In September 1620, a merchant ship called the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, a port on the southern coast of England. Normally, the Mayflower’s cargo was wine and dry goods, but on this trip the ship carried passengers: 102 of them, all hoping to start a new life on the other side of the Atlantic. Nearly 40 of these passengers were Protestant Separatists—they called themselves “Saints”—who hoped to establish a new church in the so-called New World. Today, we often refer to the colonists who crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower as “Pilgrims.”
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The travelers squeezed themselves and their belongings onto the Mayflower, a cargo ship about 80 feet long and 24 feet wide and capable of carrying 180 tons of cargo. The Mayflower set sail once again under the direction of Captain Christopher Jones.
Because of the delay caused by the leaky Speedwell, the Mayflower had to cross the Atlantic at the height of storm season. As a result, the journey was horribly unpleasant. Many of the passengers were so seasick they could scarcely get up, and the waves were so rough that one “Stranger” was swept overboard. (It was “the just hand of God upon him,” Bradford wrote later, for the young sailor had been “a proud and very profane yonge man.”)
After sixty-six days, or roughly two miserable months at sea, the ship finally reached the New World. There, the Mayflower’s passengers found an abandoned Indian village and not much else. They also found that they were in the wrong place: Cape Cod was located at 42 degrees north latitude, well north of the Virginia Company’s territory. Technically, the Mayflower colonists had no right to be there at all.
Then they had to live on the ship for some time more, and many died, including the parents of my ancestor, Mary Chilton (age 13).
Mary Chilton was (according to local lore) the first of their women to set foot on the New World. She married John Winslow, the brother of a fellow passenger, at age 17. He was 10 years her senior, and came on another ship the year after the Mayflower. They had at least 10 children, and Mary lived to the age of (almost) 72.