Around the 23 August 1620, the Mayflower and the Speedwell ships set sail from Dartmouth. They were 300 miles clear of Land’s End when there were complaints that the Speedwell was once again letting in water.
“shee is open and leakie as a sieve; and thr was a borde, a man might have puld of with his fingers, 2 foote longe, wher ye water came in as it at a mole hole. I thinke, as others also, if we had stayed at sea but 3 or 4 howers more, shee would have sunke righte downe.”
The ships sailed into Plymouth, which was the most convenient port to use. Here the Speedwell was examined, the general conclusion that she was over-masted and carrying too much for the Atlantic crossing.
Whilst the ship was inspected it is likely that all the passengers from the Speedwell came ashore, offering the Pilgrims a brief respite from the cramped conditions on board ship, which they had already endured for a month by the time they reached Plymouth.
It is believed the Pilgrims received a warm welcome in Plymouth. Those that did not live on board ship probably stayed in or visited houses around the quay such as Island House and the Elizabethan House. These buildings still stand today.
Island House, situated on Southside Street, dates from between 1572 and 1600 and is reputed to be one of the houses the Pilgrims were entertained in prior their departure for the New World.
The Elizabethan House, situated on New Street, was called London House when it was built in the 1580s. It may have been the Plymouth offices of the London Company of Virginia. Today it is called the Elizabethan House because it was built in the time of Queen Elizabeth I.
The Protestant community were also sympathetic to the Pilgrims cause. Plymouth had a long Protestant tradition and the port had been previously used as a base for fighting Protestant England’s war against Catholic Europe.
“2020 will be a landmark year. It marks the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower, arguably the most influential single voyage in the history of the world. The ship quite literally carried with it the seed of the American nation. The spirit of that voyage and the beliefs that motivated it led to the creation of the most powerful nation on earth.
Mayflower 400 is a key milestone for the two Plymouth’s and we are working closely together to make it a truly memorable occasion of international significance to both sides of the Atlantic.”
Adrian Vinken OBE
Chairman Mayflower 400
Furthermore, Plymouth people were deeply interested in the Pilgrims’ destination. When the Speedwell and Mayflower anchored in Plymouth, many families in the town had seen their men sail off to fishing grounds in New England and Newfoundland. They were probably aware too that the end of August was too late to set sail across the Atlantic and their men were due to return home.
The ship-builders in Plymouth said the Speedwell was unfit to cross the Atlantic, the Mayflower would therefore have to travel alone. There was not enough room for everyone on board one ship but, by then, some Pilgrims had already lost heart or were simply too weak and sick to continue the journey by sea.
In the end, about 20 Pilgrims were left behind, some travelling back to London on the Speedwell. The remainder crowded on-board the Mayflower.
The series of unwelcome delays meant that by the time the Pilgrims were ready to sail it was mid-September. Experienced local sailors would not have wanted to set off on a long Atlantic sea voyage at this time of year, but the Pilgrims were determined that they were going to make it to America.
They finally left Plymouth on the 16 September 1620.
“Wednesday 16th September: the wind coming east-north-east, a fine small gale, we loosed from Plymouth having been kindly entertained and courteously used by divers friends there dwelling.”
It seems fitting that Plymouth should be the final point of departure for the Pilgrims as the town had played an important role in opening the Americas. Plymouth merchants were the first Englishmen to trade across the Atlantic and the first attempt to establish an English colony in the New World had been made from Plymouth.