The trip across the Atlantic Ocean took 66 days.
The trip across the Atlantic Ocean took 66 days.

The Mayflower Voyage | 400 Years Later

Look back on an ocean crossing that changed the world.

The world changed on September 16, 1620. On that date, 102 passengers set sail from Plymouth, England. These “Pilgrims” crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a small ship called the Mayflower. They were in search of a new life in the New World. Now 400 years later, their voyage still stands as an important — and complicated — moment in history.

Before the Trip
The Mayflower left England in 1620. But the story began well before that. In the 1500s, King Henry VIII helped to create the Church of England. By law, all people in the country had to follow its rules. Those who refused were punished. Some people began to worship their own religion in secret — but it was dangerous.

One religious group, called the Puritans, tried to change the Church of England. Another group — the Separatists — wanted to leave the church altogether. In 1608, the Separatists left England to find the freedom to practice their Protestant religion. They moved to another country in Europe, called the Netherlands. Yet life there did not feel like home. So the Separatists began to plan another trip.

The Separatists wanted to create their own colony. And they hoped to worship in their own church far from England. This time, they plotted a trip across the ocean to the Americas — in the “New World.”

A Failed First Try
The Separatists hired two ships for the journey. First, the Speedwell sailed from the Netherlands to England. There it joined a larger ship, called the Mayflower. Workers began loading food and supplies on each vessel.

On August 15, 1620, both ships set sail for America. However, the Speedwell began to leak. The ships had to return to England a week later. Workers tried to repair the leak, and the ships took off again at the end of August. Once more, the Speedwell had problems. After sailing about 300 miles (500 km), the ships returned a second time.

The Mayflower would have to sail to America alone. Workers moved the cargo from the Speedwell to the second ship. A crew of about 30 joined the passengers on a single ship. At last, the journey was on its way. Almost 40 of the Separatists were passengers on the Mayflower. They called themselves “saints.” Today people call all of the travelers aboard the Mayflower “Pilgrims.”

66 Days at Sea
The Mayflower was not a passenger ship. It was designed to carry cargo, such as dry goods. Plus, it wasn’t very large. Historians think it was only about 90 feet (27 m) long. And the Mayflower carried some of the people who were supposed to be on the Speedwell. As a result, it was packed.

“You had no privacy,” said historian Francis Bremer. “You had no facilities,” he told News-O-Matic. “To go to the bathroom, you used a bucket.” Many people got sick aboard the ship. “If you were seasick, you tried to hit the bucket when you threw up.”

The trip across the Atlantic Ocean was more than 3,000 miles (5,000 km). For the first month, the voyage was mostly calm. But strong storms slammed the ship in late October. The crew had to drift for days without using their sails. Many people got ill. One person, named William Butten, died along the way.

Arrival in America
The Pilgrims planned to arrive farther south, in an area that is now New York. But the storms had affected their route. They spotted Cape Cod, in what is now Massachusetts, on November 19. Two days later, they landed in an area called Provincetown. Then the day after Christmas, the ship carried the settlers to Plymouth.

Some stories say the travelers first stepped foot on a boulder called Plymouth Rock. There’s no proof of that, however. What is true is that the Pilgrims were not well prepared. They had used up most of the food along the way. And that was a problem.

“They landed in Plymouth Bay, Massachusetts, in a really harsh winter,” said historian Joy Porter. “They really didn’t know how they were going to survive,” she told News-O-Matic. “But they believed that God would find a way.”

Only about 50 of the 102 passengers lived through that first winter in the Americas. Those included many of the youngest travelers. “Kids may have survived better than the adults during that winter,” explained Porter. “The kids were really important to the future of the colony!”

Lessons for 2020
The Mayflower journey may seem like ancient history to you. After all, a lot has changed in 400 years. But there are lessons to learn from that moment in time.

Porter said there is a valuable lesson. “The settlers felt that the environment was something to be controlled and used as a resource,” she explained. Porter calls that “problematic.” And she hopes we can work toward a “more balanced idea about how much we can take — and how much we have to give back — to the environment.”

Bremer explained that the Pilgrims had to work together to survive. “The importance of community and helping one another is a legacy that really passes down to the present,” he explained. Bremer called that “a really important lesson” to learn today.

Updated September 15, 2020, 5:02 P.M. (ET)
By Russell Kahn (Russ)

The Mayflower Voyage | 400 Years Later

Look back on an ocean crossing that changed the world.

The trip across the Atlantic Ocean took 66 days.
The trip across the Atlantic Ocean took 66 days.

The world changed on September 16, 1620. On that date, 102 passengers set sail from Plymouth, England. These “Pilgrims” crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a small ship called the Mayflower. They were in search of a new life in the New World. Now 400 years later, their voyage still stands as an important — and complicated — moment in history.

Before the Trip
The Mayflower left England in 1620. But the story began well before that. In the 1500s, King Henry VIII helped to create the Church of England. By law, all people in the country had to follow its rules. Those who refused were punished. Some people began to worship their own religion in secret — but it was dangerous.

One religious group, called the Puritans, tried to change the Church of England. Another group — the Separatists — wanted to leave the church altogether. In 1608, the Separatists left England to find the freedom to practice their Protestant religion. They moved to another country in Europe, called the Netherlands. Yet life there did not feel like home. So the Separatists began to plan another trip.

The Separatists wanted to create their own colony. And they hoped to worship in their own church far from England. This time, they plotted a trip across the ocean to the Americas — in the “New World.”

A Failed First Try
The Separatists hired two ships for the journey. First, the Speedwell sailed from the Netherlands to England. There it joined a larger ship, called the Mayflower. Workers began loading food and supplies on each vessel.

On August 15, 1620, both ships set sail for America. However, the Speedwell began to leak. The ships had to return to England a week later. Workers tried to repair the leak, and the ships took off again at the end of August. Once more, the Speedwell had problems. After sailing about 300 miles (500 km), the ships returned a second time.

The Mayflower would have to sail to America alone. Workers moved the cargo from the Speedwell to the second ship. A crew of about 30 joined the passengers on a single ship. At last, the journey was on its way. Almost 40 of the Separatists were passengers on the Mayflower. They called themselves “saints.” Today people call all of the travelers aboard the Mayflower “Pilgrims.”

66 Days at Sea
The Mayflower was not a passenger ship. It was designed to carry cargo, such as dry goods. Plus, it wasn’t very large. Historians think it was only about 90 feet (27 m) long. And the Mayflower carried some of the people who were supposed to be on the Speedwell. As a result, it was packed.

“You had no privacy,” said historian Francis Bremer. “You had no facilities,” he told News-O-Matic. “To go to the bathroom, you used a bucket.” Many people got sick aboard the ship. “If you were seasick, you tried to hit the bucket when you threw up.”

The trip across the Atlantic Ocean was more than 3,000 miles (5,000 km). For the first month, the voyage was mostly calm. But strong storms slammed the ship in late October. The crew had to drift for days without using their sails. Many people got ill. One person, named William Butten, died along the way.

Arrival in America
The Pilgrims planned to arrive farther south, in an area that is now New York. But the storms had affected their route. They spotted Cape Cod, in what is now Massachusetts, on November 19. Two days later, they landed in an area called Provincetown. Then the day after Christmas, the ship carried the settlers to Plymouth.

Some stories say the travelers first stepped foot on a boulder called Plymouth Rock. There’s no proof of that, however. What is true is that the Pilgrims were not well prepared. They had used up most of the food along the way. And that was a problem.

“They landed in Plymouth Bay, Massachusetts, in a really harsh winter,” said historian Joy Porter. “They really didn’t know how they were going to survive,” she told News-O-Matic. “But they believed that God would find a way.”

Only about 50 of the 102 passengers lived through that first winter in the Americas. Those included many of the youngest travelers. “Kids may have survived better than the adults during that winter,” explained Porter. “The kids were really important to the future of the colony!”

Lessons for 2020
The Mayflower journey may seem like ancient history to you. After all, a lot has changed in 400 years. But there are lessons to learn from that moment in time.

Porter said there is a valuable lesson. “The settlers felt that the environment was something to be controlled and used as a resource,” she explained. Porter calls that “problematic.” And she hopes we can work toward a “more balanced idea about how much we can take — and how much we have to give back — to the environment.”

Bremer explained that the Pilgrims had to work together to survive. “The importance of community and helping one another is a legacy that really passes down to the present,” he explained. Bremer called that “a really important lesson” to learn today.

Updated September 15, 2020, 5:02 P.M. (ET)
By Russell Kahn (Russ)

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