The Mayflower story began when a small group of separatists fled England for Holland in 1608.
The group was a mix of those seeking to earn their fortunes in the fish and beaver trade and a small band of Puritans – Christians who had chosen to separate themselves from the Church of England.
They were known as Separatists whose beliefs put them at odds with the established church, led by James I.
Eventually, the group became disgusted by the ‘licentiousness’ of the Dutch city of Leiden and decided to settle in Virginia, as England’s American colony was known.
They arranged to sail on the ships Mayflower and Speedwell to the New World.
The Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth, Massachusetts and the subsequent interactions between the British and the Wampanoag tribe significantly shaped the building of America
The Mayflower was a three-masted ship, most likely between 90 and 110 feet long.
The ship was hired in London, and sailed from London to Southampton in July 1620 to begin loading food and supplies for the voyage–much of which was purchased at Southampton.
The Mayflower then left Holland on 31 July 1620, joining the Speedwell in Southampton, England, for the voyage to America.
The two ships sailed on 15 August but returned because of the leaky condition of the Speedwell.
The Speedwell was eventually abandoned, and on 16 September, 102 passengers and around 30 crew aboard the Mayflower finally sailed from England.
The voyage itself across the Atlantic Ocean took 66 days, from their departure on September 16 (Old Style September 6), until Cape Cod was sighted on November 19 (Old Style November 9) 1620.
Those on board would have slept on the floor in cramped conditions, amid the horrific odours of unwashed bodies, stale wine and vomit.
The arrival of the British Pilgrims all those centuries ago had a devastating impact on the Native Americans – the effects of which are still held today – who have inhabited Massachusetts for 12,000 years
Buckets were used for chamber pots in which passengers relieved themselves if the weather was too bad to go off the side of the ship.
The group’s diet consisted of salt beef or pork, oatmeal and rice and butter and cheese.
After more than two months at sea, the Mayflower dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on November 21.
The travellers who disembarked were starving, exhausted and riven with disease.
A sailor boy was the only member of the group to die during the journey.
However, another five died while the Mayflower was at anchor at the Cape Cod harbour for several weeks. Another 45 of the original Pilgrims died in that first winter.
Of the 18 women who boarded the Mayflower at Plymouth, only five survived.
Of the 102 passengers Mayflower brought to New England in 1620, 32 were children.
While nearly half of the ship’s passengers did not survive the winter of 1620/1621, it is believed there were fewer deaths among the children, which meant the struggling colony had more chance of flourishing.
Upon arriving in America, the meeting between the Mayflower Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Tribe was an encounter that would go on to shape the history of the US.
The Wampanoag people inhabited the land known as Patuxet, now known as Plymouth, for more than 12,000 years.
They had a form of sovereign governance, which influenced the structure of the modern U.S. government, and a network of 69 villages across what is now Massachusetts.
The Pilgrims arrival in Plymouth began years of coexistence when the Wampanoag people assisted them in planting, hunting and protection. The Pilgrims allied with the Wampanoag to protect against opposing tribes.
It was a three-day festival, to celebrate the harvest after the first winter, that became the basis for the American Thanksgiving holiday.
Historically, the agreement they had for more than a half century was the only evidence of an alliance between colonists and Native people on record.
This agreement disintegrated as more and more colonists arrived and imposed English law and acquired their land.
After this period, the fate of Native Americans became a tragic chapter in history and the effects are still felt today.