September 16, 2009
Voyage of the MayflowerBy John Hunt
While the story of the Pilgrims is retold often so that it is mostly taken for granted, it behooves us to appreciate the tremendous risks of their solo voyage, and the resulting great rewards Americans enjoy to this day.
The Pilgrims set sail for the New World on September 16, 1620, Gregorian calendar (or September 6 Julian calendar -- England adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752) that we now know is during hurricane season.
The Mayflower was a modest ship, not designed to carry passengers. Exact dimensions are not known, but similar cargo ships of her day displaced about 180 tons and measured 90 feet to 110 feet long and about 25 feet wide. Obviously the 102 passengers were quite cramped. The waist area of the top deck was open, covered with just a canvas tent. The crew had cabins at the bow and stern. The Pilgrims slept on top of their belongings in the cargo hold. She was called a "sweet" ship -- as she was a former wine ship and had the aroma of spilled wine. The alternative was that most ships of that day smelled of garbage and the livestock they carried.
The top-heavy ship pitched in the cold Atlantic storms. Streams of cold saltwater poured through the leaky superstructures at unexpected times. Hot food was rare. For 66 days the meals were mostly cold hard biscuits, salted beef, and beer.
It was dangerous to go topside to stretch your legs. A young man named John Howland was blown overboard when the Mayflower rolled. He caught ahold of a topsail rope that was loose overboard and was dragged underwater for aways. The others finally pulled him aboard with a boat hook. He lived and became a respected member of the new settlement.
During another storm, a mid-ships main beam bowed and cracked. The crew of about twenty had enough and wanted to turn back to England. Another fifty people, the "Strangers" (farmers and craftsmen hired by the "London Merchant Adventurers" partnership that sponsored the endeavor) grumbled, but they were poor, working-class people with little reason to return to England. The fifty Pilgrims, as you might expect, prayed to find a way to go on.
Why were the Pilgrims so determined? Today's churchgoer who seeks entertainment and comfort has no concept of the persecutions the Pilgrims endured in England. Yet those persecutions became the proverbial blessing in disguise. The years of persecution in England, and scratching out a living in Holland had welded the Pilgrims into a very determined band of people.
Captain Christopher Jones used his twelve years of experience, and the Pilgrims used a large iron screw (such as found in an old style winepress) to push the main beam back into place.
William Bradford wrote that they then, "Committed themselves to the will of God and resolved to proceed." He also wrote, " . . . the storms were so fierce and the seas so high, as they could not bear a knot of sail, but were forced to hull for diverse days . . ." In other words, they were blown across the Atlantic Ocean not under their own course. They were in the hands of the very One in whose providence they believed.
They endured seasickness and scurvy, hunger, cold, wet. A teenager named William Butler (possibly Butten) died and was buried at sea. A baby was born during the voyage, aptly named Oceanus Hopkins. Another baby was born November 20 while the ship was in harbor, named Peregrine White.
While avoiding another storm on November 20, the ship crept into what is now Provincetown Harbor. Lost, exhausted, undernourished and in near panic, several parties discussed mutinies.
Before landing, the Pilgrim passengers demanded that a covenant be written and agreed to in order to insure the survival of the colony. Thus, The Mayflower Compact was established. After everyone agreed to those guidelines, they finally set foot on land. Their perilous solo voyage complete, the Pilgrims went to work to survive their first harsh New England winter.
Of Plymouth Plantation, the history written by William Bradford, the long time Governor of the colony.
See and download a copy from this site: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/24950
The Faith Of The Pilgrims (1978; Robert M. Bartlett)
The Pilgrims And Plymouth Colony (1961; George Willison)
John Hunt is his children's dad. His public service is finding and producing crude oil and natural gas from privately owned lands in the USA.