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You are in: Devon > Features > Feature Articles > A new life in the New World

The replica Mayflower

The replica Mayflower in Plymouth, USA

A new life in the New World

The founding fathers set sail from Plymouth to the USA on board the Mayflower in 1620.

If you drive into the city of Plymouth, you can't help but notice the huge signs, exclaiming "Plymouth...Spirit of Discovery."

It's a reference to the Pilgrim Fathers, who left England on board the Mayflower, to settle in America early in the 17th century.

Two boats were purchased by a group who were looking to leave England as a result of religious persecution.

One was called The Speedwell; the other was the Mayflower. In 1620, the boats set off from Southampton for the New World.

Before too long the Speedwell started to take in water and both vessels came into Dartmouth.

Repairs were carried out, but again the Speedwell started to take in water - this time, off Land's End.

Both ships headed back to Plymouth, and it was decided that the Speedwell just wasn't up to the voyage.

Some of her passengers were switched to the Mayflower, while others gave up on the idea and went home instead.

Mayflower Steps

The Pilgrims left from Mayflower Steps

Finally, in September 1620, the Mayflower left the port - at the spot now called the Mayflower Steps - and, some 66 days later, on 21 December 1620, she arrived at Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

The stone which the Pilgrims were believed to have first set foot on is now known as Plymouth Rock, and is still on display in the town today.

The settlers - forever known as the founding fathers - created a new town there, and called it Plymouth. The town of Plymouth, Massachusetts, is 34 miles south-east of Boston, on the east coast of America.

There were 102 people who'd departed from Devon - but not all, of course, were from the county.

So they make it into this series about famous Devon people as honorary Devonians.

Who were were Pilgrims?

The Plymouth Pilgrims were separatist puritans, who had broken away from the Church of England. To escape religious persecution, many had been living in Holland for 10 years.

Thirty-seven of the separatists from Holland decided to sail, along with 65 other passengers, to the New World.

The Mayflower was a 12-year-old, 180-ton vessel, which had previously been used in the wine trade.

She encountered heavy storms on the voyage, which caused serious damage to the ship and it took 65 days to cross the Atlantic.

During the voyage, two passengers died and two others were born - Oceanus Hopkins and Peregrine White.

The passengers dropped anchor in the bay for a month, before finally landing.

The Pilgrims have landed

On their arrival to the New World, The Pilgrims decided they needed to organise themselves, and formed a temporary government known as a Civil Body Politic.

Plymouth Rock

Plymouth Rock is on display in Plymouth, USA

They were the first permanent European settlers in America. They had to work hard to build homes and grow crops. The harsh climate and shortage of food caused half the settlers to die during the first winter.

But things would have been even worse, without the help they received from the Native American Wampanoag tribe. The tribe helped the settlers to grow enough crops to survive the winter - and the immigrants celebrated with a feast.

That celebration is marked each year in the US, with the Thanksgiving holiday.

The Pilgrims also signed a peace treaty with the Wampanoag tribe - an agreement that was never broken. However, many Native Americans died as a result of diseases carried by the settlers.

To this day, the Pilgrim Fathers have an enormous impact on Plymouth, Massachusetts. Their homes are still standing in the old part of the town, and tourist attractions have been built to reflect the history.

The village the Pilgrims built back then is recreated just outside Plymouth, Massachusetts - at a place called Plimoth Plantation. It's built on a hill overlooking the sea, with settlers' homes constructed as they would have looked in the 1620s.

The population of Plymouth, Massachusetts has grown to 55,000, having doubled in size in the last few decades.

There's great kudos in being descended from Native Americans or the Mayflower passengers. Those who can prove with documentation that they are a blood relation of 25 of the original passengers can join the Mayflower Society.

It was set up in 1897 by descendants of the Pilgrims who thought there should be a national society to honour their memory.

But what of the Mayflower?

During that first winter, the Mayflower stayed in Plymouth, USA, and returned to England the following spring, in 1621. Then, in 1957 a replica of the Mayflower was built in Brixham, South Devon.

The boat - called Mayflower II - was a gift to Plymouth, Massachusetts, and sailed across the Atlantic. She's now docked near Plymouth Rock and is open to visitors.

last updated: 01/02/2008 at 12:15
created: 30/01/2008

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