Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, by William Halsall.jpg
Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall (1882)
Owner:Christopher Jones (¼ of the ship)
Maiden voyage:Before 1609
Out of service:1622–1624
Fate:most likely taken apart by Rotherhithe shipbreaker c. 1624.
General characteristics
Class and type:Dutch cargo fluyt
Tonnage:180 tons +
Length:c. 80–90 ft (24–27.5 m) on deck, 100–110 ft (30–33.5 m) overall.
Decks:Around 4
Capacity:Unknown, but carried c. 135 people during the historical voyage to what they would call Plymouth Colony

The Mayflower was an English ship that famously transported the first English Puritans, known today as the Pilgrims, from Plymouth, England to the New World in 1620.[1] There were 102 passengers, and the crew is estimated to have been about 30, but the exact number is unknown.[2] With the story of its passengers' death and survival in a harsh New England winter, the ship itself has become a cultural icon in the history of the United States. The Puritans' own sense of identification with the ship was expressed in their naming and signing of the Mayflower Compact, an event which established a rudimentary form of democracy, with each member contributing to the welfare of the community.[3] There was a second ship named Mayflower that made the London to Plymouth, Massachusetts voyage several times.

Mayflower structure and layout

By 1620, the Mayflower was aging, nearing the end of the usual 15-year working life of an English merchant ship in that era. The ship was a square rig with a beakhead bow and high, castle-like structures fore and aft that served to protect the ship's crew and the main deck from the elements—designs that were typical with English merchant ships of the early 17th century. Her stern carried a 30-foot high, square aft-castle which made the ship extremely difficult to sail against the wind and unable to sail well against the North Atlantic's prevailing westerlies, especially in the fall and winter of 1620, and as a result the voyage from England to America took more than two months. The Mayflower's return trip to London in April–May 1621 took less than half that time, with the same strong winds now blowing in the direction of the voyage.[4][5]

Since this was many years before hull measurements were standardized, no exact figure for the Mayflower's dimensions is possible, but she probably measured about 100 feet (30 m) in length from the forward end at the beak of her prow to the tip of her stern superstructure aft, was about 25 feet (7.6 m) at her widest point, with the bottom of her keel about 12 feet (3.6 m) below the waterline. William Bradford estimated that the Mayflower had a cargo capacity of 180 tons, and surviving contemporary records indicate that in her cargo hold she could certainly accommodate 180 casks holding hundreds of gallons of Bordeaux wine each.[5]

General layout

The general layout of the ship was as follows:

  • Three masts: mizzen (aft), main (midship), and fore, and also a spritsail in the bow area.[6]
  • Three primary levels: main deck, gun deck, and cargo hold.

Main deck

Aft on the main deck in the stern was the cabin for Master Christopher Jones, measuring about ten by seven feet (3 m × 2.1 m). Forward of that was the steerage room which probably housed berths for the ship's officers, and in which were to be found the ship's compass and, rather than a wheel as in later ships, whipstaff (tiller extension) for sailing control. Forward of the steerage room was the capstan, a vertical axle used to pull in ropes or cables. Far forward on the main deck, just aft of the bow, was the forecastle space where the ship's cook prepared meals for the crew; it may also have been where the ship's sailors slept.[7]

On the ship's highest level above the stern on the aft castle and above Master Jones' cabin was the poop deck, on which stood the poop house, which on normal merchant ships was probably a chart room or a cabin for the master's mates, but on the Mayflower may have been for passengers' use either for sleeping or cargo.[8][9]

Gun deck

As was customary for ships on trading routes around Europe, against the possibility of encountering pirates and privateers of all types, the Mayflower was heavily armed. The gun deck was where the passengers resided during the voyage, in a space measuring about 50 by 25 feet (15.2 m × 7.6 m) with a five-foot (1.5 m) overhead (ceiling). But it was also a dangerous place in conflict, as it had port and starboard gun ports from which cannon could be run out to fire on the enemy. The gun room was in the stern area of the gun deck, to which passengers had no access because it was the storage space for powder and ammunition for the ship's cannons and other weapons. The gun room might also house a pair of stern chasers, small cannons used to fire out the ship's stern. Forward on the gun deck in the bow area was a windlass, similar in function to the steerage capstan, and which was used to raise and lower the ship's main anchor. There were no stairs for the passengers on the gun deck to go up through the gratings to the main deck, which they could reach only by climbing a wooden or rope ladder.[8][9]

There was no privy on the Mayflower, and ship's crew had to fend for themselves in that regard. Gun deck passengers most likely used a bucket as a chamber pot, affixed to the deck or bulkhead to keep it from being jostled at sea.[9][10]

Gun deck armament

The largest gun was a minion cannon which was brass, weighed about 1,200 pounds (545 kg), and could shoot a 3.5 pound (1.6 kg) cannonball almost a mile (1,600 m). The Mayflower also had on board a saker cannon of about 800 pounds (360 kg), and two base cannons that weighed about 200 pounds (90 kg) which shot a 3 to 5 ounce ball (85–140 g). She carried at least ten pieces of ordnance on the port and starboard sides of her gun deck: seven cannons for long range purposes, and three smaller guns often fired from the stern at close quarters that were filled with musket balls. Later at New Plymouth, Mayflower's Master Jones unloaded four of the pieces to help fortify the colony against invaders, and would not have done so unless he was comfortable with the armament that he still had on board.[5]

Cargo hold

Below the gun deck was the cargo hold where the passengers kept most of their food stores and other supplies. Other items included most of their clothing and bedding. The hold also stored the passengers' personal weapons and military equipment – armor, muskets, gunpowder, and shot, as well as swords and bandoliers. It also stored all the tools that the Pilgrims would need, as well as all the equipment and utensils needed to prepare meals in the New World. It is also known that some Pilgrims loaded trade goods on board, including Isaac Allerton, William Mullins, and possibly others; these also most likely were stored in the cargo hold.[10]

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