The Mayflower by 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 5​th​ 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 6​th 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 21​st​ 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 6​th​ 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.

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.  


Michele Page-Jones

In 1620 Christopher Jones was fifty years old and master and part owner of the Mayflower ship. Originally from Harwich, he moved with his wife and family to Rotherhithe in 1611. 

Why did Jones undertake the dangerous and hazardous journey to America? The most likely reason is one of economic necessity as will be shown below.

Wine was a significant import of commercial London and was largely paid for by exported English woollens. Jones’ wealthiest client was William Speight, a wine merchant living in Vintry Ward, a ward at the city end of Southwark Bridge, and one of twenty-five wards of the City of London.  

In May 1620 Jones and the Mayflower sailed up the Thames carrying fifty tons of wine for Speight. It was their last trip before the American voyage.  The imported wine was paid for with English woollens. Speight and his fellow merchants preferred to be paid in used raw cloth, but this was a source of vulnerability: if anything happened to the cloth trade, then Jones and his fellow mariners would be in difficulties

In 1620 it looked as though this trade was about to decline due to the ‘General Crisis’ in Europe caused by civil wars, climate change and migrations. Master Jones looked for alternative markets. He had a family to provide for. Capital was scarce and demand collapsed. Tens of thousands of weavers found themselves without work. Not a single coin was struck at the Royal Mint between April 1619 and March 1620. The offer from Thomas Weston, a London merchant adventurer, came at an opportune time. 

The investors who financed the Mayflower voyage were a mixed party of gentlemen, merchants and tradesmen numbering between fifty and seventy according to different sources.  Three quarters of English exports consisted of woollen cloth, and many of the men who financed the Mayflower, including Thomas Weston, depended on it. When their world seemed to be collapsing, they had to turn to new markets, and North America seemed an attractive proposition.

Thomas Weston led this company of traders but by 1619 he was in trouble. Customs records show no trace of exports by Weston at this time.  A link existed between Leiden and Weston by way of Edward Pickering, a haberdasher who had shops in London and Amsterdam. Pickering was also Weston’s agent in Holland and was married to a member of the Leiden Separatist congregation.  Pickering was a strong supporter of the Separatists, later leaving money in his will to help them.

Weston needed a new source of income and Pickering had friends in Leiden who needed help.

Thus, the dependence on using woollen cloth in such fragile economic times as a method of payment left smaller traders such as Weston, and mariners such as Jones in difficulties and they needed to find new markets and new trade routes.

Of course, we do not know if the Mayflower was the first ship to which the commission was offered or whether others had previously turned it down!


Bunker, Nick (2011) Making haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and their New World. London: Pimlico

Fraser, Rebecca (2017) The Mayflower. New York; St Martin’s Press

(Additional material by Annabel Stockman)

Thomas Gataker (1574 -1654) and A Discours Apologetical

Thomas Gataker was the rector of the parish of Rotherhithe from 1611 until his death in 1654. He was a renowned scholar though not averse to lively public debate with his critics, as illustrated by his publication A Discours Apologetical, a comprehensive onslaught upon William Lilly for his “shameless slanders’ against him.

Gataker defended himself by pointing out that he spent most of his income on repairs, and this is of interest to us because he describes the ruinous state of his house and St Mary’s (then Saxon) church when he first came to the parish. Of course, this was the parish to which Christopher Jones also came in 1611 from Harwich.

“Nor indeed were my means so much, as manie imagined, improved by removal to the place where as yet I abide, and have now for ful fortie and two yeers resided. For besides that I came to a dwelling house wilfultie much mangled and defaced by the late Incumbents Widow, out of meer spight and spleen, not so much against him that was to succeed, being then uncertain, as against some of the Parish, with whom her Husband had had much contention, and the Wharf before it (a chargable piece) readie to drop down; toward the charge whereof albeit some two or three contributed somewhat, yet the main matter came out of mine own purs; and the first fruits that were to be paid; as also that the main Fabrick of the Church supported with Chalkie Pillars, of such a bulk as filled up no smal part of the room, and were found verie faultie, threatning a fail, if not a fall, unless speedilie prevented, to the ruine of the whole; which to remov and place strong Timber Columns in the room of them, would prov a verie great charge; albeit, the repair of the Bodie of the Church were no way chargable upon the Rector, yet to encourage others to a freer and larger contribution thereunto, I lanched out of mine own accord so far, having as yet received little benefit of my place, that none out-went me, few to speak of came neer me. Add here unto, that not long after this a ship firing on the River, just against my house, much endangered it, being covered, as from its first building it had been, with Reed; which to prevent the like hazard that might, (as it did also some time) after ensu, I therefore took away, and in stead thereof (which was no smal charge to me) covered it all over with Tile. “

It is interesting that Gataker talks of a “wharf before it”, suggesting that the rectory at least was much nearer to the river in the seventeenth century and that indeed there was a landing place there. Further on he talks about a fire on a ship on the river just against his house which occasioned him to remove the ‘reed’ and to tile his house.

What a welcome for the Rev Gataker and his probably pregnant wife and their two daughters to arrive at a ‘much mangled and defaced dwelling house’!

Sources The entry for Thomas Gataker in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Gataker,Thomas A discours apologetical 1654;view=fulltext

The Christopher Jones Sculpture

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.

The Idea

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.