Mayflower Voyage: History & Facts

Instructor: Amy Lively

Amy has an M.A. in American History. She has taught history at all levels, from university to middle school.

This lesson discusses the voyage of the 'Mayflower.' Learn more about the ship and the journey its passengers took to the New World, then test your knowledge with a quiz.

The Passengers

Not everyone on the Mayflower was heading to the New World for the same reason. Some were craftsmen or skilled workers. Others were indentured servants. A few were orphans. About 40 people were separatists who had been living in Holland because the Dutch were more lenient about religious practices. In England in the 17th century, the only religious option was the Church of England. For the separatists who wanted freedom to worship however they saw fit, they had little choice but to leave the country. However, even though the Dutch were tolerant about different religions, Holland was still not home. The separatists felt like they were losing touch with their English heritage, so they made arrangements with a British joint-stock corporation called the Virginia Company to start a new British colony in America.

The Mayflower II, a replica of The Mayflower

The Ship

The Mayflower was not built to carry passengers, but at over 100 feet long, the Mayflower was considered a big ship. Six sails on 55 lines caught the wind to power it over the sea. Like most ships at that time, the Mayflower was a merchant ship. The only people who were ever on board were Captain Christopher Jones and his crew of about 30 men. The Mayflower had been hauling wine before it headed for the New World and, unfortunately for the passengers, it smelled like it. Two ships were originally hired for the voyage but when the Speedwell was not fit to sail, the Mayflower had to transport all 102 passengers, as well as crates full of their belongings. The passengers made the trip on the Mayflower's cramped tween deck, which was the storage area between the main deck and the cargo hold.

The Destination

There was some discussion about starting a new colony in South America, but it was decided that the climate was too hot. The Dutch offered to let the colonists settle in New Amsterdam, which is modern-day New York, but that offer was declined. Virginia seemed like the best option because of the climate and the fact it was British territory. However, the separatists did not quite trust that they would have the religious freedom that was promised, and they compromised, deciding to go as far north as they could while still remaining in Virginia. In 1620, Virginia was a sprawling piece of land. Today, that area consists of almost the entire eastern seaboard of the United States. The area near the mouth of the Hudson River was selected as the final destination.

The Voyage

The Mayflower departed Southampton, England on September 6, 1620. The seas were rough and with so many people crowded on the tween deck, there was no privacy. Most of the time, the colonists were either seasick or bored. The only time that they got a breath of fresh air was when they went to the ship's main deck and emptied their chamber pots. If they stayed up there too long, they risked being thrown overboard by the waves. The ship was battered by storms and many in the crew wanted to turn back when the main beam cracked. However, the colonists were determined to continue on and a few of them helped Captain Jones repair the beam with a large iron screw that was found on board.

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