A critical delay, cramped quarters, stormy seas, and an arrival 500 miles off course—such were the twists and turns that defined the Mayflower ship’s voyage to America in 1620.
Despite its less-than-perfect journey, the Mayflower is historically significant in part because of the voyage’s unexpected setbacks. The passengers’ response and resiliency to each obstacle left an indelible mark on American history.
Virtually explore the interior of the Mayflower and learn more about the fateful voyage.
Explore the Mayflower
The Mayflower was built shortly before its purchase in 1608. Experts estimate that the length of the deck was between 80 and 90 feet and that the ship was 24 feet at its widest point.
Click the arrows to explore the inside of the Mayflower, and learn more about life on the merchant ship!
It’s hard to imagine the pilgrims aboard any other ship but the Mayflower. However, the pilgrims and other Mayflower passengers originally planned to sail to America on the Speedwell. The plan was for the Mayflower—a merchant ship—to accompany the Speedwell and carrying cargo, crew, and passengers who had been recruited in England but who were not part of the Separatist congregation.
The two ships departed on August 5, 1620, but almost immediately the Speedwell began to leak. Both ships rerouted to Dartmouth, where the Speedwell was repaired. On its second attempt, the Speedwell made it 300 miles out to sea before taking on water. Both ships returned to Plymouth, England, where the Speedwell was deemed unseaworthy.
Boarding the Mayflower
By the time both ships arrived back in England, the passengers had spent nearly a month and half aboard the ships. Understandably, a few frustrated travelers abandoned the trip altogether.
However, 102 of the passengers—including three pregnant women—chose to continue. The passengers packed themselves into the Mayflower and once again set sail for North America. The group on the Mayflower included both Separatist members as well as many of those who had been recruited in England.
A Fateful Delay and Stormy Conditions
The Mayflower ship left England in September 1620, nearly a month after its original departure date. The delay meant that the Mayflower, with its 102 passengers and 30 crewmen, would cross the Atlantic at the height of the storm season.
Although the first month of the voyage saw clear skies and fair weather, October brought storms and rough seas. At times, the winds were so strong that the crew was forced to pull down the sails and let the ship drift.
Below deck, passengers became seasick and had to steady themselves from crashing into the walls as the boat rocked. During one particularly eventful storm, passenger John Howland fell overboard, only to catch hold of a trailing rope just in time to be rescued by the crew.
Though the passengers were often cramped, soaking, and sick during these bouts of bad weather, they kept up their morale by singing, praying, and playing games—even in the dim light below deck.
Despite rough seas and cramped conditions, only one passenger, William Butten, died at sea before reaching America. Two babies were born aboard the Mayflower—one before landing at Cape Cod and the other while docked at Cape Cod.
Arrival at Cape Cod
In total, the Mayflower took 66 days to reach North America (not counting the earlier travel time with the Speedwell). The ship landed in November at Cape Cod, more than 500 miles from its intended destination.
The Mayflower attempted to continue south, where the passengers had legally obtained permission to settle. However, the rough seas and shoals forced the Mayflower to stay at Cape Cod.
Tension and the Mayflower Compact
Tension arose between the passengers, especially between the Separatists and the other passengers. Because the ship had landed outside the bounds of English law, some passengers threatened to strike out on their own, voiding the contracts that paid for their passage.
The potential mutiny and lawlessness concerned many of the passengers. To quell rebellion and create unity, the Mayflower Compact was created to establish a form of self-governance and maintain order in the colony. Learn more about theMayflower Compact.
Taking Shelter in the Mayflower
The passengers continued to live on the Mayflower as they explored Cape Cod. Many resided in the ship for as long as four months while they built homes and waited out the winter.
In April, the Mayflower set sail for England. All the surviving original passengers chose to stay in the new colony.
Where Is the Mayflower Now?
Despite its historical significance, we don’t know exactly what happened to the Mayflower, although a 1624 probate record gives some clues. The record labels the Mayflower as being “in ruins,” which likely means that the ship was scrapped for its timber.
A replica of the Mayflower, dubbed Mayflower II, was built in 1955. In 1957, Mayflower II replicated the journey of the original Mayflower. In commemoration of the 400-year anniversary of the departure and arrival of the Mayflower, the Mayflower II will yet again journey across the Atlantic.
Were Your Ancestors on the Mayflower?
Some estimate that as many as 35 million people worldwide descend from the Mayflower passengers (including a few famous Mayflower descendants). Search this extensive FamilySearch genealogical collection of descendants to find out!
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