In 2020, many cities and towns across the United Kingdom, Holland and the United States of America will be commemorating 400 years since the Mayflower made its historic journey from England to America. To mark this fantastic anniversary, we thought we’d give you a little background on this incredible story and how two places in South Devon played quite an important part. Read on to find out more.

A background on religion...

Before the 1500s Britain was a Catholic country, however, King Henry VIII wished to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, but was unable to and so created his own church, the Church of England with its own rules. One group of people became known as the Puritans, those who wanted to rid the church of all Catholic practices, whilst others did not believe you could change the church and this group became the Separatists. Sadly, those who did not follow the religion of the state, now Church of England, were liable for prosecution.

Escaping to Holland...

By the early 1600s, one group of Separatists had fled to Holland to begin a new life, although this journey was not easy by any means. The first attempt made in 1607 saw them betrayed by the captain thus tried and held at Boston’s Guildhall in Lincolnshire. After being imprisoned for a month, most of them were released and they would try the journey once again the following year. The second attempt was a little more successful and the men made it, however, sadly the boat carrying the women and children was caught. Once they were freed, finally everyone was reunited in Amsterdam where they would move to the nearby city of Leiden.

Moving again...

After 12 years in Holland, some of the party wished to move once again so contacted the remaining congregation in England. It was decided that they would all make the journey to Virginia in America and begin a new life together. In order to fund this, the Separatists drew up an agreement with the Virginia Company, who established colonies in America. The Virginia Company would help the Separatists settle on the other side of the Atlantic and in return they would send back goods for trade. Those living in Holland sold up and purchased a ship called the Speedwell which they would sail to England in 1620 to join up with the Separatists in the UK who had hired a ship named the Mayflower.    

The journey...

The Mayflower and the Speedwell met in Southampton and after concerns about the Speedwell having a leak, finally set sail for America on the 15th of August 1620. Unfortunately, the Speedwell’s leak caused problems again and the two ships were diverted to our gorgeous town of Dartmouth for repairs. After a week, the two ships began their journey once again but similarly to the first attempt, the Speedwell didn’t get too far and had to turn back from about 300 miles off Lands End and head to the South Devon city of Plymouth. The Speedwell was then declared unfit for the voyage, some at this point decided against the trip but the remaining hopefuls were ushered onto the Mayflower which eventually set sail for the final time on the 16th of September. There were around 102 passengers on board and about 30 crew members and only just under half were Separatists who also referred to themselves as Saints. The remaining people were known as Strangers who were sent by the investors, these were skilled tradespeople who would help build the new colony.  

Reaching America...

The Mayflower reached Cape Harbour, now known as Provincetown, on the 21st of November 1620 after a treacherous journey where storms blew them off course meaning they couldn’t land in New Virginia. On the 25th of November a number of Pilgrims went ashore in search of fertile land and clean water where they stumbled across clear land where corn had been grown and graves were present. Deciding this would be where they settled, they left Provincetown and arrived in Plymouth Bay, Massachusetts on the 26th of December, 1620.

Mayflower 400...

A true historic, remarkable and inspiring story, people all across the globe will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the voyage. Here in South Devon, Plymouth and Dartmouth will be hosting a wide range of events in 2019 and 2020. To learn about what’s taking place in our beautiful town of Dartmouth, please click here. If you would like to keep up to date with Dartmouth Mayflower 400 news, you can sign up to their e-newsletter here.

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