Why Did the Mayflower Set Sail and What Happened to its Crew? | History Hit

Why Did the Mayflower Set Sail and What Happened to its Crew?

History Hit

16 Sep 2017
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Perhaps the most iconic moment in US history is when the Mayflower left England to cross the Atlantic on 16 September 1620, bearing 102 passengers who would become the founders of the Plymouth colony and the first Europeans ever to settle in what is now Massachusetts.

Though this was not the first successful English colony to be founded in America (Jamestown had been around since 1607) the hardships that the settlers faced,  combined with the uniquely well-documented nature of the voyage and subsequent survival, ensures that it remains the most famous of all early expeditions to America.

Religious roots

The driving force behind the Mayflower’s voyage was the rise of Puritanism. A hard-Protestant Calvinist ideology that had began to win converts at the end of the 16th century, the new sect believed the Church of England to be too weak and too Catholic for their liking, and were open in their separatism.

This inevitably brought them into conflict with the crown, the force behind the English Church, and in 1607 the most prominent Puritans were forced to flee to Holland, which had recently thrown off the rule of Catholic Spain and was famous for its tolerance.

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In the Dutch city of Leiden William Bradford,  an eighteen year-old Puritan from Yorkshire, began to record the struggles of his fellows in this new country, and how they increasingly began to fear that they would lose their identity if they stayed any longer.

Salvation in the New World

After ten years, Leiden’s Puritan congregation met for a crisis meeting, and acknowledged that with their children growing up more and more Dutch and learning the customs and manners of the new country over the old, they faced extinction with the rise of the next generation.

Other issues also presented themselves, as many of the Protestant Puritans, who were literally preaching to the converted in Holland, wished to spread the word of God to far-off places, whilst preserving their English culture and customs. Only one alternative really presented itself.

Since the success of the Jamestown colony in America, that dangerous and unknown land was now, despite the risks, a place where a new future might be made.

On 14 April 1950 a new British Comic landed in newsagents across Britain that contained in full colour, illustrations of Space Ships of Alien life forms and took readers to other worlds, all beautifully illustrated by the artist Frank Hampson. It was called Eagle.

War roots

Hampson's creation of Colonel Dan Dare gripped imaginations and turned thousands of children into becoming future Spaceman, later known as Astronauts.  Dan Dare was based upon those great RAF Pilots of World War Two and was shown as being heroic in every sense of the word. [caption id="attachment_33169" align="alignnone" width="650"] RAF 303 squadron pilots. L-R: F/O Ferić, F/Lt Lt Kent, F/O Grzeszczak, P/O Radomski, P/O Zumbach, P/O Łokuciewski, F/O Henneberg, Sgt Rogowski, Sgt Szaposznikow, in 1940.[/caption] Each week, there was another thrilling episode to take readers into the unknown, land of the Moon and even more distant planets like Mars and Venus. Dan Dare was called the Pilot of the Future. His crew were the equivalent of today’s NASA: the Interplanetary Space Fleet made sure each flight was meticulously researched. Like the crew of Apollo 11, with Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin Aldrin, Dan Dare had Albert Digby, Sir Hubert Guest and Professor Jocelyn Peabody just to mention a few. In the Eagle it was not all about future fantasy, but a comic strip which took into account the latest known to science and engineering with the middle pages containing some wonderful cut-away drawings to show everyone how things worked. It was this brilliant work of Frank Hampson and his team at Eagle that did change the world for millions of its readers and made it the best selling comic ever in the UK. [programme id="33631"]

The U.S catches on

10 years after the Eagle had been launched in the UK in America, new readers and TV audiences were being thrilled by the equivalent of Colonel Dan Dare with the new Space adventurer Captain James Kirk of the Enterprise and his crew including the science officer Spock. Some of the voyages featured in Star Trek have clear similarities with the adventures of Dan Dare, not missed by Gene Roddenberry and his team. But Dan Dare and his adventures in Space and meeting other life forms was also the inspiration for those in Hollywood. The monster that comes out of John Hurt's stomach in Alien has parallels with the Mekon and his Treens from the planet Venus. Ridley Scott remains a fan of the Eagle and Dan Dare. In his Alien films, Space Ships and Interplanetary travel are common sights. [caption id="attachment_33851" align="alignnone" width="650"] Ridley Scott.[/caption] Today the Business leader Sir Richard Branson, an enthusiast of Dan Dare and the Eagle, continues his quest to send people into Space, as he pushes both himself and his resources to reach the stars. Sir Elton John also was an enthusiast of Dan Dare - Pilot of the Future. In the Eagle can also be found a craft in deep space, similar to what George Lucas used in his Star Wars films. Frank Hampson's comic inspired other visionary’s to follow, to boldly go where no-one has gone before. In the Eagle there was a machine called a “Telesender” which could transport and people from one location to another. [programme id="31897"]

The Eagle has landed

Frank Hampson was probably one of the most distinguished and gifted artists of his time to bring Other Worlds and Aliens to every day young people in Britain, inspiring children to wish to become Spacemen. One has just to see the countless letters of praise that arrived each week at Eagle HQ, from those young fans. The late Professor Stephen Hawking when asked the  question about Dan Dare replied “Why am I in the study of Cosmology”  Other famous people like Prince Charles, Michel Palin have and will no doubt always remain fans of Dan Dare and his exploits. Apollo Lunar Module Eagle landed on the Moon on 20 July 1969; the publication of Eagle comic landed 19 years earlier, on 14 April 1950. Featured image credit: Bronze bust of Dan Dare, situated on the corner of Lord Street and Cambridge Arcade in Southport. Peter Hodge / Commons.

Image Attribution: Puritanism was greatly influenced by the ideas of John Calvin, a French theologian who advocated a brutal form of Protestantism focusing on predestination.

Joining the Jamestown settlers would not be enough though, as many of the Puritans believed that the company of too many other non-Puritan Englishmen would simply re-create the problems that had caused them to move to Holland in the first place. If the plan was to work, then a whole new colony would have to be founded – a risky undertaking. This, however, was the final decision.

Permission granted

In 1619 John Carver – a prominent member of the congregation – travelled back to London to try and secure land grants, allowing him and his people to settle the land north of the existing Virginia territory, which was already being called New England. In return for promising that his religion would not become the official one of the new colony, it was granted. Preparations then began quickly.

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Two ships were leased, the small Speedwell, which had seen service against the Spanish Armada, and the larger Mayflower, which would carry the bulk of the settlers to their new home. The Speedwell picked up the Leiden congregation in July 1620, before returning to England to continue the journey alongside the Mayflower. 

Shortly after leaving Dartmouth however, it became clear that the Speedwell couldn’t be trusted to tackle the Atlantic (there were some suspicions that its crew had deliberately sabotaged it to avoid making the voyage) and its passengers were transferred aboard the Mayflower, which finally set sail for the New World on the 16th September.

A rough journey

The sea voyage began smoothly enough, before powerful storms changed the situation, carrying one crew member overboard and damaging the ship enough to force the captain to make a decision about turning back, despite being over halfway to his destination. There were a few families on board and one child – named Oceanus – was born during the crossing.

After sixty-five days of cold seasick misery, land was finally sighted on 9 November, which was good cause for a fervent prayer of thanksgiving. It was Cape Cod, and lay within the New England territory, though difficult shoals forced the settlers to turn back and anchor in Provincetown Harbor. There they signed the famous Plymouth Compact, which is seen by many as the world’s first ever modern-style constitution,

There the adult males on the ship swore to help each other by any means necessary and to uphold purely democratic rule, and voted for John Carver as their first governor. All this was recorded by Bradford, who had made the journey with his congregation.

Image Attribution: This idealized painting does little to suggest the reality of landing in New England in November. The actual landings were delayed by two more excruciating weeks while the fitter men swam ashore to collect wood to repair the smaller boats.

Only the beginning

Once the landings and building began, so did the real hardship. Out of a ships’s population of 102, only 2 had died during the crossing, but this first winter would claim the lives of over half. Viciously cold temperatures and snowfall, disease and scurvy from the terrible food aboard the Mayflower meat that most of the passengers quickly fell ill, and at one point only six were fit to nurse the rest, and extinction seemed a real possibility.

No help came from the natives, who had already been brutally treated by European explorers and were dying themselves of the strange diseases that had come from across the Atlantic with the newcomers. Despite these terrible conditions, work continued, however.

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Heading further west, the settlers found a place on the 21st December (now celebrated in Massachusets as Forefounder’s Day) that would become the settlement of Plymouth. In January permanent dwellings were constructed, though initially single men had to share with families to conserve space.

By February, however, the rudimentary settlement was complete, a remarkable achievement considering that there were only 47 colonists left by March. Carver was one of the dead, and was replaced by Bradford, who was still only thirty-one, and had recorded the death of his wife Dorothy in his journal in December.

He went on to serve as governor of the Colony until 1632. Today Plymouth, a thriving town of 58,000 people, is known as “America’s hometown.”

Image Attribution: Plymouth rock is a simple but effective monument to the Puritans, who later became known as the Pilgrim Fathers. Over a million visit it every year.

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