The history of the Mayflower can start back as far as you choose to go but for clarity I will take you back to the year 1536 and the reign of King Henry VIII with the dissolution of the monasteries. England had broken away from the Church of Rome and had created the Church of England and great peril faced anyone who chose to disagree with the King.
Following the King’s death the throne eventually fell to Bloody Queen Mary. She reversed everything and those persecuted for following the Church of Rome were once again free to do so, and those who continued to worship in the Church of England faced death.
Mary’s bloody reign was followed by Queen Elizabeth I who maintained the strict condemnation of any other religious beliefs other than the Church of Rome. During Queen Elizabeth’s reign many sea voyages were undertaken and Sir Walter Raleigh made numerous trips to Virginia in America, an area named after the virgin Queen Elizabeth. Whole townships were built and English trading companies established. Following Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America in 1492, the Italians had many interests in the country as did several other countries including Spain.
In 1603 with the death of Queen Elizabeth everything was to change yet again. James I of England and VI of Scotland came to the throne. James introduced a law making it a criminal offence not to worship in a Church of England and outlawed the Church of Rome. The religious dictatorship and persecution at the whim of a monarch was once again causing unrest and acts of rebellion. One such Catholic rebel was Guy Fawkes, who totally lost the plot on Saturday 5th November 1605. When James introduced the authorised version of the bible into church services it was a step too far as many people regarded the new bible as a polluted version of the truth. They vowed to follow what they regarded as the pure bible and became known as the Puritans.
Small groups of Puritans gathered and from the Nottinghamshire village of Scrooby and Boston in Lincolnshire they gained in strength. The group called themselves Saints. In an attempt to escape religious restrictions they moved as a group to Leiden in the Netherlands, but found further unwanted interference with their beliefs and way of life and so returned to England. James was growing tired of the unrest the Saints were causing and agreed to allow them to leave the country and settle in the long established English colony of Virginia America.
Sailing out of Southampton
The Saints raised the funds for their journey and chartered two ships for the crossing, the Speedwell and the Mayflower. On 15th August 1620 both ships set sail for Virginia sailing out of Southampton with the intention of Virginia being their next and final destination. However problems developed with the Speedwell and both vessels were forced to return to a convenient port. Unexpectedly they docked in Plymouth Devon for repairs.
They had no connection with Plymouth and left as soon as possible as an outbreak of cholera was sweeping through the city. With hastily patched up repairs to the Speedwell, and not wishing to risk taking on fresh water for fear of contamination, they set sail once again. It is in fact a matter of debate whether or not any of the Saints actually left the safety of their ships to risk being infected by cholera. To this day there are steps at Plymouth known as Mayflower Steps, but it is a certainty that no one connected to the Mayflower ever trod these steps, as their very existence was not to come about for a few hundred years after the Mayflower had left.
An unexpected stop at Newlyn
With the unscheduled stopover at Plymouth behind them the two ships once again headed for open waters, but had got no further than the Isles of Scilly when the hasty repairs to the Speedwell proved not to be satisfactory. It was once again taking on water. Less than forty miles behind them lay the safe haven of Newlyn.
Because of the approaching winter conditions it was decided not to delay the journey any longer, and so at some point some of the passengers from the Speedwell boarded the Mayflower. It was then decided that the Speedwell should abandon the planned crossing and returned to Devon for further repairs. The Mayflower then called in to the port of Newlyn for clean and safe fresh water and last minute supplies.
The Mayflower was now ready to set sail for Virginia and now carried 102 passengers made up of what they themselves called Saints and Strangers. Their intention being to follow in the footsteps of a well navigated passage that had been sailed for 128 years by thousands of ships before them. However all was not plain sailing, and during the journey that was to last sixty six days, two of the passengers died whilst others took sick. There was one birth, a boy named Oceanus Hopkins.
Arrival in the New World
The Mayflower sighted land on the 9th November 1620 but unfortunately their navigation skills had failed to take them to their intended destination. They were in an area known today as Cape Cod America. It took them eighteen days before they felt ready for a party to leave the safety of the Mayflower. On the 27th November an exploratory group walked for their first time on American soil naming it in honour of the whole of Cornwall, in grateful thanks for the help the people of Newlyn gave them in sending them safely on their way from England to America. They named the place Cornwall Truro and today, owing to a mixture of mispronunciation, bad spelling and illegible handwriting, the town is now known as Corn Hill Truro. Truro being the cathedral city of the county of Cornwall in England.
It quickly became apparent that Cornwall Truro was not the safest of places for them following a fall out with local Indians. It was decided to sail across the bay to a more welcoming place to disembark and came across the place known today as Plymouth. It is extremely dubious that the claims, that a lump of granite now known as Plymouth rock, is the actual place of disembarkment from the Mayflower as there is no mention of it at all at the time. It was not until 1741, 121 years after the arrival of the Mayflower that it is mentioned.
A common misunderstanding is that the Plymouth brethren boarded the Mayflower in Plymouth England. This is simply not the case. The Plymouth Brethren is an Irish movement based in Dublin and was not established until the 1820’s.
The Mayflower Compact & The Founding Fathers
Yet another frequent misconception is the belief that the Mayflower Saints were the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. The facts are that a document, known as the Mayflower Compact believed to be the first governing document to establish civil order was drawn up, signed and witnessed aboard the Mayflower whilst it weigh anchor just off what is now North Truro. The terms set out in the document were then first implemented in what became the Plymouth Colony. The original document was lost and a replacement was drawn up. However nobody can be sure just how accurate the replacement document was. It was not until the 1770’s, some 150 years later, that the Founding Fathers drew up a document that superseded the Mayflower Compact.
The work of Bill Best Harris
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the English Plymouth librarian, Mr. Bill Best Harris, for his painstaking research showing the part that Newlyn played in being the very last port of call for the Mayflower.
The Mayflower was given consent by James I to land in Virginia and although they did not manage to successfully navigate that passage, to mark the intention there is an area of West Virginia named Newlyn in honour of the departure point of the Mayflower from England. It is also worth noting that located approximately 100 miles from the present Corn Hill Truro is the city of Boston Massachusetts named in honour of the Saints from Boston Lincolnshire.
Images courtesy of Elizabeth Dale