22 August 1620

On August 22, 1620 two ships dropped anchor off Bayards Cove in Dartmouth, England. After facing delays in Southampton to make the necessary repairs to Speedwell, the two ships, The Mayflower and Speedwell, had embarked on their transatlantic voyage on August 15, 1620. They sailed for a few days when Speedwell began leaking again, and they retreated to Dartmouth. This coastal town was used to large merchant ships coming along its shores – however it is unlikely that the town had ever hosted ships that were on as meaningful a journey as the Separatists and Strangers that sailed in on Auguat 22, 1620.

Bayards Cove, Dartmouth

Robert Cushman was one of the Separatist leaders and organizers of the voyage who was making the journey on the Speedwell. It is from his letter dated August 17, 1620 (Julian Calendar which is about 10 days behind the current calendar) to his friend that we have accounts of the troubles Speedwell was facing:

Our pinnace will not cease leaking, else I think we had been half-way to Virginia. Our voyage hither hath been as full of crosses as ourselves have been of crookedness. We put in here to trim her; and I think, as others also, if we had stayed at sea but three or four hours more, she would have sunk right down. And though she was twice trimmed at Hampton, yet now she is as open and leaky as a sieve; and there was a board a man might have pulled off with his fingers, two foot long, where the water came in as at a mole hole. We lay at Hampton seven days in fair weather, waiting for her, and now we lie here waiting for her in as fair a wind as can blow, and so have done these four days, and are like to lie four more, and by that time the wind will happily turn as it did at Hampton. Our victuals will be half eaten up, I think, before we go from the coast of England, and if our voyage last long, we shall not have a month’s victuals when we come in the country.

In 1619, Robert Cushman also wrote a pamphlet/book The Cry of a Stone which provides details as to why the Lieden Separatist separated from the Church of England. The book was published in 1642 under the name Coachman, and it was not until the mid-20th Century that the book was identified to have been written by a Separatist. Robert Cushman was one of the people who did not continue with the journey at Plymouth in 1620, though he did go there in 1621 where his son Thomas Cushman became a prominent member of the Pilgrim community.

After Speedwell’s repairs were completed, the two ships set sail once more on September 2, 1620.

Mayflower

Methinks I see it now, that one solitary, adventurous vessel, the ‘Mayflower’ of a forlorn hope, freighted with the prospects of a future State, and bound across the unknown sea. I behold it pursuing, with a thousand misgivings, the uncertain, the tedious voyage. Suns rise and set, and weeks and months pass, and winter surprises them on the deep, but brings them not the sight of the wished-for shore. I see them now scantily supplied with provisions, crowded almost to suffocation in their ill-stored prison, delayed by calms, pursuing a circuitous route; and now driven in fury before the raging tempest, on the high and giddy waves. The awful voice of the storm howls through the rigging. The laboring masts seem straining from their base; the dismal sound of the pumps is heard; the ship leaps, as it were, madly from billow to billow; the ocean breaks, and settles with engulfing floods over the floating deck, and beats with deadening weight against the staggered vessel. I see them, escaped from these perils, pursuing their all but desperate undertaking, and landed at last, after five months’ passage, on the ice-clad rocks of Plymouth,—weak and weary from the voyage, poorly armed, scantily provisioned, depending on the charity of their shipmaster for a draft of beer on board, drinking nothing but water on shore, without shelter, without means, surrounded by hostile tribes.

Edward Everett, Plymouth, December 22, 1824

15 August 1620

Edward Moran (1829 -1901), Embarkation of the Pilgrims from Southhampton 1620

It was 400 years ago today that two ships sailed from Southampton (UK) for America – Mayflower and Speedwell. The ships that left Southampton carried the Separatists and the Strangers.

Leaving Leiden, July 22, 1620

The Separatists had left UK because of religious persecution in 1608, and had settled in Leiden, Netherlands. After 12 years they were disillusioned by their life and their ability to practice religion freely and decided to move to America. They sold all their belongings, bought the Speedwell and sailed from Leiden for Southampton on July 22, 1620.

Pilgrim memorial Southampton, UK

They met up with more Separatists, and people who were moving for non-religious reasons, known as Strangers, in Southampton. The Speedwell had developed a leak in its journey from Leiden and needed repairs. While the repairs happened, the Speparatists lived on what is now known as Pilgrim Hill. They stocked up necessary supplies from merchants in Southampton before leaving on this long and unknown journey.

Arthur Welling Fowles (1815- 1883), Mayflower leaving Southampton 1881

It was on August 15, 1620, after Speedwell was fixed that both ships sailed. The journey, however, was cut short when Speedwell developed another leak after sailing for about 300 miles into the ocean. She was considered unsafe, and both ships turned around and headed towards Plymouth, UK.

Speedwell cannot make the journey

Speedwell had already been repaired, and at this point was considered not safe to make the transatlantic journey. Some Separatists abandoned the idea completely and returned to Leiden, other remained in Plymouth, and the rest got on board the iconic Mayflower which sailed into the ocean and into history a month later.