Thirteen locations, in UK, Holland and USA have come together to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower to the New World in 1620. They represent Pilgrim and Crew home towns and ports visited by the Mayflower and Speedwell on their voyages.
Scrooby and Babworth
Some of the most well-known Mayflower Pilgrims came from places in and around North Nottinghamshire in the East Midlands of England.
These people were religious Separatists, who wanted to break away from the Church of England to form their own church because they disagreed with how the Church and the State wanted them to live their lives. Of 102 people on the Mayflower, the Separatists made up 41 passengers.
The Doncaster journey starts in a small village called Austerfield, the birth place of William Bradford, the first elected Governor of the Plymouth Colony of Massachusetts. The Manor House where William grew up as a child can still be seen, in what was an agricultural community in the reign of King James I of England (VI of Scotland).
William became one of a group of people who rebelled against the new religious regime introduced by the king and joined the Separatists, or the Pilgrims, in finding ways to worship secretly in the way that they wanted to.
The small town of Gainsborough reflected some of the great social and religious upheavals that were changing England in the late sixteenth century and early seventeenth.
It even found itself briefly at the centre of the world stage as home of a large part of the East Midlands Separatist congregation whose quest for religious freedom eventually led some of them to embark on the Mayflower and sail for North America in 1620.
In secret, one night in the autumn of 1607, a passionate and determined group of men, women and children met a boat on the edge of The Wash at Scotia Creek, Fishtoft, near Boston. Their plan was to escape across the North Sea to Holland and live in religious freedom away from the authority of the English church.
The Pilgrims felt that the established church was too prescriptive, dictatorial and ‘papish’ in how it set out the order of sermons, as in the ‘Book of Common Prayer’.
Instead of wishing to try to change and ‘purify’ the church from within, as the ‘Puritans’ did, they felt compelled to separate completely from it and were called ‘Separatists’.
Harwich was a thriving and important English port in the 1600s possessing ship-building yards, ship-owners, sea-captains and seamen.
It is generally thought that the Mayflower was built there sometime before 1600. What is certain is that she was commanded and part-owned by her Master, Captain Christopher Jones, who was among the elite of the town.
Jones’ connection with the Mayflower, as her Master and part owner, dates from 1609 and she was designated as “of Harwich” in the Port Books of 1609.
About 65 passengers embarked the Mayflower in London at its homeport in the Rotherhithe district on the Thames about the middle of July in 1620. She then proceeded down the Thames into the English Channel and then on to the south coast to anchor at Southampton Water.
Leiden (The Netherlands)
Early in the sixteen hundreds, the English Calvinists were persecuted by Queen Elizabeth and her successor James I. Especially the separatists, those who wanted to leave the established (state) Anglican Church, had a rough time.
Around 1608 a number of them fled to Holland, where there was relative freedom of religion. They escaped from the coast somewhere between Grimsby and Hull. The refugees were picked up by a Dutch skipper, and eventually reached Amsterdam. From there they moved to Leiden.
The Leiden Separatists bought the Speedwell in Holland, and embarked from Delfshaven on 22 July 1620. They then sailed under the command of Captain Reynolds to Southampton, to meet the Mayflower,
Edward Winslow, of Droitwich, Worcestershire, was one of the original Separatists who settled in Leiden and joined the Speedwell voyage. Travelling with Winslow and his wife Elizabeth were his brother Gilbert and family servant/employee George Soule.
The Mayflower arrived in Southampton on 29 July 1620 from London carrying mainly settlers, and was joined by the Speedwell on 1 August carrying the religious Separatists from Leiden. Their intention was to get both vessels ready and then sail in company directly to the English Colony in Virginia.
In 1620, after leaving Southampton the Mayflower and its sister ship, the Speedwell had to put into Dartmouth as the Speedwell was rapidly taking on water, and needed repairing. This could have been a result of carrying too much sail, which strained the mast and loosened the timbers. However, it has been suggested that its crew were deliberately sabotaging her to get out of their contracts, and the lengthy and dangerous voyage ahead.
The Separatists stayed in Dartmouth for eleven days, while repairs were carried out. The Mayflower moored up river, and the Separatists set up camp outside the town boundary. Both ships set set sail for the New World on 23 August 1620.
On the 23rd August 1620, the Mayflower and the Speedwell ships set sail from Dartmouth. They were 300 miles clear of Land’s End when there were complaints that the Speedwell was once again letting in water
“shee is open and leakie as a sieve; and thr was a borde, a man might have puld of with his fingers, 2 foote longe, wher ye water came in as it at a mole hole. I thinke, as others also, if we had stayed at sea but 3 or 4 howers more, shee would have sunke righte downe.”
Robert Cushman (Leader and organiser of the Mayflower voyage)
The ships sailed into Plymouth, which was the most convenient port to use. Here the ship-builders said the Speedwell was unfit to cross the Atlantic, the Mayflower would therefore have to travel alone.
There was not enough room for everyone on board one ship so, in the end, about 20 Pilgrims were left behind. The remainder crowded on-board the Mayflower and they finally left Plymouth on the 16 September 1620.
Plymouth (Massachusetts, USA)
After a storm tossed 66 days at sea, on 21 November 1620, the Mayflower anchored on the tip of Cape Cod, at what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts.
That day the settlers formulated the “Mayflower Compact” signed by 41 men on board which bound them into a “civill body politick“, promising co-operation amongst them for the general good on the colony with issues decided by voting, establishing constitutional law and the rule of the majority – laying the foundations of American democracy.
They finally arrived in Plymouth, MA on 21 December 1620.
Wampanoag Tribe (USA)
In 1620, when the Separatists arrived from England, Tisquantum (Squanto) and other members of the Wampanoag Tribe taught the newly arrived settlers how to cultivate the varieties of corn, squash and beans (the Three Sisters) that flourished in New England; they showed them how to catch and process fish, and collect seafood. This enabled the English Separatists to survive their first winters.