On 16 September 1620, a merchant ship, the Mayflower, sailed from England and made its way to the New World. On board were 102 men, women and children, half of whom (the ‘Saints’ or ‘Pilgrims’ as they are known today) were escaping religious persecution, while the other half (the ‘Strangers’) were seeking adventure and a new life across the Atlantic.


The mission to create a settlement in the Virginia territory, however, was almost a disaster. Terrible storms and high waves made the crossing miserable, before the Mayflower finally limped to journey’s end after 66 days.

The Pilgrims had made it, but – as they quickly found out – their troubles were only beginning as they faced a brutal winter.

Here are five facts about the historic ship that carried the Pilgrims to the New World…


The Mayflower had design flaws

The design of the Mayflower, with high, wall-like sides, made it difficult to sail in the strong winds of the Atlantic. The crossing, therefore, took two months, but it could be done in half the time.

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The conditions on board were extremely cramped

The voyage was supposed to be done by two vessels. The second, the Speedwell, was deemed to be unseaworthy, however, so the passengers were crammed onto the Mayflower. As well as the 130-odd people squeezed on board, there were food stores, tools, weapons (including cannon) and live animals, such as sheep, goats, chickens and dogs.


There were births and deaths on the Mayflower

During the crossing, one passenger died and one woman, Elizabeth Hopkins, gave birth to a child. The boy was aptly named Oceanus.


It arrived at the beginning of a harsh winter

The Mayflower arrived at Cape Cod (in modern-day Massachusetts) on 9 November 1620 and if the voyage had been bad, that was nothing compared to the first winter that followed. Due to food shortages and outbreaks of disease, only half that had made the journey survived to see spring and the creation of their New World settlement, Plymouth.


The 'Mayflower Compact'

While anchored at Cape Cod, 41 Pilgrims – worried that law and order would break down once ashore – signed an agreement on 11 November. The ‘Mayflower Compact’ created a “civil body politic” and was the United States’ first governing document.


This article was taken from the December 2015 issue of BBC History Revealed magazine