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Mayflower Day

The Mayflower, a merchant ship that usually carried wine and dry goods, left Plymouth, England, on today's date in 1620, and headed for the New World, with 102 passengers and a small crew. It had originally started its voyage to cross the ocean the previous month along with a smaller ship, the Speedwell, but the Speedwell leaked, so the supplies and passengers from it were put on the Mayflower, and the Mayflower made the journey alone. Almost 40 of the Mayflower's passengers were protestant separatists who hoped to establish a new church in the New World, separate from the Church of England. Known today as Pilgrims, they referred to themselves as Saints. The rest of the passengers were secular colonists. The travelers were given permission to establish their settlement from the Virginia Company.

The Mayflower is estimated to have measured 80 or 90 feet in length and 24 feet in width. Captain Christopher Jones, who led its voyage, owned it and purchased it in 1608, shortly after it had been built. It encountered brutal storms on its journey across the Atlantic, and on November 21, 1620, it made landfall at what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, much farther north than where it was supposed to land. On that day, the Mayflower Compact, a 200-word document that outlined the rules of governing for the passengers, was signed by 41 of them. It was the first document that established self-government to be signed in territory that would eventually be part of the United States. On December 21, 1620, the ship landed at Plymouth Rock. The passengers disembarked on December 26, at what is now Plymouth. There they established Plymouth Colony, the first permanent colony in New England. Today we remember the ship that made the founding of this colony possible.

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