The Mayflower arrived in Southampton on 29 July from London carrying mainly settlers and was joined by the Speedwell on 1 August carrying the religious separatists (we now call the Pilgrims) from Delfshaven.
Their intention was to get both vessels ready and then sail in company directly to the English Colony in Virginia.
Southampton was an ideal place to start the voyage for many reasons; The water is one of the world’s largest natural harbours and offers a safe anchorage, plus its unique double tide provides easy access for 16 hours out of every 24.
Southampton was a true Sea Town (now Sea City since 1964) with all requirements for the preparation of a maritime adventure. Extensive quays and wharfs provided easy access to the commercial facilities in what was and still is a very successful trading Port.
Although there was much local trade from the surrounding counties; Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Sussex as well as France and the Channel Isles, there were also trading links with Virginia and Newfoundland. This meant that there was an experienced pool of seamen who had previously made the difficult and dangerous Atlantic crossing.
John Alden, a cooper, joined Mayflower here and a George Alden who could well have been his father lived in the high street. The town records show that the Council were ordered to press 100 seamen and mariners for the Royal Navy in July perhaps a good enough reason to sign on to the Mayflower’s crew.
The Speedwell was found to be leaking and it was thought at the time that she may have had too large a mast and sail area. The extensive ship building and repair facilities near West Quay were very useful in expediting repairs.
“Nobody could have predicted the huge impact the sailing of the Mayflower from our city would have on the world. It has literally changed the course of history. In Southampton we’re extremely proud of our unique maritime heritage and look forward to playing our part, along with our Mayflower 400 partners, in encouraging our children and young people to understand the history and to welcoming new visitors to the city in 2020”
Councillor Simon Letts
Leader of the Council
According to Southampton’s Book of Instruments records, a ship called Speedwell was built locally in 1606 and this may have been the vessel that returned to her home port.
However, the most important benefit to the expedition was the availability of all the supplies required, not only for the voyage but to establish a permanent community in the New World. It is thought that the Pilgrims and settlers shopped during the day and slept back on board both ships. These were supposedly anchored just off West Quay.
In 1620, there were 153 Merchants in the Town of whom 118 were engaged partially or wholly in the wool trade but the balance would have been able to provide all the other items required for self-sufficiency.
When the Mayflower and Speedwell left together on that fateful Saturday 15 August after a fraught and hectic stay they could not have imagined that their persistence would lead to the founding of New England.
Southampton has extensive records pertaining to the Pilgrims. These can be found in the city archives but in 1970, for the 350th Anniversary, the then City archivist, Sheila D Thompson produced a comprehensive exhibition and booklet, Southampton in 1620 and the Mayflower. This documented not only all of the properties in the town at that time but in many cases who lived in them.