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  • 15 Sep 2020 2:16 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Quarters Assigned

    Some of the principal passengers aboard the Mayflower went ashore in Plymouth and were entertained by other Separatist brethren on this, their last full day in England (“having been kindly entertained and courteously used by divers friends there dwelling,” Mourt’s Relation).  The passengers were all assigned quarters today on the Mayflower, which must have been a daunting task.  There were 102 passengers, and a crew of perhaps 35 men, for a total of about 135 men, women and children (along with two dogs).  However, at about 180 tons, the Mayflower was considered a smaller cargo ship, having travelled mainly between England and Bordeaux with clothing and wine, not an ocean ship, and not designed to carry passengers.  A good, strong ship was at least 300 tons, which made the Mayflower relatively small.  Some had better quarters than others, some much more and heavier furniture, while some had bulky and heavy goods for their personal benefit (such as William Mullins’ cases of “boots and shoes”).  The assignments were in a large measure determined by the requirements of the women and children: analysis of the list shows that there were nineteen women, ten young girls, and one infant requiring special consideration. Of the other children, none were so young that they couldn’t readily bunk with or near their fathers in any part of the ship in which the men might be located.

  • 14 Sep 2020 2:50 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Speedwell leaves for London

    All of the Speedwell’s passengers who were to cross the Atlantic now being on board the Mayflower, the Speedwell departed for London.  Christopher Martin had been made “governour” of the passengers on the Mayflower for the voyage, and Robert Cushman his “assistant.”  It is evident from Cushman’s letter of 17 August 1620 that Martin had become obnoxious to both passengers and crew, particularly regarding provisioning and payments and rendering financial accounts to the Leiden contingent: “If I speak to him, he flies in my face and saith no complaints shall be heard or received but by himself, and saith: ‘They are froward, and waspish, discontented people, and I do ill to hear them.’ … The sailors also are so offended at his ignorant boldness in meddling and controlling in things he knows not what belongs to, as that some threaten to mischief him …  But at best this cometh of it, that he makes himself a scorn and laughing stock unto them.”  It seems that when the passengers were all gathered in the Mayflower after the Speedwell’s departure there was a new choice of officers (though no explicit record has been found of this), as Cushman had vacated his position and gone back to London, and we will see that on November 11 [o.s.]/21 [n.s.] the colonists “confirmed” John Carver as their “governour,” showing that he had been previously chosen for this position; the likeliest day for this selection is today.

  • 13 Sep 2020 2:26 AM | Soule (Administrator)


    This was the final day of cargo transfer from the Speedwell to the Mayflower.  The Speedwell was built in 1577, under the name Swiftsure, as part of English preparations for war against Spain.  She participated in the fight against the Spanish Armada.  During the Earl of Essex's 1596 Azores expedition she served as the ship of his second in command, Sir Gelli Meyrick.  After hostilities with Spain ended, she was decommissioned in 1605 and renamed the Speedwell.  According to William Bradford, the Speedwell was sold at auction in London after 1620, and after being repaired made a number of successful voyages for her new owners.  The Swiftsure/Speedwell had thus previously crossed the Atlantic several times when it started leaking in August 1620, making its peril all the more mysterious.

  • 12 Sep 2020 2:39 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Final determinations

    As the transfer of cargo from the Speedwell to the Mayflower continued, passengers were reassigned.  Robert Cushman and Thomas Blossom, and their families, decided to stay in England.  While Elizabeth (Walker) Warren and her five daughters stayed in England, her husband Richard, a London merchant who had probably provided part of the financing for the voyage to New England, was included among the Mayflower passengers, with the hope that his wife and children would join him later.  (They came to him on the Anne in 1623, and Richard and Elizabeth subsequently had sons Nathaniel and Joseph at Plymouth.)  Philip Delano (Philippe de la Noye), part of the Leiden community and a passenger on the Speedwell, also stayed in England and took passage the following year on the Fortune.  In all, eleven people from the Speedwell boarded the Mayflower, leaving 20 people to return to London.  From what we can tell, most of those 20 eventually did reach the New World.

  • 11 Sep 2020 2:20 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Cargo transfers

    Cargo was transferred from the Speedwell to the Mayflower in Plymouth harbour, continuing for the next few days.  John A. Goodwin notes (Pilgrim Republic [Boston: Ticknor and Company, 1888] 57) that “it was fortunate for the overloaded Mayflower that she had fine weather while lying at anchor there ... for the port of Plymouth was then only a shallow, open bay, with no protection.  In southwesterly gales its waters rose into enormous waves, with such depressions between, that ships while anchored sometimes struck the bottom of the harbor and were dashed in pieces.”

  • 10 Sep 2020 2:53 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Why did they turn back?

    If the Speedwell had not been overmasted, both she and the Mayflower would have arrived early in the fall (probably by the middle of October) at the mouth of the Hudson River, and the whole course of New England history would have been entirely different.  It does appear, however, that most of the leaders of the community (Bradford, Brewster, Cushman, Winslow, and their families) were on the Speedwell when it started to leak; letting the Mayflower continue on its way by itself, to arrive in New Amsterdam before the weather turned bad, was not a good or viable option, since that would have deprived the emigrant community of its religious and commercial leaders (“the cheefe of them that came from Leyden,” in Bradford’s words).
  • 8 Sep 2020 3:49 PM | Russell Francis (Administrator)

    Mayflower Conspiracy Theories

    It is certain that the Speedwell sprung a leak in the Atlantic, causing it to return to Plymouth along with the Mayflower.  What caused the leak?  The most frequently mentioned possibility is that it was “over-rigged” and had on too much sail which caused a strain on the masts, and which then caused holes and leaks to develop.  Prior to the voyage, the Speedwell had been refitted in Delfshaven in Holland and had two masts.  Nathaniel Philbrick suggests that the crew used a mast that was too big for the ship, and that the added stress caused holes to form in the hull.  William Bradford wrote that “the leakiness of this ship was partly by her being overmasted and too much pressed with sails,” but attributes the main cause of her leaking to actions on the part of the crew.  Robert Cushman wrote from Dartmouth in August 1620 (as soon as the Speedwell returned) that the leaking was caused by a loose board or plank approximately two feet long.  There is a persistent rumour of sabotage, either by the captain or the crew, but there is no proof.  We shall revisit the question about sabotage in a few months when we look at the decision to drop everyone off in Massachusetts.

  • 7 Sep 2020 8:46 AM | Russell Francis (Administrator)

    Who was on which ship?

    While we know who the passengers on the Mayflower’s voyage to the New World were from William Bradford's list which he compiled about 1651 (over thirty years later), and we know that some of the passengers on the Speedwell stayed in England after the ships turned back, there is no full separate list of original passengers on the August sailings of the Speedwell or the Mayflower.  There was no passenger manifest for the two ships that has survived, or even for the Mayflower itself for its voyage: after all, who would check the manifest or passenger list once they reached Massachusetts?  The only list of passengers is the one compiled by Bradford in 1651 for Of Plimoth Plantation, for those who had made the 66 day voyage to Massachusetts.

    William Bradford and his wife were almost certainly on the Speedwell, as shown by his account of the embarkation; likewise, Edward Winslow’s full account of the embarkation (“Hypocrisie Unmasked”) also suggests that he and his family were also Speedwell passengers.  William Brewster and his family were likewise probably on the Speedwell.

  • 6 Sep 2020 11:35 AM | Russell Francis (Administrator)

    In Plymouth Harbour

    From “the Speedwell’s Log” for August 28 [o.s.]/September 7 [n.s.]: “At anchor in Plymouth harbor. Conference of chief of Colonists and officers of MAY-FLOWER and SPEEDWELL.  No special leak could be found, but it was judged to be the general weakness of the ship, and that she would not prove sufficient for the voyage.  It was resolved to dismiss her the SPEEDWELL, and part of the company, and proceed with the other ship.”

  • 6 Sep 2020 11:33 AM | Russell Francis (Administrator)

    Speedwell and Mayflower arrive in Plymouth together.

    The Speedwell, the smaller of the two ships (according to William Bradford, a “smale ship of 60 tune”), had sprung a leak the day before when the ships were about 100 leagues (345 miles) out, and both ships decided to turn back.  They arrived back in Plymouth harbour together today.

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