After traveling on the Mayflower for 66 days, the Pilgrims arrived at Cape Cod on November 11, 1620—400 years ago today. A replica of the Mayflower (Mayflower II, a “living history” museum) was gifted to America by England in 1957, and recently went through renovations to be seaworthy, with hopes of it being part of the America 400 Celebration. As with many things this year, most of the celebrations did not and will not take place.
The 102 passengers aboard the Mayflower hoped to start new lives in America. Not all of them were Separatists from the Church of England. Less than half didn’t come for religious purposes but hoped for land. There was also a full crew of sailors, some of whom had been to America and back on previous passages.
They encountered many fierce storms and a cracked main deck beam. During one bad storm, my husband’s ancestor, John Howland, was tossed overboard. Miraculously he was able to grab a topsail halyard (long rope) which happened to have broken loose and shouldn’t have been near him in the water. Sailors were able to pull him aboard by the halyard. Howland felt it a miracle.
A small merchant vessel, the Mayflower was 100 feet long with three masts and six sails. The passengers spent most of their time belowdecks where it was cramped, many fell sick, it smelled foul, and animals were kept in pens. One child was born during the crossing.
The Mayflower was supposed to land near the Hudson River, 200 miles south of Cape Cod, but storms and treacherously shallow waters kept it from doing so. I can only imagine how relieved they were to finally site land and drop anchor. In William Bradford’s words: “…they fell on their knees, and blessed the God of Heaven, who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof.”
A month later, on December 11, the Pilgrims landed a shallop at the place they would call Plymouth. By the following spring, half of the colonists and sailors had perished. In October 1621, 53 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans celebrated their abundant harvest by feasting for three days, now known as the First Thanksgiving.
To discover more about the Mayflower II three year restoration, go to MayflowerSails2020.