The first English colony in America was founded on May 24, 1607, on a peninsula at the James River in what is now the State of Virginia. The leader of the colony was Captain John Smith who went on to explore and map the north Atlantic coast. "Had I means to transport a colony", he wrote, "I would rather live here than anywhere". The Plymouth Company for whom he had mapped the coast and about which he had written so stirringly, conferred upon him the title of Admiral of New England.
He offered his services to a group of Pilgrims who were about to start out for the New World in 1620, claiming he was the person best informed about the northern territory. But the Pilgrims had already engaged Captain Miles Standish as their leader, and they did not intend to go to New England anyway. They hoped to "find some place about the Hudson river for their habitation."
On August 15, 1620, the Pilgrim colony set sail from Southampton. They were embarked on two ships, the Mayflower
and the Speedwell
. A leak in the Speedwell's
hull developed some three hundred miles out, causing her to put back to England where she was abandoned. The Mayflower
, captained by Christopher Jones, sailed on alone with some 102 souls aboard.
was about 95 feet in length and displaced 180 tons. She was modeled after a type of Dutch trading ship of the period known as a "fluyt",
although built up slightly higher at her stern. She had a straight stem, angled at about 45 degrees, and a long straight keel that gripped the water well when the ship was under sail. She had a three-masted rig of courses and top-sails, with an upper and lower spiritsail set on the bowsprit. She was easy to handle at sea and needed a much smaller crew than ships of similar size. She was like a small warship, mounting ten guns on a single gun deck as a defense against pirates.
Although sturdily constructed of heavy timbers she was slow and ill-suited for carrying so many people, crowded together and uncomfortable, on a such a long and perilous ocean voyage. She sailed on for sixty-seven days across 3000 miles of stormy Atlantic ocean at an average speed of two knots. Because of the primitive navigation techniques available at the time, Jones made landfall at the sandy coast of Cape Cod, a long way from his intended destination. Nonetheless, the settlers decided to stay.
After exploring the coast for many weeks, the Pilgrims chose Plymouth for their settlement, arriving in December. All winter they lived aboard the Mayflower
, going back and forth to build cabins and to hunt for food. When spring of that first terrible winter finally arrived, the Mayflower
sailed back to England, but not a single member of the colony went with her. The permanent European colonization of America had taken root.Mayflower Links:
The Mayflower Webpages.