Harwich and the Mayflower

OK, let’s get this straight right from the start…

The Mayflower DID NOT sail from Harwich to America.

Now a little about me before I give you the concrete information that disputes this.

I lived in Harwich for three years and was a volunteer at the Harwich Mayflower Project for 18 months. During that time and before it, I read as many books on the Mayflower as I could get my hands on. During my time at the Project, one of the many things I did was to give guided tours, and I was regularly praised on my knowledge and “bringing the voyage to life”.  In the time since I moved out of Harwich and back to London I have retained my interest and have visited Holland, Rotherhithe, Plymouth and Southampton over the last 8 months, gathering information and research for a novel to be published in late November 2019. At the end of this year I will be spending two months in the USA, which will culminate with my visiting Boston, Plimoth Plantation, and surrounding areas. Again for research.

The following appeared in the local Harwich newspaper on 12th May:

“In the 17th century the Pilgrim ship the Mayflower set sail from Harwich to America.”

I have no idea where the newspaper got this information, but at best they have been misinformed and at worst they have been lied to.

I also received an email a while ago stating that I should be “proud of a town such as Harwich that sent the Pilgrims to America”. First off, Harwich is a wonderful town, but it definitely played no part in sending the pilgrims to America, apart from the Mayflower Captain Christopher Jones being born there. The Ship itself cannot be traced to a shipyard where it was built. Records from 1609 show Jones as being the Captain of the Mayflower.  In port books of 1609 to 11 the Mayflower is said to be “Of Harwich”. While this means the Mayflower was definitely in Harwich, there is no proof to show she was built there, but then again, there is no proof to show she wasn’t.

In 1611 Jones (and the Mayflower) left Harwich and moved to Rotherhithe. This was to be his home until his death in 1622. Various records in the years after Jones arrived in Rotherhithe show his ship on the Thames. Rotherhithe was her home port and it was where she returned to in 1621 when returning from America.

In William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation, he states “A small ship was bought and fitted in Holland..” (The Speedwell) and “Another was hired in London and things were made ready” (The Mayflower).  The Mayflower was hired at Rotherhithe and went on to meet the Speedwell in Southampton where they left for the new world before having to return due to issues with Speedwell. They then carried on their journey in the Mayflower as the speedwell was deemed unseaworthy.

The Pilgrims journey to America started from Rotherhithe, making their way to Southampton, but their final port of call in the UK was Plymouth.

If I drove my car from Harwich to London and lived in London driving to work every day and sometimes going further afield, then 9 years later I drove a family from London to the coast in that same car, would you say my journey to the coast started from Harwich?

 

UPDATE

I have received the following from  Mr. Paul Simmons:

I was the official Internet researcher for the Mayflower Project and found out lots of information that has never come to light before.

One of those snippets was that Christopher Jones, before the recognised sailing from Redruthe to Southampton, brought his wife, who was pregnant, and his children to Harwich, to stay with their relatives. At the same time the extra crew he required for the journey were hired and were mainly Harwich Peninsula men. Thus it can be argued that the Mayflower set sail to the New World from Harwich, via Southampton, Dartmouth and Plymouth.

The salient remark here is “argued”.  While we definitely know from parish records that Jones’ youngest was baptised in Harwich and that his wife was there during his voyage, even if it could be proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that the ship was in Harwich a day before being chartered in London, (which it cannot as far as I’m aware) it would not have had any passengers on it. The pilgrims boarded the two vessels in Holland and London. That is (unarguably) where their voyage started.  Where does one draw the line?  Before it was in London the Mayflower was trading in Europe, do we therefore say the journey to the US started in France? I’m afraid I cannot, nor I believe would anyone else, (apart from maybe from someone with a vested interest) say that the Pilgrims voyage started in Harwich.

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