06 September 2011

6 September - The Mayflower Sails

Weather: As the weather is on the 6th, so it will be for the next four weeks.

Today in 1620, some 102 passengers and 25-30 crew-members set sail from Plymouth, England, bound for (they thought) the northern border of the already established Virginia Colony at the Hudson River.

About half of the passengers were separatists, dissenters from the state church of England, who believed in separate congregations, completely independent of the organized central church, and an end to everything that smacked of Popery - bishops, vestments, incense, decorated churches, saints, holidays, anything non-Scriptural, and most enjoyments.  They were determined to live their penance on earth, always knowing the they might have been already predestined to hell afterward.  Since their beliefs attacked the supremacy of the King as head of the Church in England, the current king, James I (he of the King James Bible), determined to either let them live their lives of penance elsewhere, or to send them on to their afterlife of doom, which ever came first.  A purge of non-conformists to the Anglican church began in 1606, with fines, imprisonment, and exile for those caught.

Knowing this, one group of separatists from Scrooby in Nottinghamshire, who had been meeting in secret (like the papists they regarded with such horror), spent the next year secretly moving themselves and their families to the more tolerant Netherlands, where they felt they could live and worship in peace.  The Dutch welcomed them, they were joined by more of their ilk, and for a time many of the Pilgrims in Search of Religious Freedom (as they considered themselves) flourished there.  However, with economic worries, a desire to propagate their version of the gospel in remote parts of the world, and fears that the agreeable society in which they lived was mitigating the rigor of their religion, they decided to seek a home in the New World, where they could set up a society uncontaminated by outside influences.

After several months of negotiations, a land patent was finally secured from the King in mid-1619, but conflicts within the London Company, which administered the land, meant delays in finding investors and finalizing their plans.  Eventually, though, the group was able to buy one ship, the Speedwell, and procure supplies.  Some thirty Saints crossed from Holland in the Speedwell and met the larger ship Mayflower in Southampton.  The Mayflower, chartered by the merchant investors, carried both Saints and "Strangers" - colonists sent by the Company to look after their investments and report on the likelihood of more.

Both ships sailed on August 5, 1620, but the Speedwell reported a leak and retired to Dartmouth in Devon for refitting.  Again, both ships sailed, and again, the Speedwell reported leaks.  This time they put in to Plymouth in Devon, and eleven people, including the ship's master, transferred from the Speedwell to the Mayflower.  On September 6, 1620, the Mayflower finally quitted Plymouth and sailed for the New World.

An excellent site on the history of this venture, including a list of passengers, biographies, and background, can be found at Caleb Johnson's MayflowerHistory.com.  A recreation of the Mayflower, the Mayflower II,  is part of Plimoth Plantation.  Go aboard and envision 130+ people cramped together for 9 weeks on rough seas.