Mayflower 400th anniversary: why we celebrate the ship that sailed from Plymouth to America - and the pilgrims explained

The historic voyage is remembered for bringing about the colonisation of North America

Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 12:17 pm
The famous voyage took place on 16 September 1620

The voyage of the famous Mayflower ship took place 400 years ago today, having set sail from Plymouth on 16 September 1620.

The small ship carried more than 100 passengers who were hoping to begin a new life in the New World, and was one of many vessels that embarked on the perilous crossing across the Atlantic.

Who travelled on the Mayflower?

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The Mayflower ship transported the first English Puritans (who later became known as the Pilgrims) from England to North America in 1620.

The gruelling voyage took 10 weeks at sea to complete, with 102 passengers and a crew of around 30 eventually arriving in America on 11 November 1620, dropping anchor close to the tip of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

The passengers on board the ship included men, women and children from England and the city of Leiden in Holland.

Those who made the voyage were divided into groups known as ‘Saints’ and ‘Strangers’, with those in the Strangers group all coming from a variety of backgrounds, including tradesmen, who were seeking a new life.

Passengers who were in the Saints group (also known as Separatists or Puritans) were people who sought to live a life that was free from the Church of England and wanted to start a new church in America.

These people believed that the new church should be stricter in order to keep it far from the old Catholic traditions, and decided that England would not allow them the opportunity to follow their religion in the way that they wanted, prompting them to leave for a new life.

In 1608, the Puritans left England for Holland where they were able to worship freely and remained there until 1620, before purchasing boats to cross the Atlantic to American, which they considered a “new Promised Land.” It was here where they established the Plymouth Colony.

Why is the Mayflower so important?

The Pilgrims had originally hoped to reach America in early October using two ships, but after one was found not to be seaworthy, they could only travel on board the Mayflower. The ship arrived in November and forced the Pilgrims to endure a harsh winter, which saw only half of them survive.

Their arrival in America had a huge impact on the Native Americans already settled there, who were forced to either share or give up the land they had called home for centuries.

In March 1621, the pilgrim colony was visited by a chief from the Wampanoag tribe, whose land they had settled on, as he wanted to form a truce in the hope they would provide help against a rival tribe called the Narragansett.

The Native Americans taught the pilgrims how to grow corn on unfamiliar land and, after a successful harvest in autumn 1621, the 53 remaining settlers invited their Wampanoag allies to join them for a feast. This was later known as the first ever Thanksgiving, which is now celebrated in the US on the fourth Thursday in November every year.

Now, 400 years on from its voyage, the Mayflower continues to remain a cultural icon in US history, with tens of millions of Americans estimated to have at least one ancestor who was among the group of early settlers.

The historic voyage is also remembered for bringing about the colonisation of North America, which caused a huge impact on the way of life and culture of Native Americans living in the country today.