AskDefine | Define mayflower

Dictionary Definition



1 the ship in which the Pilgrim Fathers sailed from England to Massachusetts in 1620
2 low-growing evergreen shrub of eastern North America with leathery leaves and clusters of fragrant pink or white flowers [syn: trailing arbutus, Epigaea repens]

User Contributed Dictionary

see mayflower


Proper noun

  1. A historical ship that transported the Pilgrims to America in the year 1620

Extensive Definition

The Mayflower was the famous ship that transported the English Separatists, better known as the Pilgrims, from Southampton, England, to Plymouth, Massachusetts (which would become the capital of Plymouth Colony), in 1620. The vessel left England on September 6, and after a gruelling 66-day journey marked by disease, the ship dropped anchor inside the hook tip of Cape Cod (Provincetown Harbor) on November 11 (dates in Old Style, Julian Calendar; according to the New Style Gregorian Calendar, the corresponding dates are September 16 and November 21). However, the Mayflower went off course as the winter approached, and remained in Cape Cod Bay (mapped in 1602 by Gosnold).
On March 21, 1621, all surviving passengers, who had inhabited the ship during the winter, moved ashore at Plymouth, and on April 5, the Mayflower, a privately commissioned vessel, returned to England (details below).


The Mayflower was used primarily as a cargo ship, involved in active trade of goods (often wine) between England and other European countries, (principally France, but also Norway, Germany, and Spain). At least between 1609 and 1622, it was mastered by Christopher Jones, who would command the ship on the famous transatlantic voyage, and based in Rotherhithe, London, England. on August 5, 1620, but the Speedwell developed a leak, and had to be refitted at Dartmouth.
On the second attempt, the ships reached the Atlantic Ocean but again were forced to return to Plymouth because of the Speedwells leak.
It would later be revealed that there was in fact nothing wrong with the Speedwell. The crew had sabotaged it in order to escape the year-long commitment of their contract.
After reorganisation, the final sixty-six day voyage was made by the Mayflower alone, leaving from a site near to the Mayflower Steps in Plymouth, England on September 6.
The intended destination was an area near the Hudson River, in "North Virginia". However the ship was forced far off-course by inclement weather and drifted well north of the intended Virginia settlement. As a result of the delay, the settlers did not arrive in Cape Cod till the onset of a harsh New England winter. The settlers ultimately failed to reach Virginia where they had already obtained permission from the London Company to settle.
To establish legal order and to quell increasing strife within the ranks, the settlers wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact after the ship dropped anchor at the tip of Cape Cod on November 11, in what is now Provincetown Harbor. sparking friction with the locals. They moved down the coast to what is now Eastham, and explored the area of Cape Cod for several weeks, looting and stealing as they went. They decided to relocate to Plymouth after a difficult encounter with the local native Americans, the Nausets, at First Encounter Beach, in December of 1620.
During the winter the passengers remained on board the 'Mayflower', suffering an outbreak of a contagious disease described as a mixture of scurvy, pneumonia and tuberculosis.


The 102 passengers on the Mayflower were the earliest permanent European settlers in New England. (The Jamestown settlement was the first English settlement in what would become the United States.) Some of their descendants have taken great interest in tracing their ancestry back to one or more of these Pilgrims. (See The Society of Mayflower Descendants and the "List of passengers on the Mayflower" for a complete accounting. See also "List of Mayflower passengers who died in the winter of 1620–1621".) Throughout the winter, the passengers spent time ashore preparing home sites and searching for food but partly remained based aboard the Mayflower. Only about half of the settlers would still be alive when the Mayflower left in the spring. Governor Bradford noted that about half the sailors died as well.

Mayflower II

After World War II, an effort began to reenact the voyage of the Mayflower. With cooperation between Project Mayflower and Plimoth Plantation, an accurate replica of the original (designed by naval architect William A. Baker) was launched in 1956 from Devon, England, and set sail in the spring of 1957. Captained by Alan Villiers, the voyage ended in Plymouth Harbor after 55 days on June 13, 1957 to great acclaim. The ship is moored to this day at State Pier in Plymouth, and is open to visitors.

Popular culture

The Mayflower voyage and the ship became famous as an icon of a perilous one-way trip to a new life, with many things named for it:
  • The Mayflower is the emblem of the English football club Plymouth Argyle F.C., who are known as "The Pilgrims" (nickname).
  • Songwriter Paul Simon mentions the ship in his "American Tune" (song).
  • Yes member Jon Anderson & Vangelis (as "Jon & Vangelis") made a song about the ship called "The Mayflower" released on their album The Friends of Mr. Cairo.
  • Folk/Rock singer Bob Dylan mentions the ship in his song "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" on the album Bringing It All Back Home.
  • The space-shuttle parody in the movie Airplane II: The Sequel is called Mayflower One.
  • Mark Carew wrote a book titled 'Flight of the Mayflower' where NASA builds an intergalactic space ship (named the Mayflower) to travel to a new world due to the fact that Earth has become a place where terror, geo-political shift, ecological crisis and nuclear war are pandemic.
  • The popular syndicated show, The Brady Bunch, had an episode revolving around the Pilgrims and the Mayflower, called, "The Un-Underground Movie"
Many Americans believe themselves to be descended from Mayflower passengers, e.g. that somebody's ancestors go "all the way back to the Mayflower".
While the Mayflower brought one early settlement, it can be compared to other settlements in North America:
However, with the Mayflower voyage in 1620, more emphasis is placed on the so-called "First Thanksgiving" and the peaceful co-existence with the native Wampanoag tribe, as issues of civilized culture, among the 13 original colonies of the U.S.


See also

External links

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