking badly and could not continue. The two ships returned to Plymouth. Later it transpired that Speedwell had possibly not been leaking so seriously after all. The crew were perhaps looking for a way of escaping their long and dangerous commitment to get a group of passengers across the Atlantic. But whatever Speedwell's real condition, once in Plymouth it was decided to abandon her. The Mayflower was now a very crowded ship when on September 16th she sailed out of Plymouth for America.






Plymouth Sound

Plymouth has commemorative "Mayflower steps" near the place where the Mayflower would have docked. A commemorative plaque tells of how "the ancient Cawsey where they embarked was destroyed not many years afterwards, but the site of their embarkation is marked by a Stone bearing the name of the MAYFLOWER in the pavement of the adjacent pier". Perhaps a better and more spectacular place to reflect on Mayflower's departure for the New World is Mount Wise Park, which has views across Plymouth Sound. A viewing platform has been erected here, with information boards giving details of the world changing voyages that left through Plymouth Sound. As well as the sailing of the Mayflower, Queen Elizabeth's navy sailed from here to fight the Spanish Armada, as did Charles Darwin's ship HMS Beagle.

There was only one more brief stop, at Newlyn in Cornwall for water. A plaque on the Old Quay at Newlyn commemorates this last stop in England. Then Mayflower sailed out into the Atlantic. Blown off course, Mayflower did not land on the Hudson River as planned. Instead on November 11th she arrived at Cape Cod. Unrest then broke out amongst the settlers. The sizable non-puritan "strangers" group decided that as they were not landing in the agreed upon territory, they could do what they liked. This definition of freedom was not welcomed by the puritans, who viewed things differently. In response to what was considered a risk of chaos the Mayflower Compact was signed on 21st of November 1620. In this agreement, the settlers undertook to follow rules and regulations for the sake of survival.

The Mayflower Compact formalised the idea of liberty, which of course went on to be a fundamental concept of American history. Ironically for the Mayflower's puritans, freedom was defined very differently to how we would view it today. The puritans of England saw liberty in being free of sin, of lusts and passions. Acceptance of authority was very important, since authority allowed people to lead good orderly lives in which they were at liberty to do "everything that is right, while being restrained from doing anything that is wrong" (The Story of American Freedom Eric Foner P5).

A copy of the original Compact, hand written by William Bradford, one of the settlers is now kept at the State Library of Massachusetts.