Why Did the May Flower Sail to America?
The Mayflower sailed to America to transport the Pilgrim Fathers from England to Plymouth, Massachusetts, where they established the first permanent colony in New England in 1620.
The Mayflower was a square rigged sailing ship which had formerly carried wine and was armed with 12 cannon. Among the leaders on board were John Carver, William Bradford and Captain Miles Standish, who had been hired for his military knowledge.
The ship sailed from Southampton, England, on August 15, 1620 with 102 passengers and soon ran into fierce storms which necessitated some repairs. The voyage lasted 66 days. One child-a-boy was born to Elizabeth Hopkins at sea. Another was born on board to Susanna White as the ship lay at anchor off Cape Cod.
At Cape Cod the Pilgrims drew up a covenant, now known as the Mayflower Compact, which bound them to obey the government which should be set up. Within 10 years the colony was prosperous and expanding, and was able to dissolve the financial partnership it had made with merchants back in England.
The first settlers did not become known as the Pilgrim Fathers until two centuries after their arrival when Daniel Webster made a speech beginning: “we have come to record here our homage to our Pilgrim Fathers…”
This voyage has become an iconic story in some of the earliest annals of American history, with its story of death and of survival in the harsh New England winter environment. The colonists spent the first winter, which only 53 passengers and half the crew survived, living onboard the Mayflower. (The Mayflower sailed back to England in April 1621.)
Once they moved ashore, the colonists faced even more challenges. During their first winter in America, more than half of the Plymouth colonists died from malnutrition, disease and exposure to the harsh New England weather. In fact, without the help of the area’s native people, it is likely that none of the colonists would have survived.
An English-speaking Pawtuxet named Samoset helped the colonists form an alliance with the local Wampanoags, who taught them how to hunt local animals, gather shellfish and grow corn, beans and squash. At the end of the next summer, the Plymouth colonists celebrated their first successful harvest with a three-day festival of thanksgiving. We still commemorate this feast today.
Eventually, the Plymouth colonists were absorbed into the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony. Still, the Mayflower Saints and their descendants remained convinced that they alone had been specially chosen by God to act as a beacon for Christians around the world. “As one small candle may light a thousand,” Bradford wrote, “so the light here kindled hath shone to many, yea in some sort to our whole nation.”