Today is the American Thanksgiving holiday which celebrates the first harvest of the Pilgrims after the founding of the Plymouth colony. But we don’t care about that! We want to know about the ship! Caleb Johnson and Major Dan oblige in this unholy Frankenstein combination of two separate articles…
Master Christopher Jones and several business partners purchased the ship Mayflower about 1607. Its origins prior to that remain uncertain, though it was probably built in the early 17th century. The 180 ton ship was of the Dutch “fluyt” variety (3 masts, 3 main areas or decks), a cargo ship meant to maximize efficiency in carrying cargo and not worthy of conversion to a warship in time of war. Its first documented voyage of record was to Trondheim, Norway, in 1609. Andrew Pawling hired the ship to take a cargo of London goods to Norway, sell them off, and buy Norway goods (lumber, tar, fish) to return back to England. Unfortunately on the return voyage, the Mayflower encountered a severe North Sea storm and the master and crew were forced to toss most of Pawling’s goods overboard to lighten the ship.
Following that, Christopher Jones seems to have stuck with safer trading routes. The Mayflower made numerous trips primarily to Bordeaux, France, returning to London with cargoes of French wine, Cognac, vinegar, and salt. The Mayflower could freight about 180 tons of cargo. The Mayflower also made occasional voyages to other ports, including once to Malaga, Spain, and twice to Hamburg, Germany.
Upon returning from a voyage to Bordeaux, France, in May 1620, the Mayflower and master Christopher Jones were hired to take the Pilgrims to Northern Virginia. This was the first recorded trans-Atlantic voyage for both ship and master, though Christopher Jones had several crewmembers, including pilot and master’s mates John Clarke and Robert Coppin, who had been to the New World before.
The Mayflower was supposed to accompany another ship, the Speedwell, to America. When the Speedwell proved too leaky for the voyage, the Mayflower proceeded alone, finally setting sail for America on September 6 with 102 Pilgrims aboard (instead of the intended 65), and a crew of perhaps 25 to 30 men. Not a big ship*, Mayflower was only about 80-90 feet long at the main deck (perhaps 100 feet overall). Still, the small ship carried some guns, probably 8 “minion” cannons capable of projecting a 3 ½ pound ball a mile and 4 smaller “saker” cannon which fired up to a 5 ounce ball, usually with multiple balls like a shotgun. As fairly heavy armament for a small cargo ship, the Mayflower could be used in combat if needed. Some of the cannon, probably 4 of them, were offloaded with the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock for defense against possibly hostile natives.
The square rigged, beak brow ship had a gun deck (right below the main deck) where the passengers lived during the voyage, a cramped space of 25 X 50 feet with a 5 foot high ceiling! As the ship had no “heads” (toilets), passengers and crew alike had to improvise, using buckets as chamber pots. Conditions during the rough voyage were not comfortable, to say the least. Only 2 passengers died on the journey, but half the total of the Pilgrims plus half the crew died the first winter in America, which was spent aboard the ship, as the weather was too cold to begin a settlement. The ship finally departed back for England on 5 April 1621, arriving back to England on May 6.
Christopher Jones, as both master and quarter-owner of the Mayflower, took the ship out for a few more trading runs, but he died a couple of years later in March 1621/2. The ship was appraised by the High Court of Admiralty for probate purposes in May 1624. Three of the four owners requested the appraisal. The ship, in that request, is represented as being “in ruinis,” meaning the ship was likely being sold for scrap. It was only valued at 128 pounds sterling.
This is a photo-scan of the original inventory taken on the Mayflower in 1624, as found in the Public Records Office in London, in the records of the High Court of Admiralty (HCA 24/81, fol. 167/219). These scans come courtesy of MayflowerHistory.com, the first to publish this document in its entirety.
The appraismt or valuacon of the shippe the
Mayflower of London and her tackle and
furniture taken and made by authoritye of
his Maje Highe Courte of Admiraltye on
the 26th day of May 1624 at ye instance
of Roberte Childe, John Moore, and
Jones the relicte of Christopher Jones
deceased, owners of three fourth parte
of the said Shippe, by us William
Craford and ffranncis Birks of Redriffe,
marriners, Robert Clay and Christopher
Malym of the same, shipwrights as
Inprimis wee the said appraisers
having viewed and seene the
hull, maste, yardes, boate,
winles and Capsten of and
belonginge to the said Shipp,
Doe estimate the same at ——— £50
Item. five anckors weighinge
about 25c wt wee value at ——– £25
Item. one suite of sailes
more than half worne, wee
estimate at —— £15
Item. 3 Cables, 2 hawsers,
the shrowdes and stayes wth
all the other rigginge more
then half worne at —— £35
Item. 8 muskitts, 6 bandeleers,
and 6 piks at ——– 50 s
Item. ye pitch pott and kettle ——- 13s, 4p
Item. ten shovells —— 5s
Suma totalis 128.08-04
In witnes wherof wee ye said appraisers
have hereunto putt our handes
*Exact details about the Mayflower such as who built her and where, her detailed dimensions, and others are unknown. Size and layout given here is based on educated estimates by historians that studied the era.