When the Pilgrims left England in 1620 to establish a settlement in the New World, they crossed the Atlantic aboard a small merchant ship called the Mayflower. Braving dangerous seas and the unknown frontier, the Mayflower brought the Pilgrims from England to the shores of Cape Cod after a 66 day transatlantic voyage.
The Pilgrims’ journey aboard the Mayflower played a seminal role in the colonization of America, setting in motion events that culminated in the first permanent European settlement at Plymouth Colony. The Mayflower’s voyage occupies an iconic place in early American history.
About the Mayflower
The Mayflower was a typical English merchant ship of her day, used for trading cargo like wine, cloth, and iron. She was most likely constructed at Harwich around 1607 and measured about 100 feet in length by 25 feet at her widest point.
Though not built to transport passengers, the Mayflower was chartered by the Pilgrims for their voyage across the Atlantic. The ship had previously made trips to Norway, Germany, and Africa on trading routes.
To make room for the Pilgrims, her interior was extensively renovated. The Mayflower was destined to become the most famous ship that left England for America in 1620.
The Historic Voyage
On September 16th, 1620, the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, England carrying around 102 passengers and a crew of 25-30. The ship stopped briefly in England’s southern coast before beginning her Atlantic crossing on September 6th.
The famous Pilgrims were dissenters fleeing persecution in England, seeking religious freedom in a new land. They were joined by adventurers hoping to start new lives.
The ocean journey was perilous, with giant waves constantly crashing against the hull. One passenger died en route. But after a grueling 66 days, on November 9th land was finally sighted – Cape Cod.
Unable to reach their initial destination in Virginia due to winds and tides, the Mayflower finally dropped anchor near Provincetown on November 11th. America at last lay before them.
Arrival in the New World
After arriving in America, the Mayflower remained anchored off Cape Cod for over a month. Some of her passengers scouted for potential settlement sites in a small ship’s boat while the majority waited aboard.
On December 16th, members of her crew built the Mayflower Compact, an agreement to establish a government. Two days later the Plymouth Colony site was selected.
In late December 1620, the Mayflower’s passengers finally rowed ashore to begin construction of their new home. But tragedy would strike the fledgling colony that brutal winter, as many colonists perished.
The Mayflower departed back for England in April 1621 after unloading her historic passengers. Though her fate is unknown, the Mayflower had accomplished her mission.
Legacy of the Mayflower
Thanks to the Mayflower, a portion of the Pilgrims seeking religious freedom managed to reach America after a long quest. Over 50 died that first winter, but the colony took hold.
As one of the earliest ships known to have delivered colonists to New England, the Mayflower became a prominent symbol of early American perseverance. She marked the beginning of the “Great Migration” of families leaving England for America in the 1620s-1640s.
Later celebrating “Forefathers Day” in remembrance of the Mayflower’s arrival, the Plymouth Colony survivors and their children held the ship’s memory dear as a representation of all they endured.
The Mayflower’s 1620 crossing came to represent the symbolic launch point of a new civilization – one built by immigrants seeking liberty. Her legend has lived on for over four centuries.
FAQs About the Mayflower
When did the Mayflower first sail across the Atlantic?
The Mayflower began her transatlantic voyage from England to America on September 6th, 1620, ultimately arriving at Cape Cod in November 1620.
Why were the Pilgrims on the Mayflower?
The Pilgrims chartered the Mayflower to escape religious persecution in England and seek religious freedom by establishing their own colony in the New World.
How long did the Mayflower’s voyage take?
The Mayflower’s voyage from England to Cape Cod took 66 days from their departure in Plymouth on September 6th until anchoring on November 9th, 1620.
How many Pilgrims were aboard the Mayflower?
The Mayflower carried about 100 Pilgrim passengers who founded the Plymouth Colony, out of around 130 total passengers and crew.
Is the Mayflower still around today?
No known remnants of the original Mayflower exist today. Her fate after returning to England in 1621 remains a mystery. Replicas have been built to honor her historic voyage.
The Mayflower’s first legendary crossing in 1620 led to the first Pilgrim settlement that profoundly shaped early American history. As the ship that brought colonists to New England, she occupies a central place in the story of America’s European beginnings.