You may know this as the name of the ship which took many of the Pilgrim Fathers to the New World in 1620. If we did not have the present national emergency, no doubt we should have many references to the Mayflower in the next few months and Plymouth would be celebrating.
The Mayflower sailed from Southampton in August 1620 and then put into Plymouth for repairs before setting off on the journey. It ended up in New England on the coast of what became Massachusetts, but had expected to land in Virginia. So why did they undertake this hazardous journey 400 years ago?
The reason goes back over several hundred years, perhaps beginning with John Wyclif who lived in Oxford in the 1300’s and questioned papal authority. Then Desiderius Erasmus, a Dutchman who visited Oxford and Cambridge before his death in 1536. He was a Protestant and wished to reduce the power of the clergy. Shortly after, Martin Luther, who influenced people to doubt medieval ideas of salvation and of priests being paid for praying for the souls of the dead and for selling indulgences. He possibly inspired the Reformation in Western Europe in the 16th century after years of catholicism.
Then came the reign of Henry VIII who so pleased the Pope that he made him Defender of the Faith until Henry wished to divorce his Queen to marry Ann Boleyn. When the Pope refused Henry made himself Head of the Church of England and started to reduce the power of the monasteries and take their wealth. Henry was still effectively a Catholic, but his son Edward was a Protestant and went further than his father in overturning the monasteries. On his death in 1553 his sister Mary tried to return the country to catholicism and commenced burning Protestants. Queen Elizabeth 1 was protestant but her successor James 1 married a French Catholic.
All these changes and fears of religious persecution convinced some Protestants, some known as Separatists, that they should leave England initially for Holland and later for the New World where they could make a new start and worship God in their own way. England had increased in population, but the poor were getting poorer and the promise of their own land in the New World to settle on and grow crops was very attractive. The Mayflower migrants have become known as the Pilgrim Fathers and said to be the first settlers of the New World. We now know that there were others before them.
According to Cecil Cullingford in A History of Dorset, Sir Walter Erle of Charborough Park, later MP for Weymouth, helped to set up the Dorchester Company in 1623/4 with a view to establishing a base in New England to raise corn and meat for merchants in the cod fishing and fur trade. The Rev John White, rector of Holy Trinity and St Peter’s in Dorchester had helped the poor and homeless locally, then took a leading part in organising migration of Dorset Puritans to Massachusetts who wished to have freedom of worship without interference from bishops or government. Most of the leading Dorset Puritans were shareholders in the Dorchester Company.
A ship, the Fellowship, took 13 Dorset men to near Cape Ann north of Boston and later cattle were shipped out. In 1628 John Endecott was chosen by Rev John White to supervise the colony. With his wife and about twenty emigrants he sailed in the Abingale from Weymouth. In the following year three more ships sailed from Weymouth with emigrants to cross the Atlantic. In 1630 the town of Dorchester was established on the outskirts of Boston, Massachusetts. The largest group of emigrants under John Winthrop was in 1630. Another ship, the Mary and John sailed four times from 1607 to 1633 with different Masters, George Popham, Robert Davies, Christopher Jones and Robert Sayers, although I have not been able to verify this list. The Mary and John was at one stage owned by Roger Ludlow who assisted with the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Probably about 200 people migrated from Dorset to North America between 1620 and 1650, according to estimates by Richard Hindson in his short history of Bridport. He writes that migrants from the Bridport area included some from Symondsbury and two from Askerswell. One “Henry Way the Puritan”of Bridport sailed from Plymouth on 20th March 1630 with his wife Elizabeth and five children, ranging from 22 to 6 years old. They landed at Nantucket on the 30th of May 1630 and settled in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
In 1995 Mr E W Street from Lyme Regis gave a talk to Bridport History Society entitled The Mary and John, ship to the New World and introduced a “New World Tapestry” created of 24 frames. This was to be housed in Coldharbour Hall at Cullompten with a commentary in several languages. The tapestry is larger than the Bayeux tapestry. Panels were produced in Plymouth (2), Exeter, Tiverton and Lyme Regis among many towns. The Lyme Regis panel, 11 ft by 4 ft, contained 1.5 million stitches and included 11 flowers taken to, or brought back from America, Rocket, Snowdrop, Pasque Flower, Garlic Mustard, Hyssop, Wolfsban, Cranesbill, Dead Nettle, Elm, Leopardsbane and Fritillary. The panel also included 11 coats of arms relating to families which had migrated to the colony. The last stitch was added in Connecticut, USA. A total of 45 pictures was incorporated telling the story of the travellers to the new world of Massachusetts.
This January at the local Family History meeting in Loders our friend and colleague, the historian Jane Ferentzi Sheppard discussed the Pilgrim Fathers and introduced two ladies who are both descended from the original Pilgrim Fathers, Carrie Southwell and Donna Heys. This talk was to be repeated at Bridport History Society this May and we hope will be given as soon as this present emergency is over.
Both ladies added to Jane’s talk. Carrie said her forefather, William Banister from Nottinghamshire sailed from Southampton and Plymouth to land in September 1620 and they were welcomed by local people. Some descendants of the local original Indians who met the Mayflower are still living in the area. The Pilgrims hunted and foraged for food and then built houses for themselves. A thanksgiving service was held after a year. Donna grew up in the USA and said that of the 102 pilgrims who arrived only 52 survived the first winter and now there are 35 million descendants in the USA. A William Mullins left Dorking, Surrey, for the Plymouth Colony in the Mayflower and his old house still survives in Dorking it has been said.
Bridport History Society will not be meeting again until the present emergency is over when we shall advise dates and content of meetings. Good luck and good health to all.
Cecil Amor, Hon President of Bridport History Society.