This date in history is an interesting one. Of all the many things which occurred on this date, I’d like to talk about the one which had the most impact on many of us. On this date, in 1620, the passengers on the Mayflower finally spotted land.
It was a long journey in many ways. It took some time to even leave Europe. The Pilgrims were living in Leiden in the Netherlands at the time, but life was hard for them there. Plus, it looked as though Spain might soon be at war with the Netherlands, which could bring the Spanish Inquisition down on them as non-Catholics. However, the idea of emigrating to the Americas was terrifying also. They had heard the stories about the Roanoke colony and the difficulties at Jamestown.
Even after the Pilgrims decided to send some of their group on the first voyage, the planning took some time. They didn’t have the money to fund the venture, so entered into an arrangement with a group of investors who would provide the ship and supplies in return for receiving timber, furs, etc. from the new colony. The negotiations with the investors were difficult, and eventually included the Pilgrims agreeing to include a second ship full of Separatists from England on their journey.
With all of this, the ship the Speedwell, which was to carry the Pilgrims from the Netherlands to meet the rest of their group in England, didn’t leave port until July 22. The Speedwell began leaking, so there was a week’s delay while they patched it up. Both ships left England for America on August 5, but the Speedwell began leaking again so they went back to England to repair it before departing again. After having to do this one more time, the group decided to abandon the Speedwell and make the trip with only the Mayflower.
All of this delayed them by another month. After they abandoned the Speedwell and jammed most of its cargo and passengers onto the Mayflower, they left England for good on September 6. By this time, the passengers had been living on a ship for about a month and a half already. The voyage itself was difficult. All 102 passengers lived in an area which was roughly 68 feet long and 24 feet wide and only about five and one half feet high. This area also included masts, hatches to get between the decks, and the winches used to lift cargo between the decks. This all took up some of the space.
After the first month, the Mayflower started encountering rough storms in the North Atlantic seas. The winds were sometimes so strong they could not control the ship’s direction and had to let it drift with the winds. In spite of this, the ship didn’t go as far off course as one might expect. They intended to land near the Hudson River, so perhaps they didn’t do all that bad, all things considered.
As the sun rose on the morning of November 9, the ship’s crew spotted land. It wasn’t the Hudson River, but Cape Cod. The Pilgrims intended to continue on to the Hudson River, but extremely rough waters forced them to stay where they were. The men left the ship to explore and start building. The poor women were forced to live for another four months in crowded conditions on the boat until they were finally allowed to leave it in the following year.
Most of us know some version of what happened after they landed, and how it resulted in the Thanksgiving holiday we all mark now. I thought it might be interesting to give you this glimpse into the difficulties the Pilgrims experienced before they even arrived in America. Personally, this gives me a greater appreciation for everything with which I have been blessed.
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