This Day in History… September 16, 1620

U.S. #548 – The Mayflower

The Mayflower Departs England for America

On September 16, 1620, the Mayflower left England to establish a colony in America.

The Pilgrims chartering the Mayflower were devout Christians who felt that only by breaking all ties with the Church of England could they retain their integrity before God. They sailed to Holland first, but after no improvement they set sail for America.

The Mayflower first began its trip from London that July with about 65 passengers aboard, including hired hands, servants, and farmers. The 100-foot ship met up with the Speedwell, which had come from Holland with Pilgrims fleeing religious persecution. It soon became apparent the Speedwell was not seaworthy, and the ships had to turn back twice for repairs.

U.S. #550 – The Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact aboard the ship on November 11, 1620.

After a delay of more than a month, the Mayflower finally set sail alone on September 16. There were now 102 passengers, including some from the Speedwell, and a crew of about 50. Stormy seas slowed the voyage and the ship and its occupants didn’t reach the waters of Massachusetts until November. Aboard their ship, 41 of the men signed the Mayflower Compact – an agreement to abide by the rules of the majority “for the good of the colony.”

U.S. #549 – After signing the Mayflower Compact the Pilgrims briefly went ashore at Cape Cod.

The crew tried to sail down the coast to the Virginia Colony their original destination, but the winter seas wouldn’t allow it. The passengers remained aboard the Mayflower, anchored in Cape Cod harbor, throughout the winter. There had been no time to build shelters before the cold weather set in. Conditions were crowded – the cabins were small and ceilings were about five feet high. Lack of fresh food resulted in poor diets, and many people aboard died of disease that first winter.

U.S. #1420 – In December, the Pilgrims sailed across Cape Cod Bay to Plymouth.

When spring came, surviving passengers and crew went ashore and built houses and fortifications. In April 1621, Christopher Jones, captain of the Mayflower and his remaining crew returned to England, traveling over milder seas than on the first voyage.

The final fate of the famous ship is unknown, but some historians claim the beams were used to construct a barn known as the “Mayflower Barn,” located in England. Today, tourists come from around the world to visit the location.

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