19 Mind-Blowing Facts About The Mayflower, The Merchant Ship For Kids

Martha Martins
Jan 24, 2024 By Martha Martins
Originally Published on Dec 21, 2021
Facts about the Mayflower, a merchant ship
Age: 3-18
Read time: 9.7 Min

You can't talk of the history of colonial America without beginning with the Mayflower.

The Mayflower had played a significant role in forming the history of modern-day America. The ship sailed from England to Cape Cod Bay in 1620 with 102 passengers.

Some records state that one child was born on the ship. 41 Mayflower passengers, called pilgrims, were running for religious freedom. History says that English protestants lived in Holland as separatists and were considered illegal radicals by England. Life was difficult, and they were forced to take up low-paying menial jobs. When England joined into an alliance with Holland against Spain, outlawing these separatists was one of the conditions Holland had to agree to. This motivated them to sail towards Plymouth, the native American village. Other than the pilgrims, 61 people were traveling to America to make money.

Among the Mayflower passengers was Myles Standish, an English military officer. He was later appointed as the Military advisory for the Plymouth colony.

The pilgrims seeking religious freedom were not the first people to sail for New England, modern-day Massachusetts. English colonists settled in Jamestown earlier in 1607. Unfortunately, most of these initial settlers had died in the first winter. The Mayflower's passengers and crew survived the long winter to reach Cape Cod on November 21, 1620. They were called the pilgrim fathers by their descendants.

Mayflower passengers had initially expected to reach Virginia by early October, but rough seas delayed their arrival. The storm in the sea took them off course and made them land in Cape Cod instead of Virginia in November.

Only half the English settlers who crossed the Atlantic ocean survived the first winter. Forty-five of the 102 passengers passed away due to the scarcity of shelter, food, scurvy, and the harsh winter conditions, and they were buried on Cole's Hill. The remaining pilgrims survived that winter with the help of native Americans. John Alden was one of the most notable amongst them. William Bradford, another pilgrim passenger, created history by becoming the Governor of the Plymouth Colony.

There is no single detailed description of the Mayflower voyage to Cape Cod. Still, facts have been put together from various historical accounts and Mayflower descendants to give us an idea of the voyage over the years. This voyage is vital to the history of Virginia.

Once you read all these interesting facts about the Mayflower, why not check out Classical Music Facts and Boxing Day Facts here at Kidadl.

Mayflower Ship History

During the reign of King James I, 'Mayflower' was not an unusual name for ships. Nobody knows why the name was so popular. These ships were often recognized by their homeport, master's name, and tonnage to minimize confusion. So, the pilgrim ship Mayflower was connected to the identity of its captain. Captain Jones owned the ship along with Robert Child, Christopher Nichols, and Thomas Short.

Some records show the ship as being built in London, but there is no strong evidence in history to prove this. The connection may have been based on the fact that Jones was born in the county of Essex in 1570, and the Mayflower was designated as of 'Harwich' in the Port Books.

There are records of the ship sailing in London and internationally from 1609 to 1616. From 1616 to 1624, there was no specific information about the ship. There is no court document linking the ship to the pilgrim's voyage to Plymouth in 1620. This is unusual, but it may be the result of the atypical way the pilgrim passengers were transferred from Leyden to New England. Some also believe that records belonging to this time may have been lost.

The voyage across the Atlantic was intended to be covered in two stages. The Speedwell would take passengers from Leiden to England, and the Mayflower would then take them to Plymouth. The Mayflower sailed along the Thames in July 1620 to Southampton. After two false starts, leaks in the Speedwell led to a decision to abandon the Speedwell and transfer 20 of its passengers to the Mayflower. The Mayflower thus had to make the voyage alone.  

On May 4, 1624, the ship's name reappeared in documents when an application was put into the Admiralty court for the ship's appraisal. The application was made by the widow of Captain Jones and two other owners, which may have been to settle the dead captain's estate. The appraisal gave the ship a value of 128 pounds, eight shillings, and fourpence, indicating that the ship was not well maintained. It is believed to have never sailed again. According to a historian named Charles Edward Banks, the ship was finally broken down. Wood from the Mayflower was later used to construct a barn in Jordan's village in Buckinghamshire. It was known as the Mayflower Barn and became a tourist attraction. Today, the barn still stands, but it is private property and not open to visitors. A replica of the Mayflower, Mayflower II, is docked at Plymouth, Massachusetts.

The Mayflower's passengers and crew survived the harsh winter with the aid of native Americans

Sailing Details About Mayflower

Mayflower was chartered for many voyages before the voyage to Cape Cod. In August 1609, Mayflower set sail from London to Norway and back. It sailed on the Thames twice in 1613 and once in 1616, carrying wine in its cargo holds. This suggests that the ship had recently completed a voyage to a wine-producing land like France, Spain, the Canaries, or Portugal.

Before it sailed with pilgrims to the new world, the ship was often used to transport cargo between countries. It brought French wine to England and took back English woolens. On trips to Norway, the cargo ship is believed to have transported materials like hemp, hops, vinegar, Spanish salt, and hats. Some reports suggest that Captain Jones took the ship whaling in the North Atlantic.

In 1629, a ship named the Mayflower again sailed from London to Plymouth Colony. This was not the same as the first Mayflower that sailed to the new world. This Mayflower landed in Plymouth harbor with 35 passengers. The second Mayflower repeated this crossing four more times in 1630, 1633, 1634, and 1639. It is believed to have sunk while making the same voyage in 1641.

Captain Of Mayflower

The Mayflower that set sail from Southampton in England to the new world was captained and partly owned by Christopher Jones Jr. during the crossing of 1620. He is believed to have been born around 1570 in Harwich to Christopher Jones Sr. and Sybil. His father passed away in 1578, leaving his son with a vessel named Marie Fortune. Their family house on Kings Head Street is now a tourist attraction in England.

On December 27, 1593, Jones Jr. married his neighbor, Sara Twitt. Sara was from a wealthy family, and her father left her with significant funds and shipping interests. In 1596, they had a son. The family home he shared with her is now a hostelry. A few months after Sara's death in 1603, Jones married a Josian Gray widow. Their marriage resulted in eight children born between 1604 and 1619.

Captain Jones died at the age of 52 years in 1622. He was buried on the grounds of St Mary, The Virgin in Rotherhithe. Unfortunately, his grave was lost when the church was later rebuilt in 1715. There are two memorials to Captain Jones on the church grounds.

Mayflower Ship Main Features: Capacity, Length, Decks

The Mayflower was classified as a Dutch cargo fluyt. It had a square rig with fore and aft structures that looked like a castle and a beakhead bow. These details have been captured in many paintings, including the ones by William Halsall. These designs were quite common amongst English merchant ships of the time. Its stern had 30 ft. (9.1 m) tall, square aft-castle. This made the ship unsuitable for sailing close to the wind or in storm season. As a result, the voyage from England to America took double the return trip time.

While the exact dimensions are unclear, it is believed that the Mayflower was 100 ft. (30.5 m) long and 25 ft. (7.6 m) wide. The bottom of the Mayflower's keel feels 12 ft. (3.7 m) below water. According to the letters and journals of William Bradford, it could carry a cargo of 180 tons (163 m tons) with a capacity of hundreds of gallons.

The ship had a gun deck, main deck and cargo hold, and three masts. The Captain's cabin in the stern was about 10 feet by 7 feet (2.1 m). It stood just behind the steerage room. This is where the ship's officers slept. It also housed the tiller extension to control sailing. The capstan was beyond this. The ship's crew slept in the forecastle space on the main deck. The ship's cook also used this to prepare meals.

The poop deck was the highest level of the ship. This was located above the Captain's cabin and the aft castle stern. The poop house on the poop deck was generally used as a chart room or a master's mate cabin. In the case of the Mayflower, it was used for the pilgrims to sleep or for cargo.

Many of the pilgrims on Mayflower's first voyage to the new world in America resided on the gun deck in 25 ft. (7.6 m) by 50 ft. (15.2 m) space. This space was about 5 ft. (1.5 m) tall making it difficult for most people to stand upright. The area also had gun ports for cannons. The gun room stood on the deck's stern. It housed small cannons, gunpowder, and ammunition. No passenger was allowed here. There was also a windlass in the bow area used to operate the main anchor. A rope or wooden ladder connected the main deck to the gun deck. There were no stairs.

The cargo hold was below the gun deck. This is where passengers stored most of their supplies. This included clothing, bedding, food, and personal weapons, armor, gunpowder, shots, swords, muskets, and other tools. Some pilgrims also brought trade goods from England with them. Most of this trade cargo was also kept in the cargo hold. There were no cattle on the Mayflower, but the pilgrims did carry poultry, pigs, and goats with them.

In the absence of a privy onboard the Mayflower, the Mayflower voyage passengers had to design their own solutions. Most of the passengers on the gun deck chose to use a bucket as a makeshift privy. This was fixed to the bulkhead or the deck to keep it from going overboard.

Lastly, the Mayflower sailed with arms and ammunition. It carried a 1,200 lb (544.3 kg) brass minion cannon with the capability of shooting a 3.5 lb (1.6 kg) cannonball. In addition, it had an 800 lb (362.9 kg) saker cannon and a pair of 200 lb (90.7 kg) base cannons. The Mayflower had seven long-range cannons and three smaller guns on the stern. The latter fired musket balls. There were at least ten other pieces of the ordinance on the starboard and port sides of the gun deck. Four of these pieces of artillery were used to fortify the Plymouth colony in the new world.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created many interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for 19 mind-blowing facts about the Mayflower, the merchant ship for kids, then why not take a look at why do woodpeckers peck wood? And how to avoid woodpecker's pecking, or why do worms come out when it rains? Fun ground worm facts for kids!

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Written by Martha Martins

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Linguistics

Martha Martins picture

Martha MartinsBachelor of Arts specializing in Linguistics

Martha is a full-time creative writer, content strategist, and aspiring screenwriter who communicates complex thoughts and ideas effectively. She has completed her Bachelor's in Linguistics from Nasarawa State University. As an enthusiast of public relations and communication, Martha is well-prepared to substantially impact your organization as your next content writer and strategist. Her dedication to her craft and commitment to delivering high-quality work enables her to create compelling content that resonates with audiences.

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