21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving

Larry Holzwarth - November 23, 2020

Four hundred years have passed since the epic voyage of the Mayflower, years which have enshrouded its story in myth and legend. The commonly held belief that the Mayflower carried intrepid religious refugees from persecution in England to freedom in the New World is only partially true. Less than half of the passengers aboard the vessel were Separatists; that is, dissidents separating their beliefs and religious rites from those of the Church of England. The remainder of the souls in the Mayflower were the ship’s crew and mechanics, artisans, and soldiers hired by the leaders of the Separatists. Their mission, to ensure the colony had the skills necessary to survive in the unknown, made them invaluable. The Separatists called them the Strangers, themselves Saints.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
The ice coated Mayflower in Plymouth during the winter of 1620-21. Wikimedia

“Strangers and pilgrims”, a phrase which appears in numerous places in the Bible, gave the religious dissenters the name Pilgrims. Over history the word a became reference to all members of the party of 1620 which established Plymouth Plantation. Several of the Strangers became among the most famous of the Pilgrims, through their collective efforts to help the colony thrive. Among them were Myles Standish, John Alden, and Stephen Hopkins. In celebration of the 400th anniversary of the historic voyage of the Mayflower, here is the story of its planning, sailing, tenure in the New World, and return to England.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
Under James VI and I, attendance at Church of England services was mandatory. Wikimedia

1. The Separatists weren’t fleeing persecution in England when they planned their voyage to America

In the early 17th century, several groups of dissenters emerged in England, dissatisfied with what they perceived as Roman Catholic rites permeating the Church of England. One group, the Puritans, wanted to purify the Church of such rites and beliefs. Another, smaller group, called themselves Separatists. They espoused separating from the Church entirely, at a time when English law made Church attendance and financial support mandatory. Rather than face fines, and potential jail time for debts for failing to pay them, they established a community in Leiden, Holland, about 1608. There, due to political issues involving England, Holland, and Spain, they soon found themselves in a quandary.

A military alliance between England and Holland against Spain placed the Leiden community of about 400 Separatists in danger of having their sect suppressed. Neither Catholic Spain nor Protestant England were known for religious tolerance. After several years in Holland, and aware of the improving conditions in the colony of Virginia, Separatist leaders began lobbying their followers to settle in the New World. They decided to travel to British America and settle in the vicinity of the mouth of the Hudson River, part of Virginia, but physically distant enough to manage their own affairs. To obtain financial support they entered negotiations with a Dutch company. English spies became aware of the negotiations, and informed their employers in London of the plans.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
The Separatists planned to settle in the lands explored by Henry Hudson. Wikimedia

2. Thomas Weston and the London Company arranged for the Separatist’s journey to America

Thomas Weston, a successful London merchant of influence at court, encouraged the Separatists to end conversations with the Dutch, promising them a land grant from the London Company in 1619. The London Company, based on the explorations of Henry Hudson, believed a colony near the river bearing his name bore promise as a successful fishery. Far enough from Virginia to be free of its politics, yet near enough for mutual support, Separatist leaders agreed. At the same time, they were aware of the difficulties encountered by the early settlers in Virginia. The London Company knew of the difficulties endured by the early Virginia settlers, and demanded sufficiently skilled men be part of the expedition.

Separatist leaders agreed with the need to include settlers with skills which most of their party did not possess. Their flock for the most part did not. They believed they were on a sojourn like that of the Israelites, tasked by God to build a new temple in the Promised Land. They perceived outsiders as a threat to their congregation and religious belief. Weston insisted, supported by the London Company, which held the purse strings. The Leiden congregations decided that the youngest and strongest would make the first trip to America, with the remainder remaining in Holland. They would make the journey later, after the colony established itself. Outsiders, the Strangers, were hired to increase the chances of success.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
The Pilgrims embarked in Speedwell, a ship which proved ill-suited to their purpose. Wikiemedia

3. The Separatists purchased the ship Speedwell

With the basis of the proposed colony’s economy planned as fishing, a suitable ship became necessary to support the industry. Speedwell, an over forty-year old vessel which had fought against the Spanish Armada, was purchased to transport the Separatists and remain in the New World as a fishing boat. Recognizing the small Speedwell could not carry enough passengers to create a settlement, agents leased another ship, Mayflower. Thomas Weston, who handled the Leiden congregation’s affairs in England, envisioned Mayflower carrying the hired artisans and skilled workers to the new colony. Speedwell would carry the Separatists.

Separatist leaders in Leiden, in the meantime, recognized the need for a man of military skills to provide for the common defense. Because of the authority inherent in such a position, leaders such as William Bradford and William Brewster deemed it best for them to hire such a man, making him answerable to them, rather than to agents in London. They attempted to hire Captain John Smith, late of the Virginia Colony. Smith agreed, but his quoted price exceeded the depths of the Separatists’ pockets. Instead, they settled on Myles Standish, who styled himself as a Captain. Standish lived in Leiden at the time with his wife, Rose. Though Standish did not have the experience in America possessed by Smith, he did offer his services at a more affordable price, despite the murkiness of his military past.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving

John Alden, seen with Priscilla Mullins, served in Mayflower’s crew as one of the strangers. Wikimedia

4. Captain Christopher Jones of Mayflower hired several of the Strangers

In summer, 1620, Mayflower departed London for Southampton, for fitting out and to rendezvous with Speedwell. Captain Christopher Jones, commander of the ship, also owned one quarter of the vessel, which operated in the wine trade. It was he who accepted a charter from Thomas Weston for the voyage to the New World. While in Southampton, Jones hired a cooper to attend to the numerous barrels aboard the ship, a critical position in the 17th century. The cooper he hired, a carpenter/barrel maker named John Alden, became one of the most famous of the Pilgrims, though not one of the Separatists. Jones had extensive experience as a seaman, though there is no evidence he had ever crossed the Atlantic before. Most of his voyages had been to the Mediterranean and to Northern European ports.

William Mullins, father of Priscilla Mullins, who joined the Merchant Adventurers (investors) formed by Thomas Weston, came aboard Mayflower in London. He accompanied the travelers to ensure a satisfactory return on his investment, encouraged by Weston and Jones. As part of his charter, Jones received shares in the project as well. Captain Jones also hired John Allerton, who subsequently signed on with the Merchant Adventurers. Allerton was to have returned to Leiden to assist the second group of Pilgrims following the establishment of the colony. Instrumental in scouting sites for the settlement in the New World, Allerton died before Mayflower departed the American coast for its return voyage in 1621. It was Joneswwho later made the crucial decision to remain with the colonists throughout the critical first winter, which undoubtedly saved the colony from destruction.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
Speedwell served the English admirals against the Spanish Armada. Wikimedia

5. Speedwell quickly proved itself unseaworthy in the summer, 1620

In July, 1620, the members of the Leiden Congregation designated to undertake the perilous journey boarded a canal barge. Families were separated, other families took on those traveling alone. Several gentlemen of means were accompanied by servants. The canal journey to Delfshaven took several hours. There they boarded Speedwell, about which little is known of the ship’s captain. Speedwell departed for Southampton the same day, immediately developed problems with rigging and began shipping water, its hull riddled with leaks. By the time it arrived in Southampton its captain had decided extensive repairs were necessary before it could attempt to cross the Atlantic. The ship lay in port at Southampton, with Mayflower, for several weeks, refitting.

While in port stores meant for sustenance at sea and upon arrival in America were consumed. Conditions were crowded on both ships. Costs of repairs and port fees mounted, absorbed by the Merchant Adventurers of Thomas Weston. The crew of Speedwell were busy, that of Mayflower largely at loose ends. Jones sent part of his crew to assist in the repairs. On August 15, 1620, the two ships finally sailed. After just a few hours at sea, the aging Speedwell again began leaking badly, and the ships entered harbor at Plymouth. The ship required extensive repairs and rerigging before it could attempt the journey again. After debate among themselves and the Strangers, eleven of the Leiden Congregation transferred to Mayflower, which already held 30 of their fellows.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
Mayflower was far more crowded, with less room overhead, than this drawing suggests. Wikimedia

6. Mayflower carried about 102 passengers, and a crew of about 30

After transferring passengers and as much of the supplies as Mayflower could carry, Captain Jones finally got underway for the New World in September. Of the 102 passengers, 28 adults were members of the Leiden Congregation, with their families and servants they made up less than half of those determined to settle in America. Bound for the mouth of the Hudson River, Jones encountered contrary winds and storms which forced him to the north. He had no way of knowing it, but the Gulf Stream current also carried him further north. Measurement of latitude at the time was difficult, that of longitude all but impossible. They were more than halfway across when a storm caused significant damage, cracking a structural beam which threatened the ship’s ability to survive.

John Alden and other sailors fashioned an iron support to reinforce the beam and Jones made the decision to sail on into the contrary westerly winds. The voyage took 66 days, most of them marked with high seas and increasing cold. Hot meals became a rarity, due to the need to extinguish the galley fires. Most of the passengers became sick, first with seasickness, and later with dysentery and diarrhea. In the midst of it all, Elizabeth Hopkins, wife of Stephen Hopkins, gave birth to a boy. His parents, with a nod to the conditions surrounding them, named him Oceanus. The infant survived the voyage, though he died in childhood, sometime before 1627.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
Mayflower struggled against westerly winds during the voyage to North America. Wikimedia

7. Mayflower carried heavy weapons and live animals

During the early 17th century, even merchant ships carried weapons for defense, against pirates and other enemies. Mayflower carried an unusually heavy armament, at least 14 cannons, ten of which lined either side of its gun deck. The gun deck also provided lodging for most of the ship’s passengers, though the Pilgrim leaders may have shared cabin space in the poop house, a structure rising above the decks at the ship’s stern. The structure also housed Captain Jones’ cabin, and his chart house. Weapons owned by the passengers, including small cannons intended for the defense of the settlement, were carried in the hold, as well as most of the passengers’ personal belongings.

No draft animals nor cattle accompanied the Pilgrims on their journey, though live animals were aboard. Ships on long voyages commonly carried pigs and poultry, to provide fresh meat and eggs on the journey. These quickly became underweight and sickly, and were likely slaughtered early during the voyage, since carrying sufficient feed to sustain them took up needed space. They also consumed fresh water. The Pilgrims also carried goats, as a source of fresh meat and milk for the children. Most of the passengers, as well as the crew, consumed beer as their primary beverage. Beer did not acquire the living things which water in wooden casks rapidly developed. Upon arrival in the New World, Captain Jones suspended the serving of beer, needing to retain his supplies for his crew’s consumption during the return voyage.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
Mayflower’s passengers did not include a physician among them. Wikimedia

8. Mayflower sailed without a physician aboard

Though the Merchant Adventurers, Separatists, and Captain Jones all took great pains to ensure they carried with them skilled artisans and other required professions, they did not include a physician. The closest the company had was Samuel Fuller, a maker of serge in Leiden. An active member of the Leiden Congregation, and heavily involved in the planning of the voyage and colony, Fuller at least recognized the need for some medical knowledge in the company. Prior to and during the voyage he read medical treatises and books, attempting to acquire some basics of medical care. For this reason, he is sometimes described as a physician, though there is no evidence of his having medical training. During the voyage, Fuller’s personal servant died, his master failing to cure his disorder. One other fatality occurred on the crossing, the death of a crew member.

Fuller continued to study medical texts in the New World, and became the de facto physician of the colony, even consulting with cases in subsequent settlements. One later colonist referred to Fuller as a quack, and suggested he be punished by riding a rail. For the most part though, the settlers came to appreciate his efforts, which consisted of the accepted medical practice of bleeding, as well as poultices and herbal teas. At a time when medical care killed as many patients as it saved Fuller certainly presented no exception. The fact that the company survived the harrowing crossing with but two fatalities speaks not to his medical abilities, but rather to the hardiness of the people who undertook the journey.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
A 19th century engraving of the Mayflower. Wikimedia

9. Mayflower sighted land in late November, 1620

On November 19 (using today’s calendar, November 9 on theirs) Mayflower made landfall in the New World. They had no idea where they were. Captain Jones made the determination they were north of their goal, near the mouth of the Hudson. They were actually near Cape Cod. Jones decided to sail south, but contrary winds and seas, as well as the onset of winter in those climes, deterred him. After two days, Jones entered the hook of the Cape and anchored in today’s Provincetown Harbor. Before attempting to go ashore, the leaders of the Separatists drew up the document known as the Mayflower Compact, essentially an agreement between Separatists and Strangers regarding the governance of the new settlement and its people. There were 73 adult male passengers aboard Mayflower. 41 signed the document.

There were 19 male servants aboard the ship who did not sign the Compact. In addition, several of the craftsmen hired for the expedition were bound for one year only. They too did not sign. John Alden, a member of Captain Jones’ crew, did sign. Contrary to popular belief, Captain Jones did not. At the time of the Compact, Jones intended to return to England as soon as the passengers landed and built a suitable shelter. None of the party were prepared for the conditions they encountered, the ground already frozen, heavy snows, and a lack of game. High seas prevented fishing. Temperatures were considerably lower than those to which they were conditioned in England and Holland. The Pilgrims were about to learn the Atlantic passage, harsh though it had been, was nothing compared to what the New World offered.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
Signing the Mayflower Compact in 1620, another painting which shows far more room than was available to the passengers, Wikimedia

11. Captain Jones led the first exploratory expedition ashore

Mayflower carried two large ship’s boats, called shallops on its manifest, which were propelled by sail and oar. Each could carry up to three dozen men, with some equipment and supplies, in as much comfort as an open boat could offer given the weather conditions. With his own supplies dwindling, Jones’ wanted to find a suitable place for a settlement as soon as possible. For about a week the weather prevented a boat from going ashore. On December 7, it moderated sufficiently that the Captain led a party of 34 men, ten of them sailors to handle the boat, to explore the area. The weather worsened as the party reconnoitered, and they were forced to spend the night ashore, exposed to sleet and freezing temperatures.

Cold, wet, and hungry, the expedition, according to William Bradford, led to the first illnesses which ravaged the company that winter. “Some of our people that are dead took the original of their death here”, he wrote. Winter was only beginning. The explorers found little in the way of food, other than stumbling on a cache of corn and seed buried by the Indians. In one of the first events marking the relationship between European settlers and Indians, the Pilgrims took “in all…about ten bushels”, setting it aside as seed for planting in the Spring. To survive the first winter, residence in the Mayflower offered the only hope. Almost immediately disease and hunger ravaged the Pilgrims and the crew of the ship. Captain Jones decided, reluctantly, to keep his ship at anchor until the weather abated.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
Hostilities occurred during the first contact between Myles Standish’s party and natives. Wikimedia

11. The first contact with the natives led to an exchange of fire between them

The first contact between the Pilgrims and the natives occurred on December 16, 1620, when a party of 17 of the former landed near present-day Chatham. After raiding some burial mounds, which they had learned on the first expedition contained buried corn, the Pilgrims were attacked by Indians, who fired at them using bows and arrows. The Pilgrims returned fire with their muskets. The party then continued to the west in the shallop, reaching the area they finally selected for their settlement on December 21. There they discovered the remains of a former Indian settlement, with some of the shelters bearing skeletal remains. On December 29, in a conference held aboard Mayflower, the site of Plymouth Colony was selected, with the decision to commence building a shelter immediately.

The first building to be constructed was a twenty-foot square common house. Nearly completed by the end of January, it became the sanctuary for the sick. By then Mayflower was ravaged with disease and dying. Scurvy, dysentery, and pneumonia, spread quickly in the confined conditions of the ship, and influenza likely took its toll as well. By early February, 1621, less than a dozen of the Pilgrims were well enough to provide care for the sick and dying. A frustrated Captain Jones saw nearly half his crew die that winter. Mayflower’s seaworthiness decreased, as the crew proved unable to perform critical maintenance on the anchored vessel. Supplies continued to dwindle. The single encounter with the Indians imposed a dread on the Pilgrims of a potential attack which they were too weak to resist.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
Squanto knew William Bradford in England before Mayflower’s voyage. Wikimedia

12. The last of the Patuxets

Six years before the arrival of the Pilgrims an English fishing expedition left the New England coast with cargo other than just dried cod. English Captain Thomas Hunt kidnaped several Patuxet Indians, including a young native named Tisquantum. He carried the Patuxets to Spain, where he sold several of them into slavery, before monks intervened. Tisquantum found himself in the care of the monks, who both educated him and converted him to Christianity. At some point the young Patuxet made his way to England, where according to William Bradford, he lived for some time in Cornhill. Bradford recorded he knew the native well, and while in England the young man became known by the diminutive of his name, Squanto.

Squanto returned to his homeland, by way of an English expedition to Newfoundland, sometime before the Pilgrims arrived in the New World. Upon his eventual return to his home village, he found the tribe had been wiped out, likely as a result of an epidemic. Squanto, the last of the Patuxets, moved to the village of Nemasket, accompanying an English exploration party led by adventurer Thomas Dermer. Dermer sent Squanto to meet with Massasoit, the powerful chieftain of the Massachusetts Indian tribes. Squanto then lived primarily in the village of Pokanoket, though he remained in contact with both English explorers and adventurers, as well as with Massasoit. When and how he became aware of the settlement at Plymouth remains uncertain. Contrary to popular belief, Samoset contacted the English first.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
Samoset encountered the English settlement in March, 1621. Wikimedia

13. The native Americans were hostile towards each other at the time of the settlement

Massasoit and his followers had enemies surrounding them long before the arrival of the Pilgrims. During the brutal first winter, while Mayflower anchored in the bay and the settlers struggled to survive, the Indian chieftain struggled with a decision. Hostile Narragansetts in and around Rhode Island posed the greatest threat to Massasoit, who also knew of the power and deadliness of the English guns. His indecision during the first winter likely saved the settlement from being wiped out. Other than the brief, hostile encounter in January there was no further contact between the Indians of Massachusetts and the English settlers. Squanto used the time to tell Massasoit of his experiences in England, and the power of the British.

An alliance between the English and Massasoit appealed to the chieftain, as a means of countering the threat from the Narragansetts. Squanto urged Massasoit to consider such an alliance, supported by Samoset, an Abenaki who had also earlier been kidnaped and taken to England, before returning to New England. As for the Pilgrims, fear of an Indian attack led them to take steps so as not to reveal how weak the settlement had become. On March 16, 1621, a Friday, Samoset entered the settlement at Plymouth, where he asked the Pilgrims for beer. Another visit on Sunday was declined by the Pilgrims, since it was the Sabbath, when trading and negotiations were proscribed by the Separatists’ religious beliefs. Squanto did not enter the settlement until March 22, for the expressed purpose of arranging for a treaty between the English and Massasoit.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
As the Pilgrims struggled to survive Mayflower lost crewman and seaworthiness. Wikimedia

14. Mayflower deteriorated badly over the winter of 1620-21

While the Pilgrims struggled to build homes, and supporting dwellings through the winter, Captain Jones struggled to preserve his ship. Nearly half his crew died of the same ailments devastating the Pilgrims. During planning of the voyage in London, the ship’s time away from England, expected to be many months fewer, dictated the amount of food carried for the return. He had barely enough. John Alden decided to throw in with the settlers, remaining in the New World, costing him the Captain his cooper. Captain Christopher Jones faced another voyage across the Atlantic with a depleted crew, a damaged ship, and insufficient supplies. And there were no products of the settlement to sustain him, no grains, no flour, no meat. Each day he remained made the return voyage more daunting.

William Bradford and William Brewster implored the Captain to remain, with Mayflower and its guns their last resort in the event of Indian attack. The appearance of Samoset and Squanto, and the subsequent arrival of Massasoit, changed matters decisively. A treaty of mutual peace and amity between the Pilgrims and Massasoit’s followers freed Captain Jones to begin preparations for the return voyage to England. These included the need to ballast the ship, to replace the weight of the stores consumed or off-loaded in Plymouth. Large stones from the rocky shores which surrounded the landing site of the Pilgrims suited admirably to the task. Smith also refilled his water barrels and loaded dried fish and salted game, provided by the Indians for the most part.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
Women, tasked with caring for the sick, suffered greatly during the first winter. Getty Images

15. More than two thirds of the women Pilgrims died during the winter in the Mayflower

The diseases which ravaged the Separatists, Strangers, and the crew in the Mayflower proved particularly deadly to the women of the expedition. Of the 19 adult women who sailed to the New World, 14 of them died in the Mayflower as the ship lay at anchor. Among the survivors was Priscilla Mullins, just 18 years of age when the voyage began. It is often written that Mullins entire family died during the first winter. It is true that all of her family who made the voyage died, though two siblings remained in England. Some evidence indicates that she considered returning to England in the Mayflower. As one of the few surviving women, Mullins nursed the sick and infirm. Among her many patients was John Alden.

Rose Standish, wife of Myles Standish, died during the first winter of an unknown ailment. Her widowed husband, Myles, reportedly became one of the few who did not fall ill during that dreadful winter. William Bradford, whose chronicles contain much of the information known about the early days of the colony, recorded that Standish assuaged his grief by tending to the ill. Bradford noted that Standish cared for him during his own illness. Thus, both Standish and Priscilla Mullins occupied themselves caring for the sick, though beyond the poem The Courtship of Myles Standish there exists no record of a budding relationship between the pair. Standish married his second wife, Anne, sometime after 1623.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
A still from the American silent film, The Courtship of Miles Standish, which inaccurately told the story of his relationship with Priscilla Mullins. Wikimedia

16. Mayflower returned to England in the spring, 1621

By early April Christopher Jones completed his preparations for the return voyage. Among his many concerns were the condition of the ship, the shortages of stores, especially beer, and the weakened condition of his crew. On April 3, 1621, he worked the ship out from its anchorage to a less sheltered site. One of the two ship’s boats remained with the settlement, the other with the ship. On April 6 Jones and the remainder of his crew sailed out of Cape Cod and steered to the north. Jones planned to replenish his water in Newfoundland, or somewhere along the New England coast, before turning to the east and home.

At sea, he found the strong westerly winds which had opposed him on the voyage to the New World worked to his favor. Mayflower sped along at speeds never attained during the outbound voyage, despite the seaweed and other growth trailing from its bottom. The return voyage was remarkable only for being so unremarkable. Despite the shortage of sailors to work the ship, Mayflower sighted land in England in late April, and arrived at its homeport on the Thames on May 5. After recovering from the ordeal, Jones and his ship resumed their trade with European ports, carrying wine and other goods. Jones died in 1622, and Mayflower never returned to America, though another ship bearing the same name visited Plymouth several years later.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
Mayflower departed Plymouth in 1621, never to return. Wikimedia

17. What happened to the Pilgrims’ Mayflower is uncertain

After the death of Captain Jones, the other three men who shared ownership of the vessel requested a valuation from the Admiralty court. The records of the appraisal, which remain today, give a detailed look at the ship and its equipment. Likely the appraisal came about as part of settling Captain Jones’ estate, with his share of the ship’s value going to his widow. The records also indicated the ship was in a state of disrepair as of 1624. Following the appraisal, there remains no documented history of the vessel. Likely the ship was broken up, with some of its timbers used in the building of other vessels. Legend claims that a barn in Buckinghamshire, known locally as the Mayflower Barn and still standing, used some of the frames from the ship.

One reason for the uncertainty over the ultimate fate of the Pilgrim’s ship is in the records of the Admiralty courts of the day. For reasons unknown, Mayflower became a popular name for ships during the first three decades of the 17th century. Over two dozen vessels bore the name. The ships were recorded in the various Port Books and other records based on the name of their owners and masters, which detailed their voyages and cargoes. The several Mayflowers were of different ship types, tonnages, and missions, though all carried cargoes of varying definition. One of these sailed to Plymouth in 1629. Because of the voyage of the second Mayflower, some have erroneously reported the ship returned to Plymouth Colony, when in fact it was an entirely different ship.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
Another Mayflower made several voyages to the New World, including in the fleet organized by Puritan John Winthrop. Wikimedia

18. The second Mayflower made several voyages to the New World

In 1629 another Mayflower arrived in Plymouth, bearing 35 passengers. Several of the passengers came from the Leiden Congregation. This Mayflower subsequently made several additional crossings of the Atlantic to North America. In 1630 it sailed as part of the Winthrop Fleet. Eleven ships sailed from England that summer, carrying several hundred Puritans, supplies, and livestock. They were bound not for the Plymouth Colony, but for the new Massachusetts Bay Colony. One of the passengers, John Winthrop, served as the Governor of the new colony, which eventually absorbed Plymouth and became the colony, and finally Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The second Mayflower made several additional trips to the British colonies, though not to Plymouth. Instead it delivered emigrants and supplies to Massachusetts Bay and Virginia, returning to England with crews of dried fish and furs from the northern settlements, and tobacco from Virginia. In total, five successful voyages of the vessel occurred between the 1629 visit to Plymouth and a 1639 visit to Massachusetts. In October, 1641, this Mayflower left London bound for Virginia. It carried 140 passengers hoping to join the settlements there. The ship vanished at sea, possibly lost to storms during that year’s hurricane season.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
A humorous depiction of life in Plymouth colony from the 19th century. Library of Congress

19. The Pilgrims soon had additional settlers join them in Plymouth

When Christopher Jones arrived home in England, the reports he gave to the Merchant Adventurers were far from promising. As had happened in the first year in the Jamestown Colony, the presence of disease, starvation, and death did not paint the New World as a land of promise. Jones did carry the relatively good news of the treaty with Massasoit and the assistance offered to the colonists by the natives. Ships began carrying passengers and supplies to the new settlement in New England to bolster the new colony, and the Merchant Adventurers investments. In November, 1621, the Merchant Adventurers dispatched a ship, Fortune, to the colony. Unfortunately, the ship carried more mouths to feed, but little in the way of supplies. Fortune also carried a demand for a payment from the Merchant Adventurers against the Pilgrims’ debts.

The Pilgrims loaded the ship with goods including dried fish and furs, according to their records a cargo worth the equivalent of $120,000 today. However, a French warship captured Fortune during the return voyage in 1622. The following year two additional ships arrived, both bearing additional settlers from the Leiden Congregation, among them Myles Standish’s second wife, and the future wife of William Bradford. By 1630, about 300 men, women, and children populated the Plymouth Colony. Most of the Leiden Congregation had by then relocated to the New World. Additional Strangers arrived as well, and Separatists gave them areas outside of the village of Plymouth for their settlements, though still within the governance of Plymouth Colony.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
The event celebrated as the First Thanksgiving bore little resemblance to that depicted in art and lore. Wikimedia

20. The Mayflower survivors attended the harvest celebration in the fall of 1621

At the end of the summer of 1621, likely during the last week in September, the surviving Pilgrims harvested their first crop in the New World. Squanto and Samoset provided the guidance which ensured the crop succeeded. Two of the Separatists, William Bradford and Edward Winslow left behind records of the event, and the harvest celebration which ensued. Fishing had proved successful, in both fresh and salt water. Waterfowl and game teemed in the area throughout the summer, and though the Pilgrims still had no cattle to provide beef, they had plenty of venison, and the meat of smaller game. To celebrate the harvest, the Pilgrims and their Indian allies enjoyed a three-day feast, “so that we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor”.

There were only 50 surviving of the more than one hundred who arrived in the Mayflower less than one year earlier. They were joined by upwards of 90 natives, meaning Indians outnumbered Pilgrims by nearly two to one. Yet neither chronicler of the event referred to it as Thanksgiving. That did not occur until midsummer, 1623. After mid-July rains ended a drought which threatened that year’s crops, Governor Bradford ordered a 14-day fast, and “they also set apart a day of thanksgiving”, celebrated before completing the year’s harvest. It was the first Thanksgiving in what became the United States ordered by civil, rather than by religious authority.

21 Facts About the Mayflower Voyage and the First Thanksgiving
The replica ship Mayflower II, built in the mid-1950s. Wikipedia

21. Another Mayflower appeared in 1956

In the mid-1950s, using the records of the Mayflower in the hands of both American and British historians, a replica of the famous vessel was built. Private donations paid for the construction. Although not an exact reproduction of the Pilgrim’s ship, it appears as faithful to the design of the original as possible with the information available to its builders. Its timbers were of English oak, its sails crafted in the same manner as in the 17th century and its cordage made of hemp, coated with tar from Sweden. In April, 1957, the vessel, christened Mayflower II, sailed to Provincetown, the site of Mayflower’s first anchorage in America in 1620. Since then the vessel has been maintained by Plimouth Plantation, an American non-profit which maintains the colony museum in Massachusetts.

On the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival, in 1970, protestors led by Native-American activist Russell Means temporarily seized the vessel. They did not damage the ship, and released it peacefully after calling attention to the history of the treatment of American Indians. In 2012, the first of a series of scheduled upkeep periods began. They were scheduled so as to ensure the ship, which remains seaworthy, appeared in perfect condition for the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival in 2020. Circumstances forced cancellations of many events regarding the anniversary, but the vessel figures prominently in planning for celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Thanksgiving in America in 2021.

 

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Mayflower”. Editors, History.com. Online

“The Story of the Pilgrim Fathers”. Edward Arber. 1897

“The Mayflower”. Rebecca Fraser. 2017

“Voyage of the Mayflower”. Caleb Johnson, Mayflower History. Online

“Mayflower Bastard: A Stranger Amongst the Pilgrims”. David Lindsay. 2002

“The Mayflower and her Log”. Azel Ames. 1907

“Of Plymouth Plantation: Sixteen-twenty to Sixteen-forty-seven”. William Bradford, ed. Samuel Eliot Morison. 1952

“Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War”. Nathaniel Philbrick. 2006

“Samuel Fuller of Plymouth Plantation: A Skillful Physician or a Quacksalver?” Norman Gevitz, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences. 1992

“Governor William Bradford’s Letterbook”. William Bradford. 1906

“Mourt’s Relation or Journal of the Plantation at Plymouth”. Edward Winslow. 1622

“Good News From New England”. Edward Winslow. 1624. Online

“The History of New England from 1630 to 1649”. John Winthrop. 1853

“Everything You Learned About Thanksgiving Is Wrong”. Maya Salam, The New York Times. November 21, 2017

“Historic Mayflower II at Mystic Seaport for Historic Renovations”. Erik Ofgang, Connecticut Magazine. May 21, 2015.

“Celebrating the 400th Anniversary of the Mayflower on both sides of the Atlantic”. Helen Warwick, National Geographic. March 15, 2020

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