Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The Journey of the Mayflower

By Elaine Marie Cooper I

t’s been called the most important journey in history. Indeed, the three thousand miles across the Atlantic Ocean, undertaken by 102 passengers on board the ship called Mayflower, changed the future of America, England and the politics of the world. Sixty-six days on water, that changed the course of history, starting in 1620. The journey began in Leiden, Holland. Many of the “Separatists” as these Puritans were called, had escaped there to be allowed to practice Christianity without being forced into the Church of England. Staying in England put these believers at risk of being fined, imprisoned, or even sentenced to death. 

But the very freedom in Holland that allowed the Pilgrims to worship as they wished, also allowed other beliefs and behaviors that the English Christians found offensive. Their children were becoming too “Dutch.” Purchasing a small vessel called the Speedwell, these pilgrims were intent upon sailing to the New World, rather than risk the adversities in both England and Holland. On July 22, 1620. The Speedwell took off from the Port of Delfshaven to join the other Separatists in Southhampton, England. There, they met up with the Mayflower.

On August 15, the two ships with their passengers joined together and sailed for the New World. The Speedwell, however, “Leaked like a sieve.” Both ships turned back for England. Those Pilgrims intent upon completing the journey, boarded the Mayflower, and left Plymouth on September 6, 1620. By now, the travelers were at great risk of running into dangerous weather conditions. Ideally, they should have left in April or May at the latest. To leave in the Fall was considered by some to be “foolhardy.” Those fears of the experienced naysayers were played out in the treacherous journey that ensued:

When October arrived, so did the high winds and waves. Separatist passenger William Bradford, later to become Governor of Plymouth Colony, wrote in Chapter 9 Of Plymouth Plantation, “In many of these storms the winds were so fierce, and the seas so high, as they could not bear a knot of sail, but were forced to heave to [face into the wind to stop the ship], for many days together.” 
“Today in Our History – Adventures on the Atlantic in 1620” 

 During an especially fierce storm that autumn, a main beam cracked, causing fear even among the experienced sailors. A great iron screw brought onboard by the Separatists, secured the beam in what many believed was a providential rescue from a watery grave. Many of the passengers suffered greatly from seasickness. The stench of vomit in the close quarters below deck as well as the chamber pots that had to sit for long periods of time before they could be thrown out into the ocean, added to the nauseating voyage. 

With three of the women onboard the Mayflower pregnant, it’s difficult to imagine their distress onboard. The baby boy of passengers Elizabeth and Stephen Hopkins was born on the ship and named “Oceanus.” All of the storms endured on the voyage darkened the sky with clouds, preventing the ship’s crew from navigating the stars. This lack of direction led the ship to head further north than planned. While they were headed toward Virginia, they ended up landing in what became New England. After docking in Cape Cod Harbor, another baby boy was birthed. Susanna and William White called him “Peregrine” which means, “traveler.”
After landing at Cape Cod, the Pilgrims were face-to-face with many natives who had long inhabited the “New” World. A member of the Patuxet tribe named Squanto began to speak in English to the astonished Pilgrims. Years prior, Squanto had been kidnaped by an English explorer who brought the native to Spain. There he was sold into slavery. Squanto escaped and finally made it home to the Patuxet region in 1619—just in time to be an interpreter for the passengers. 

 That first winter was harsh and deadly. Fully half their number of 102 Pilgrims died of illness in that first year. The following November the survivors were able to celebrate a meal of thanks for God’s many provisions and for their survival.  

When I think of all the trials endured by John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, I am truly astonished. Priscilla was the sole survivor in her family, losing her father, mother, and younger brother that winter. John Alden was the ship’s cooper, or barrel maker. He had come onboard as part of the crew and was the only member of the workers to remain behind when the vessel returned to England. 

Before the Atlantic crossing, the future couple had never met. When they fell in love is the subject of fictional romantic speculation. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow shone the spotlight on the young couple in his poem, “The Courtship of Myles Standish.” Henry is also a descendant of John and Priscilla. 

 John rose to become a prominent member of Plymouth Colony. He was a signer of the Mayflower Compact and for many years, served as an assistant to the Governor. About 1623, Priscilla and John married and had 10 children. Those ten, produced 70 grandchildren! It’s no wonder their descendants are numbered near a million or more. 

 I am descended from Ruth Alden, the couple’s 6th child. I am the 6th child in my own family. ;) When I first learned from my mother’s cousin that I was a descendant, I was delighted. I had spent many years living in Massachusetts and I’d always felt such a connection to that state. Knowing the Aldens’ were my ancestors sealed the deal for me. My roots truly belonged in New England.

Award-winning author, Elaine Marie Cooper, never thought she’d see her name listed on published books. Now researching her eighth novel and ninth book, she is too caught up in her passion to write to stop any time soon. She says the Lord called her to create books and she’ll obey that calling until He says to stop. Her most recent releases are “Scarred Vessels,” winner of the 2021 Selah Award, and “Love’s Kindling,” finalist in the 2020 Selah Award, and Book 1 in the Dawn of America series. Her only non-fiction release is the memoir of her daughter, Bethany who passed away from a brain tumor in 2003. It was also a Selah Winner in 2015. Cooper is a mom of 2 grown sons and GiGi to 5 of “the most beautiful grandchildren ever.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting! I'll have to check with my genealogy-savvy cousin to see if we can trace our ancestors back to the Mayflower. I do have an aunt (by marriage) who has traced her own line back to there.