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2020 was the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower crossing the Atlantic. Many events were planned both in England and the USA. Unfortunately nearly all the commemorations of this momentous occasion were cancelled due to the pandemic. However, in the run up to 2020 continuing research uncovered new material. In the narrative below some of the updated Essex connections are shared.

From Part 1

The Mayflower was hired through a consortium led by a London ironmonger, Thomas Weston, who also recruited passengers for the ship. It seems that at this stage Christopher Martin became involved in the project. Martin initially acted as agent, provisioner and treasurer for the venture and then was later chosen as Governor elect of the Mayflower. Whilst Martin may have decided to get away from all of the people he had fallen out with in Billericay, it didn’t take long for him upset his new companions.

Part II Continued from Part I
includes link to video short
see foot of page

The Mayflower departed from Rotherhithe, London in July 1620 and headed downstream along the River Thames. It is not known where Christopher Martin’s party joined the ship, at Grays or Leigh-on-Sea in Essex or at Rotherhithe in London. The initial destination was Southampton where it was due to rendezvous with the Speedwell which was coming from Holland. Both vessels made it to Southampton without incident but in Southampton Martin had major disagreements with Robert Cushman the treasurer of the Leiden Saints. Cushman accused Martin of displaying a cavalier attitude to the purchasing of stores for the voyage and of showing utter contempt for passengers on the Speedwell. Then to add to Cushman’s distrust and true to character, Martin refused to supply any accounts for his purchases. Just to make matters worse for himself, Martin described Thomas Weston’s backers as ‘bloodsuckers’.

The Mayflower Steps in Plymouth where the passengers climbed down to make their final departure

Both ships left Southampton in early August 1620, but the Speedwell sprang a leak and both the Mayflower and Speedwell put into Dartmouth in Devon for repairs. Repairs were made and shipwrights gave the Speedwell a clean bill of health. The journey resumed around 15th August, but once into the Atlantic Ocean the Speedwell started leaking seriously. The crossing was suspended and the two ships returned to England, this time to Plymouth. After further checks it was decided to abandon the Speedwell and use only the Mayflower for the onward voyage. At this stage a number of both the Saints and the Strangers decided to give up, including Robert Cushman and his family. Robert Cushman was quoted as saying he had no wish to become food for the fishes.

In Plymouth, grievances against Christopher Martin came to a head when his fellow ‘Pilgrims’ overwhelmingly passed a vote of no confidence in him. With his agent and treasury duties already ended, Martin was unceremoniously replaced as Governor by John Carver. In spite of all this Martin still chose to continue on the journey.

Within three months of making landfall in Massachusetts, half of all the Pilgrims, including Christopher Martin and his family group from Billericay, had perished from malnutrition or infection in the harsh winter conditions. Yet, before this happened what was known as the Mayflower Compact – the first governing document of the new colony was produced, Martin being one of the signatories.

Representation of the signing the Mayflower Compact Tablet in Provincetown Massachusetts

During the winter of 1620/21 the Mayflower acted as a base for the remaining pilgrims and the new colony survived. In the following years more ships came from England bringing fresh pilgrims from Essex to begin a new life.

Martin’s nemesis, Robert Cushman who had declined to join the Mayflower, was one of the new arrivals a year later, having sailed out on the Fortune. Despite many setbacks the new Plimouth colony prospered and became one of the foundations of the new American nation.

The ‘Pilgrims’ were not the first group from England to cross the Atlantic. In 1585 Sir Walter Raleigh brought 100 settlers to Roanoke Island in Chesapeake Bay, in present day Virginia. Two years later all trace of them had gone. Roanoke had become the lost colony. In 1607 another settlement was founded in the same area. It was another Harwich man, Christopher Newport, who captained the small flotilla that took these colonists to what today is Jamestown. Despite the relatively benign environment this colony only just survived.

The legacy of the Essex pilgrims still persists in Massachusetts today. Within the state there is not only an Essex County and the town of Essex, there is also a Chelmsford, a Braintree, a Harwich, a Waltham and a Billerica.

The Pilgrim Memorial in Plymouth Massachusetts

The Mayflower’s Master, Christopher Jones, the son of Christopher and Sybil Jones, was born in 1570 and  lived in Harwich until about the age of 40.

Master of the Mayflower
Christopher Jones

In December 1593 Jones married Sara Twitt at St. Nicholas Church. Sadly Sara died in 1603. Jones married his second wife, the 19 year old widow, Josian Gray later that year. In 1611 Jones moved to Rotherhithe on the south bank of the River Thames and sometime between 1609 and 1611 he purchased a quarter share in the Mayflower. After his epic transatlantic voyage, and having delivered his human cargo Christopher Jones returned to England in the Mayflower in May 1621, His arrival at his home port of Rotherhithe was without fanfare. He had been absent for 10 months.

The family home of Christopher Jones remained in Rotherhithe until his death in 1622, which was probably accelerated by the privations of the Mayflower’s Atlantic crossing. The master of the Mayflower was buried on March 15th 1622, at St Mary’s Church, Rotherhithe, where a memorial (below) in the grounds of the church commemorates his role in the Mayflower story.

In Harwich Christopher Jones’s house still stands at 21 King’s Head Street as a living museum.

Little is known about the Mayflower itself. Contemporary records reveal a number of ships of the same name operating up and down the east coast of England in the 1600s. Where the Mayflower was built is also unknown, Harwich is likely, but Maldon, Leigh-on-Sea or one of the shipyards around Rotherhithe in London are all candidates.
Bradford’s journal states that the Mayflower was a vessel of 180 tons, but the Earl of Southampton where the Mayflower called in, suggested it was only 140 tons. In absence of any detailed original plans or images the consensus is that the Mayflower was a typical three-masted square-rigged general cargo merchant ship of the day.Before the voyage to Cape Cod a Mayflower with Christopher Jones as its master made many journeys to France, Spain and Portugal taking woollen cloth outwards and returning with wine. Two years after the death of Christopher Jones, his widow, Josian, and the other joint owners asked the High Court of the Admiralty to carry out a valuation. The appraisers came up with a sum total of £128 8s 4d for the ship and its contents which included £25.00 for five anchors and £4.00 for ten shovels at eight shillings a piece.

The replica Mayflower II now in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
In 1957 like its namesake it too crossed the Atlantic

It is not known whether or not the Mayflower was scrapped after its valuation or if it was refurbished and carried on sailing. Its fate represents an ignoble end for such a historic ship.  

As for Billericay man Christopher Martin, he and his wife Mary bore a son named Nathanial who was christened in 1609 at St Mary’s Church, Great Burstead. Yet there is no record of Nathanial as a passenger. He would have been 11 years old when the Mayflower sailed. It is assumed Nathanial died in early childhood. We can also only speculate how his father would have fared had he survived the first terrible winter in the new world.

The Pilgrim Memorial Tomb (sarcophagus) on Cole’s Hill, Plymouth, Massachusetts which records the names of the passenger who died within the first year of arrival in the new world

And just to think, if the Speedwell hadn’t sprung a leak and been abandoned in Devon, Plymouth would have never featured in the Mayflower story and the Plymouth (Plimouth) colony in Massachusetts would have been called something completely different.


Basildon Branch Library, Billericay and the New World, Basildon Branch Libraries, 1970
Bradford, William, Of Plymouth Plantation, Madison & Adams Press, 2017
Carpenter, R. J  Christopher Martin, Great Burstead and the Mayflower, Barstable Books, 1982
Falconer, Jonathan, Mayflower, The Pilgrims Fathers’ historic voyage of 1620, Haynes, 2020
Grant, W, Billericay and the Mayflower, Wynford P Grant, 1966.
Hackney, Noel C.L, Mayflower Classic Ships No 2, Patrick L Stephens with Airfix, 1970
Hilton, Christopher, Mayflower, the Voyage That Changed the World, History Press, 2020
Male, David A., Christopher Jones and the Mayflower Expedition, 1620 – 1621, Harwich Society, 1999.
Passenger List of the Mayflower 1620, Plymouth City Museum, 2004
Philbrick, Nathaniel, Mayflower, A voyage to War, Harper Perennial, 2007
Johnson, Caleb’s webpages

Thanks also to

Lord Petre, Ingatestone Hall, re the Annual Court Baron
Andy Schooler, Curator, the Christopher Jones House, Harwich
Sheila Taylor, Christopher Jones Memorial, Rotherhithe

© Essex Hundred Publications, Andrew Summers

February 2022

 ‘Steering our future, inspired by the past’
A video short from the Harwich Society,