Thursday, November 22, 2012

Nautical History: The Mayflower

The Mayflower was the ship that transported English and Dutch Separatists and other adventurers to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620.

From 1609 through 1620, the Mayflower was used almost exclusively as a cargo ship carrying English goods (primarily cloth, fox and rabbit furs, and iron and pewter goods) to France and Spain, almost always returning home fully laden with French wines, and occasionally some vinegar and salt. Like many ships of the time, the Mayflower was most likely a carrack with three masts, square-rigged on the foremast and mainmast but lateen-rigged on the mizzenmast. The ship's dimensions are unknown but estimates based on its load, weight, and the typical size of 180-ton merchant ships of its day, suggest a length of 90–110 feet (27.4–33.5 m) and a width of about 25 feet (7.6 m). In July 1620, the ship was hired, along with the ship Speedwell, and the two embarked on their first voyage attempt on August 5. The Speedwell was leaking too much, so the two ships put in to Dartmouth for repairs. The second voyage attempt was made August 22. The two ships made it 300 miles out into the Atlantic before the master of the Speedwell, William Reynolds, decided the ship was too leaky to continue. Both ships turned back, and put in to Plymouth, England. There, the decision was made to leave the Speedwell behind and only take the Mayflower. About 20 people, decided to quit the voyage and go home. The remaining 102 passengers and goods were packed onto the Mayflower, and embarked from Plymouth, England to America on September 6: this time for good.

Mayflower Compact
As the passengers aboard the Mayflower journeyed across the Atlantic, tensions arose among the three factions: the Separatists seeking religious freedom, the merchant-adventurers seeking their fortune, and the crew seeking their livelihood. It became apparent that if these passengers were to survive in an alien land, they needed to consent voluntarily to a cooperative form of government. Thus it was that the Mayflower Compact came into being and was signed by the adult male passengers in November, 1620.

  "In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, e&. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini, 1620."

There followed the signatures of the 41 male passengers. This compact established the first basis in the new world for written laws.

After a three month voyage through a stormy North Atlantic, the Mayflower's crew sighted Cape Cod on November 9; they attempted to sail south to an area around the mouth of the Hudson's River, near modern-day Long Island, New York. They nearly shipwrecked at some shoals to the south of the Cape nicknamed Tucker's Terror; narrowly escaping, the decision was made not to try that again--they would go back and explore Cape Cod. They anchored off Provincetown Harbor on November 11, and over the next month they put out several expeditions to survey Cape Cod and the vicinity. By mid-December, running out of both patience and provisions (including beer, the primary beverage since water was usually contaminated with parasites), the Pilgrims decided upon the area we now know as Plymouth Colony. They continued to live out of the Mayflower for several more months, making trips to land to build storehouses and houses.

Constructing homes and storehouses proved to be very slow going: many were sick and could not labor hard; bad weather frequently prevented much work from being done; and the few structures they did build occasionally succumbed to fire. By April, the weather started turning for the better, the people's health began to recover, so on April 5, 1621, the Mayflower set sail home for England, arriving back on May 6, bringing letters and news of the successful establishment of Plymouth: but with a devastating 50% loss of lives, and with no profit (lumber, furs, fish) sent home as cargo. After returning home, the Mayflower was again employed in a trip to France, bringing home to London a cargo of salt. Shortly thereafter, her master and quarter-owner, Christopher Jones, fell sick. He would die in March 1623. By 1624, the Mayflower, which apparently had not been used since October 1621, was sitting in ruins in the river Thames. She was appraised for a pathetically low $300, including the suit of worn sails and an old pitch pot and kettle. Undoubtedly the ship was sold off as scrap lumber.

Thanksgiving revisited
Following is a contemporary account of the 1621 Thanksgiving written by  Edward Winslow in a letter dated December 12, 1621.  

Our corn [i.e. wheat] did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown.  They came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom.  Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors.  They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week.  At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others.  And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

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