The mayflower: michele page-jones
We actually know little about the Mayflower ship itself, and all the representations of her are based on what we know of similar seventeenth century merchant ships. She was probably between 140-180 tons and ninety feet long. She had two decks and probably was square-rigged, with three masts. It appears that Master Christopher Jones and several partners purchased her in about 1607 and that her first documented voyage was to Trondheim, Norway, in 1609.
Christopher Jones was born in about 1570 and was a native of Harwich. He moved to Rotherhithe in about 1611. After that date the Mayflower was always referred to as “of London.” Parish registers of St Mary’s Rotherhithe show that Rotherhithe was Jones’s place of residence as there are entries for four of his children’s baptisms.
By 1620 Jones was a very experienced captain making numerous trips to Bordeaux with cloth in return for wine and cognac. He also transported hats, hemp, Spanish salt, hops, and vinegar to and from ports in the Mediterranean and the Canaries. It is possible that he took the Mayflower whaling at least once to Greenland in the North Atlantic.
In 1614 Thomas Fletcher, a Merchant Venturer and member of the group which would eventually hire Jones, had sent a consignment of lawn (a very fine linen mostly produced in France) to Hamburg “by the Mayflower of London, captain, Christopher Jones.”
From the early fifteenth century a ‘Merchant Venturer’ or ‘Adventurer’ was an English merchant engaged in export who risked his own money in speculative ventures abroad. The first colonization of North America in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 was backed by these adventurers, and they later funded the Pilgrims who established the Plymouth Plantation, Massachusetts, in 1620.
Although, to us, the Mayflower appears small and old for the voyage upon which she was about to embark she did have an experienced captain and crew. John Clarke the pilot or first mate had been baptised in Rotherhithe in 1575. He had sailed twice to Virginia, and in 1611 had been captured by the Spaniards, escaping in 1616. Only a few of the other thirty to forty crew members are known by name and none of these has been traced in the St Mary’s registers. However, as the captain and first mate were Rotherhithe men it seems feasible to suggest that some of the sailors were recruited locally.
In mid July 1620 about sixty-five passengers embarked on the Mayflower and proceeded to sail to Southampton and a rendezvous with the Speedwell coming from Holland. Both ships had been chartered by Thomas Weston of the Merchant Adventurers’ Company to carry both “Saints and Strangers” to the New World. The Mayflower originally carried predominately the families who hoped to better their conditions and have land of their own in a new country – the so-called Strangers. In a letter home in 1621 to encourage further settlement, one of the early settlers says, “we are all freeholders, the rent day doth not trouble us.”
Freehold, however, was an attraction to all and some of these original sixty-five passengers must have been ‘Saints’, since William Bradford had a majority in New England. Also, only ‘Saints’ were elected Governors, Bradford himself holding office continuously between 1621-1632 and then intermittently until 1657
The Speedwell carried a group of Separatists who had been living in Leiden since 1608 after they had fled from persecution in England. William Bradford later wrote that it was for the sake of the children who were becoming assimilated into Dutch culture that they decided to emigrate, “So they left that goodly & pleasant city which had been their resting place near twelve years but they knew they were pilgrims and looked not much on those things but lift up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country and quieted their spirits.”
On 5th August the Mayflower and Speedwell set sail from Southampton. They put into Dartmouth because the Speedwell was ‘ . . . open and leaky as a sieve.” Setting out again after three hundred miles sailing they had to return, this time to Plymouth where the Speedwell was abandoned. All crowded onto the Mayflower, although about twenty passengers decided not to continue the journey. The ship finally left Plymouth on 6th September 1620. The voyage itself took sixty-six days, and Cape Cod was sighted on 9th November.
Initially the voyage was not too arduous, sea sickness being the main problem but by October the Atlantic storms meant at times that they could not use the sails, and had to drift. They had intended to make their plantation at the mouth of the Hudson River and tried to sail south. However inclement weather and terrible storms meant that eventually they looked for a suitable site around Cape Cod. On December 21st a landing was made at Plymouth, and on December 25th building began on the Common House.
The first winter was very difficult with most of the passengers staying aboard the Mayflower. When they embarked on 21st March nearly half the passengers and crew had died from either scurvy, tuberculosis or pneumonia.
Christopher Jones and the Mayflower crew stayed on until 5th April 1621 with the ship providing shelter until more dwellings could be built. His crew was sadly depleted with three of the mates, the master gunner, the bo’sun and the cook all having died. Despite the terrible hardships of that first winter not one of the passengers returned home with the ship.
The return voyage was accomplished much more quickly due to the prevailing winds, and the ship returned on 6th May 1621. However the hardships and the malnutrition suffered on the famous voyage took their toll and Master Jones was buried in St Mary’s Churchyard on 5th March 1622.
John Clarke died in 1623 on a voyage to Virginia.
On 26th August 1622 letters of administration were granted to Jones’ widow, and a valuation of the ship carried out in 1624 gave the total value as only £128 8s 4d ( one hundred and twenty-eight pounds, eight shillings and four pence). Of course, at the time nobody had any idea of the historic importance of the ship and we can only conjecture that she was broken up by one of the many breakers’ yards so numerous in Rotherhithe. It is speculated that the reclaimed timbers of the Mayflower were used to build a barn in the village of Jordans, Buckinghamshire.
The ship represents Rotherhithe as the historic centre of the shipbuilding industry upon the coat of arms granted to the new Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey in 1901. The ship stands also for the Surrey Commercial Docks. One of many images of ships in the area, this one looks similar to ships contemporary with the Mayflower – though we have no definitive image of her.
St Mary Magdalen Church in Bermondsey Street, once a part of Bermondsey Abbey is represented by the lion and crosier. St Olave’s Church is represented by the axe and crown which were emblems of King Olaf of Norway.
The motto Prosunt Gentribus Artes ( not shown here) means Arts Profit the People.
CHRISTOPHER JONES, MASTER of the MAYFLOWER
Information below from notes left by Fr. Nick Richards Rector of St Mary’s 1977-2006
The National Society, Sons and Daughters of the Pilgrims approached the parish of St Mary’s with a request to erect a monument to Christopher Jones and the Mayflower.
Captain Jones’ Christian name prompted an association with St Christopher ( from Christophorous – Christ-bearer) and his mythic role as vehicle of the child Jesus. Across a river where midstream he, a mighty man, almost collapsed under the unearthly weight of the Christ Child who revealed himself on the other side as being ‘The Weight of the World’. St Christopher is popularly regarded as the patron of all voyagers, and has long been credited with the role of guardian for sailors invoked against tempest and plague.
The Sculptor : Jamie Sargeant
‘I suggested that it would be possible to consider a figurative sculpture in stone, standing by the church near the tower. The image of a man stepping out of water onto land refers to the saxon name for Rotherhithe – ‘rothra’ – mariner/oarsman and ‘hythe’ – landing place, as well as its spiritual connotation of arrival or transcendence. He carries a child in one arm and bears a staff in the other. His windswept head peers back over his shoulder, perhaps eyeing his ship ( and in situ the Church of St Mary) or beyond to England and to home. The child’s open expression faces forward to the New World. His right arm is raised in an expression of blessing/greeting. The inscription would wrap around the base of the sculpture, the basic form of which would represent a boat. This ‘image’ being reinforced by the sail-like cloak about the man’s shoulders.’
Below, an approximate idea of the space inside the Mayflower, drawn by Jack Merton.
Drawing of St Mary’s church by Samuel Parsons in 1623, three years after the Mayflower departed Rotherhithe in 1620, and a year after Master Christopher Jones died and was buried in the churchyard – it is not known where. This photograph is taken from ‘The Story of Rotherhithe’ by Stephen Humphrey, and reproduced here by kind permission of the Archives at Lambeth Council.
The Mayflower tree at St Mary’s.
Photograph by Jane Deakin of St Mary’s 1715 church with Glastonbury Thorn in bloom, taken Spring 2018. The tree was planted by Fr Nick Richards.
Header image and photograph of Christopher Jones statue by Annabel Stockman
Header image by kind permission of the Mayflower pub.