Mayflower turf wars… anyone else want to join in?

09 +00002013-05-01T09:31:22+00:0031 2012 § 14 Comments

From The Times Tuesday April 30th

I was disgruntled to read in yesterday’s The Times that there is some kind of battle going on between Harwich and Plymouth about which place really ‘owned’ the Pilgrim Fathers and the Mayflower. Both contenders are quite obviously charlatans: as every Lincolnshire schoolchild knows, the Pilgrim Fathers originated in Boston, from which Fenland town they had to flee as dissenters to the Netherlands. Subsequently they sailed to America, and founded a colony in Massachusetts, eventually naming its principal town… Boston! (See? Not Basildon or Barnstaple. Or Plymouth, indeed!)

The name of Boston, now borne with pride by one of the world’s great cities, should be sufficient proof that all other claimants to ancestral Mayflower fame are upstarts. However, I do acknowledge that the name of the rock on which they landed in 1620, which has always been known as Plymouth Rock, muddies the waters a little. But I’ve seen Plymouth Rock and, no disrespect, in a country that does everything BIG, it is perhaps the smallest and most understated monument that ever graced the description ‘tourist attraction’: a refreshing change from the biggest, richest, fattest and brightest (but rarely oldest) that is the more usual fare in America; yet, even to someone who thinks that small is beautiful, disappointing, nevertheless. And far from casting doubt upon my assertion, I think that Plymouth Rock proves it completely. Why? Because, with its limited dimensions, it’s quite obvious that no more than three people could have stepped ashore upon it. 102 people sailed in the Mayflower; two of them died on the voyage. Of the remaining 100, three obviously came from Plymouth; and the other 97 from Boston. In the absence of a rock bearing the legend Basildon or Barnstaple, and with a whole city to rely on, I rest my case.

Lincolnshire rules, ok?

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§ 14 Responses to Mayflower turf wars… anyone else want to join in?

  • vallypee says:

    Christina, in Delfshaven here in Rotterdam, there is a small church dedicated to the Pilgrim fathers who settled here in the Netherlands for sometime before deciding this country was far too liberal (or libertine) and sailing on the Speedwell to Plymouth – I think many people still think the same way about NL! They then transferred to the Mayflower, which took them to America. According to Wikipedia (I know, I know, not the most reliable source) they came from Gainsbororugh originally, not even Boston..hmm. As I said, We can’t always trust Wikipedia. I suppose the Plymouth connection was their last with England, hence the Plymouth colony. It’s interesting to read about them from the Dutch perspective. Interesting too that Harwich is now claiming them! I’ve never heard that one before 🙂 I shall read on!

  • vallypee says:

    Now I’m reading the Wikipedia article more closely, it seems that the Plymouth link is purely accidental. If this is true, the NL contingent originally met up with the Mayflower in Southampton. It doesn’t say where the Mayflower actually came from though, so I suppose the ship itself and its crew may have come from Harwich. I shall start digging 🙂 I think what the article may be confusing is the crew and the dissenters.

    • May I respond to both your comments in one? I hope that you won’t feel short-changed. Gainsborough will do fine for me, Valerie! I think that you have started the ball rolling, however, and out there, somewhere, will be someone with the specialist knowledge to pin this to the map (firmly in Lincolnshire!). My tongue was in cheek, of course, for there is in all this kind of thing some merry May madness. Your final point about discriminating between crew and passengers is, of course, very pertinent. Your Dutch perspective is also interesting. I shall await the outcome of your researches with great anticipation!

  • vallypee says:

    I have to get back to work on marking exams now, but I shall keep reading. Tongues in cheeks are very healthy anyway, and why they should be making such a fuss about it, I don’t quite follow, as none of the Pilgrim Fathers appears to have come from either Plymouth or Harwich, or even Southampton, so I think your grump is very justified 🙂 I also think I should correct myself. Rather than confusing the dissenters with the crew, they seem to be conferring the nobility of the expedition on the ship rather than on the people!

    • Oh, Valerie, the terrible choice between the professional duty of the marking and the temptation of pursuing a genuine interest! I hope that the marking isn’t too onerous, or too repetitive; there is nothing worse than having to read much the same thing over and again.
      I am astonished at the column inches devoted to this story, which certainly seems well out of proportion to the value of the subject.
      ‘Courage’ for the work ahead!

  • Jeff Webber says:

    I work with the Harwich Mayflower Project and I would like to say that we are not looking to take credit away from any area with links to the Pilgrim story, and we are looking to work with all the towns and people who are part of the story. The crew (Ships Crew & Passangers) list is available in various places including our website. This is about telling the story and making the history alive for as many people as possible. Southampton, Rotherhide, Billericy, Gt Bardfield, Boston Llincs, Plymouth, Nethlands, Rochester, the list goes on and on all have a part to add to the history. We hope the article actually starts to open peoples eyes to these facts. The ship build is part of the project which also covers Marine Apprenticeship Training, Unemployed Training, and Construction apprenticeships, which we hope will leave a lasting legacy to the ship build project.

    • Jeff, you are very welcome here and your elucidation of the Harwich side of the story will serve to increase the understanding of both myself and the readers of this blog. I certainly found the import of the article confusing, to say the least, as it seems to mix ship and crew and passengers into a general ‘Plymouth v Harwich’ competition, without much particular purpose.
      Who knows, perhaps Plymouth will appear here in due course, which contribution would certainly be in the interests of balance; as you have read, however, I am too biased in favour of the Lincolnshire origins of the dissenters who settled in New England to act as your referee.
      I wish you good fortune in the ship build project, which seems to have plenty of opportunities for people who need those, and hope that your venture becomes a much better-documented story for future historians.

  • vallypee says:

    Good luck indeed, Jeff, and well said, Christina.

  • Jeff Webber says:

    Hi All

    We have done some leg work our end on where the crew and passangers from the original trip are from.
    See the attached link above

    Makes for interesting viewing.


  • Hi,

    Having written a book on the subject “The Mayflower of Harwich” (available on Amazon) may I throw in my pennyworth….

    It is well documented and not contested, that the master of the Mayflower ship that took 102 passengers, later to be penned “The Pilgrim Fathers”, was skippered by Christopher Jones, who was born and raised in Harwich, Essex. Furthermore, he was a close friend of Christopher Newport, also a Harwich man, who was the commander of three ships that took 100 men to Virginia, some ten years earlier.

    Christopher Jones was part owner of the Mayflower and in 1611, he, his family and close friends, which included the crew of the ship, relocated to Rotherhithe, London. It was there that the Mayflower left in July 1620, carrying mainly hired men and their families, who were to assist the Brethren in the New World. The Mayflower sailed from Rotherhithe to Southampton, to meet up with the Brethren, originally from Lincolnshire, who were on the smaller ship “The Speedwell”. The Speedwell had been purchased by the Brethren whilst she was in Holland and re rigged with a much larger mast, so that she may keep up with the Mayflower across the ocean.

    The two ships left Southampton, intending to cross the Atlantic and head for Virginia, where the Christopher Newport settlement was well established. However, heavy seas and a storm caused the Speedwell to leek badly below ships, due to the extra strain on the oversized mast. The two ships took shelter in Dartmouth, where the Speedwell was patched up as best as possible. Again the two ships head out into the Atlantic and again the Speedwell took on water – this time the haven port was Plymouth, where after trying again to repair the smaller ship, it was decided that the Mayflower would alone make for the New World.

    Plymouth, Devon does play an important part in the Mayflower story as it was there that the already battered Brethren and hired help found refuge from the separatists that were living in the town. Indeed, when the time came for the Mayflower to venture to sea on her own, many of the original passengers no longer felt the need to seek refuge from King James in “that hostile land” as penned by Christopher Newport.

    During the voyage there were many ill happenings and much bad weather, but each event was conquered successfully. Whilst the hired help took this to be lucky, the Brethren took as a sign that the hand of God was helping them. Thus, when they eventually settled in what they named “Plimouth” it was natural that they name is similar to the last the town in England that God had ordained that they should shelter in. The Plymouth Rock by the way is a myth created by locals in the 19th century to bring in tourists. They felt that they needed a focal point for the visitors to see.

    The three quarter size replica built in Brixham, Devon in 1956 is now older that the original Mayflower and has rotted so much that she is now longer sea worthy – in fact she is no longer tourist attraction worthy and is being renovated.

    During my research for my book – the first on the subject since the Internet came into being – I was able to piece together lots of missing clues that were never found before. For instance, it was no hand of God or sheer luck that allowed all those souls to stay alive for over sixty days, without any trace of scurvy, malnutrition and lack of water/drink. Also, the Mayflower was owned before Christopher Jones and his partners bought her by the Greenland Whaling Company and hunted whale from Greenland to Iceland to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Jones also used the ship to hunt whale in the same waters and was well conversant with the Northern Atlantic crossing route, still used from September onwards by cruise ships and yachts. Thus, as it was now September Jones felt that the safest option was to cross using that route.

    The ship was provisioned only for a journey of between 30 to 40 days, which would have been ok had the sea and weather been kinder to them. After 40 grueling days, with food and water long gone, Jones was forced to head for St. John, Nova Scotia, the oldest settlement in North America and where undoubtedly he knew people from his whaling days. The problem was that St. John was still very much a loyalist settlement and may not look kindly at the prospect of giving aid to people thought as the enemy of the King.

    This is the reason that there was no mention of St. John in the journals written in 1620 etc. Jones and his crew must have rowed to shore, not mentioning to the settlers that the Brethren were on the Mayflower, or to the Brethren where they were.


    • Well, Paul, you have certainly brought your considerable research to bear upon this vexed subject and I’m delighted to welcome you here to clarify matters; your detail is extremely interesting and makes a lot of sense. I had rather hoped that someone with a weight of knowledge about this subject would contribute… and here you are, with compelling information. I shall retweet the post so that others may be able to read what you have commented. Many thanks indeed! 🙂

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