The Mayflower Voyage

Kate Waters, children's book author and an expert on the Mayflower and life in Plimoth, has answered a selection of kids' questions.

How were the boats and houses built?
Both boats and houses were built by hand. Tree trunks were cut into lumber. Nails were forged out of metal. Sails were made of heavy linen that was woven by hand. Tar was used to waterproof the ships. Hay and mud were mixed together to fill the cracks in houses. Making things took a long time in the seventeenth century. When the Mayflower II was built, it took two years to complete.

What happened to the other ship that started out from England carrying Pilgrims?
The Speedwell is the name of the second ship. It developed leaks and had to turn back. Both the Mayflower and the Speedwell turned back, and most of the Speedwell's passengers crowded onto the Mayflower for the voyage to North America. That is why the Mayflower was so crowded and one of the reasons why the voyage was so hard.

Was life on the Mayflower easy for anyone?
We don't know for sure, but I do not think that anyone had a good crossing. Even the master, Christopher Jones, who was the boss and a part-owner of the ship, must have worried about the well-being of the people aboard. And storms kept everyone on the ship awake for many hours at a time.

Did the Mayflower smell?
Yes, the Mayflower did smell. The 'tween decks was crowded with people, many of whom became seasick. People could not take baths on the ship. When the storms came, the passengers could not throw out their chamber pots. And, at the time, many people thought too much fresh air was bad for you. What a relief it must have been to reach the harbor.

What were the ship's sails made of?
The sails were made of heavy woven cloth. At the time, all cloth was made by hand. Ships' sails were very expensive.

How did the ship get lost?
During a storm, the sky is dark and cloudy. It is not possible to use the stars to navigate, nor is it possible to steer very well. The Mayflower sighted land farther north than they intended. Because it was winter and the wind was strong, they could not sail around the tip of Cape Cod and go south to Virginia, so they had to stay where they were.

How big were the cabins on the Mayflower? Where did people sleep?
The passengers did not have private cabins on the ship. They had to live in a big space 'tween decks. They used curtains to create some privacy. Some of the passengers slept on wooden pallets attached to the walls, others made hammocks out of cloth, and some slept on the floor or in the shallop. The shallop was the small boat that was used to take people to land. The Mayflower could not sail right up to the beach because the water is too shallow there.

Did the Mayflower make any more trips?
No. When the Mayflower got back to England, the ship was very run down. It was probably dismantled and its equipment sold off. Other ships made the voyage across the Atlantic bringing more settlers and supplies and letters. Soon, there were ships criss-crossing the Atlantic Ocean regularly.

Did the children have any pets on the Mayflower?
We know that two dogs traveled on the Mayflower, a spaniel and a mastiff. Mastiffs are very big dogs! There may have been cats on board also to catch mice and rats. Mice and rats were often found on ships because they liked to eat the grains the ships carried.

How much food did the Pilgrims take with them on the Mayflower?
The passengers brought dried meat and fish, grains and flour, dried fruit, cheese, hard biscuits, and other foods with them. They had to eat the food they brought until they could plant and harvest a garden. But, they caught and ate fish and wild game once they landed in North America.

Why was the ship named the Mayflower?
The Mayflower, also called the hawthorn flower, was a popular flower in England. We think the ship had a mayflower carved on its stern. Ships were brightly painted so that people could recognize them from a distance. If you look at On the Mayflower, you will see how colorful the ship is. It is painted to look like the original ship.

How did people go to the bathroom on the ship?
People used a chamber pot. It is a bowl that one would keep under a bed at night. People used chamber pots on land, too. There was no running water or flush toilets in the seventeenth century.

Did children have school lessons on the Mayflower?
We don't know for sure, but it is likely that children read books and played games aboard the ship until the weather got really bad. Many of the games children played on the seventeenth century were educational ones like alphabet games and number games.

Did many people on the Mayflower get sick?
Yes, many people became sick. Some people died. Some people were seasick. Other people became sick because there was not good food to eat. Because the journey took longer than they thought it would, the passengers and the sailors ran out of good food.

What did they do on the Mayflower when the really bad storm came?
There was not much that the passengers could do when the storm came. They had to stay below deck to stay out of the way of the sailors. They could not light fires to cook their food. They probably tried to tie down their belongings. The ship was pitching back and forth and rolling terribly. Many people were seasick.

How often did the Pilgrims get to go back home and see their family?
The Mayflower passengers did not see their families again unless a family member voyaged to North America on one of the many ships that arrived after the Mayflower. The journey across the ocean was expensive.

What ocean did the Pilgrims cross?
The Mayflower crossed the Atlantic Ocean from England to North America. This was the first time that the ship had crossed the ocean.

Were kids able to go on the Mayflower alone?
Some of the children on the Mayflower were not traveling with their families. A few were orphans and went with other families.

How long did it take to build the Mayflower?
We do not know for sure how long it took to build the Mayflower. But, we do know that it took more than two years to build the replica of the Mayflower, the Mayflower II. The builders made the replica by hand. They used the same techniques that were used in the seventeenth century. You can visit the Mayflower II at Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts.

How many clothes were children allowed to bring on the voyage?
It's important to remember that most children and adults living in England in 1620 did not have many changes of clothing. The Europeans we call Pilgrims set out from England and did not expect to return. They took with them everything they felt they needed to start a new life. They probably took all their sturdy clothes and a few favorite toys.

Do you know anybody that worked on the Mayflower?
Not on the original boat, but I met many people who work on the Mayflower II. Some are interpreters who dress up in costumes every day and tell visitors about the ship and the voyage. Others are carpenters and sail-makers who keep the ship in perfect shape.

Have you gone on the Mayflower II? Does the Mayflower II really sail?
I've been on board the Mayflower II and you can visit it too. It is an exhibit at Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts. The ship is moored in Plymouth Harbor. The Mayflower II was built in England. It was made by hand, the same way we think the original Mayflower was built. It sailed across the Atlantic to Massachusetts. Ordinarily, the ship only leaves the dock twice a year, once when it is turned around so it weathers evenly on each side and then when it is taken out of the water to be repaired. But, during the summer of 1997, the Mayflower II sailed from Plymouth, Massachusetts, to Provincetown, Massachusetts. That is when Russ took the pictures that are in On the Mayflower.

What did the dogs on the Mayflower eat and where did they go to the bathroom?
In the two existing accounts of the voyage of the Mayflower, there is no mention of dogs. It is certainly likely that dogs and other animals arrived on later ships. It is important to remember that many ships traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to North America. But the Mayflower was the first to bring permanent colonists to present-day Massachusetts.

How many people were on the Mayflower? How did they bathe and what did they eat?
There were 102 passengers aboard and about 30 crew and sailors. The 'tween decks, where the passengers lived for 66 days, was very crowded. There was no privacy to bathe. As long as fresh water lasted, people probably washed their faces and hands and scrubbed their teeth to keep as clean as possible. The passengers and crew ate different things at different stages of the voyage. In the beginning, when there was fresh food and calm seas, they most likely ate stews made of meat and vegetables. When the storms came, no one could light cooking fires. Then, people ate hard biscuits, dried meat and fish, and drank ale or water if there was any left. Because the journey was longer than expected, food supplies were very low when the ship anchored. During the months when the passengers lived on the ship while they built their houses, many people died of malnutrition.

Did the Pilgrims fish from the Mayflower, and if so, did they use hook and lines or nets?
We don't know for sure. The sailors and crew probably fished when they had free time, but there was not a lot of spare time. Sailing a ship like the Mayflower takes many hands around the clock.

About how many people died, and of what?
Only one person died while the ship was under sail. His name was William Burton. He was a servant of Deacon Samuel Fuller. By the way, a child was born on the voyage. He was named Oceanus Hopkins.

Did the Mayflower sail through icy water?
The Mayflower sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in fall and early winter. The water was certainly very cold, but there were no icebergs.

Who was the first Pilgrim child born after the Mayflower arrived?
Peregrine White was the first child born after the Mayflower came to anchor in Plymouth Harbor. He was the son of William and Susanna White. There was a baby born while the ship was at sea. He was named Oceanus Hopkins.

What happened to the Mayflower after the Pilgrims arrived?
The ship stayed in the harbor for five months while the settlers built their homes. The settlers lived on the ship during that time. On April 5, 1621, the Mayflower set sail for England. It did not sail to North America again.

What did they use for light on board the ship?
Lanterns fueled by oil and candles.

Was it hard to sleep at night on the Mayflower?
I can only imagine how noisy the ship was. I think there were creaking sounds, sounds of metal fittings clanking against each other, the voices of crew members giving orders and reporting to their supervisors, and, of course, the sound of the sea. It is hardly ever quiet on the ocean. Also, keep in mind that the passengers were probably very, very tired all the time. Since it was often hard to tell what time of day it was, perhaps people slept whenever they could.

^ Top of Page


Picture Time Line | Voyage on the Mayflower | Plimoth: 1621
Thanksgiving CyberChallenge | Meet Kate Waters and Russ Kendall
Teacher's Guide

 

  • Subjects:
    Colonial and Revolutionary America, Holidays
top