What was it like to sail on the Mayflower in 1620? No picnic.
The Mayflower actually sailed three times, the first two times with a smaller sister ship called the Speedwell. Each time the Speedwell began to take on water, the second time 300 miles from England. So the Mayflower returned to port with the Speedwell twice, before the decision was made to proceed with just the Mayflower.
Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall (1882)
The later Governor of the Plimoth Colony, William Bradford, wrote that “overmasting” strained the ship’s hull but attributed the main cause of her leaking to actions on the part of the crew. Bradford later assumed that Speedwell master Reynolds’s “cunning and deceit” (in causing what may have been man-made leaks in the ship) had been motivated by a fear of starving to death in America.
In any event, the Speedwell was deemed unseaworthy and abandoned. Eleven people from the Speedwell joined the others on the Mayflower. Twenty of the Speedwell’s passengers, including Robert Cushman, who would be Mary Allerton’s father-in-law, remained in London. Isaac Allerton and his family were among the passengers on the Speedwell who transferred to the Mayflower.
Thus one hundred and two passengers sailed on the Mayflower for the third and final time, leaving Plymouth on September 6, 1620.
Why was sailing that late in September risky? The North Atlantic is stormy in the autumn – think of hurricane season. Many ships in the 1600s were damaged or shipwrecked by storms. Passengers sometimes fell overboard and drowned. Also, the winds blew from west to east, so the Mayflower was beating against the wind, tacking back and forth. Also, ships could be attacked and taken
A harrowing scene of the the Mayflower at Sea, by Mike Haywood provided by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.
over by pirates. So the ship sailed on a northern path across the Atlantic to avoid the storms.
Now, imagine yourself living below deck in a dark, dank room 58’ by 28’ or 1624 square feet, with 101 other people. The ceiling (the main deck of the ship) is so low you have to stoop over to walk. That’s sixteen square feet per person, shared with chickens, maybe a pig, a disassembled 33-foot long boat called the shallop, and everyone’s worldly goods except for food stores, which were in the hold.
There was no fire allowed below deck, so food was eaten cold. People partitioned off their tiny allotted spaces with curtains or furniture, and they slept on the deck. Most of the passengers wore the same clothes for the entire trip. If they were lucky they had one or two changes of clothes. Some had none.
Crew galley for hot food Below deck
Imagine the noise of 101 other passengers: talking, coughing, snoring, groaning. Imagine the smells from dank clothing, moldy food, sweat, and later, scurvy, and the smell of vomit from seasickness. And don’t forget the pails that served as chamber pots. You would also have other ‘passengers’ traveling with you – fleas and lice. This is my vision of hell.
What would you have to eat?
Hard biscuits (hardtack), beer, salted (dried) beef, salted ling or cod fish, qats, peas and some ground wheat, butter and sweet oil, mustard seed, aqua vitae, pickled food, dried fruit, and cheese.
Much of this food grew moldy from the dank. The water for the children grew rancid and the children had to drink beer. Hardtack is hard. It is made months ahead from flour, salt, and water and I made some for my critique group. The only way they could eat it was to dunk it in coffee, but it is tasteless. Onboard the Mayflower it became infested with maggots, and the sailors taught the passengers to dunk their hardtack in beer and wait until the maggots floated to the top. Actually, I think those maggots might have been more nourishing.
Remember, the passengers had to bring enough food to last until the women could plant and harvest a garden and the men could hunt or fish. And they had already eaten some of it during the previous two sailing with the Speedwell.
Heavy storms drenched everyone and everything above and below decks, as water poured in through the hatches and gunports. So clothing and bedding and food got wet. Then one of the storms cracked one of the massive wooden beams supporting the frame of the ship. There was a spare beam aboard, but no way to hold it in place so it could be nailed in.
Luckily, the Pilgrims remembered a “great screw” they had in the hold and it was used to hold the beam in place. This was a jackscrew and was assumed to be what the colonists would use to hold the beams of their house in place when they were building. But another thought is that it was designed for a printing press. The Pilgrims had printed and disseminated many religious tracts when they were in Holland and also in England.
It wasn’t long before both passengers and crew suffered from scurvy, what we now know as a deficiency of vitamin C. Scurvy is a nasty disease with symptoms such as severe brittleness and massive decaying of the teeth and tooth loss, foul breath, ocular irritation, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, poor wound healing, and general weakness. A cure was not known, but the Mayflower passengers did not suffer from scurvy after their first years in the New World because of a healthy diet. Also, they may have learned from the Native Americans that pine needle tea is loaded with vitamin C.
One baby was born during the journey. Elizabeth Hopkins gave birth to her first son, appropriately named Oceanus, on Mayflower. Another baby boy, Peregrine White, was born to Susanna White after Mayflower arrived at Cape Cod.Mary Allerton’s mother was also pregnant.
Land was first sighted on November 20, 1620, after a voyage of 66 days. Captain Jones determined it was Cape Cod, based on maps made by previous explorers. He turned the Mayflower south to reach the land for which the Pilgrims had been granted a patent – a part of ‘Virginia’ which was located north of the Hudson River.
This is an extant map from 1657, from the Library of Congress. You can clearly see Cape Cod.
But the Mayflower never got there, and I will tell you why in the next post.
PS. These posts are the background to my book, The Last Pilgrim, the Story of Mary Allerton Cushman, which I hope you will find interesting with this background information.
I promised I would reveal all about how I chose Mary Allerton Cushman as the subject for my novel The Last Pilgrim. Actually, the decision was not terribly difficult.
I happened to read that Mary Allerton Cushman was the oldest survivor of the First Comers, as those who had arrived on the Mayflower were called. That meant that she lived through the entire duration of the Plimoth Colony, which was subsumed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.
There are not many facts about her.
She was the daughter of Isaac and Mary Norris Allerton, born in 1614.
Isaac Allerton was the assistant to John Carver, the Separatists’ first governor, then to William Bradford.
Mary Allerton married Thomas Cushman in 1635.
Thomas Cushman became the Elder of the Separatist church after Elder Brewster died and someone who was central to the colony.
Mary and Thomas had eight children who survived to adulthood. She died in 1699 at the age of 83.
Those who died during the first winter and spring were buried on Cole’s Hill, which faces Plymouth Rock, They were buried without markers and grass sown over the graves so that the Native American tribes in the area would not know how many of their numbers had died. At the southern end of the hill stands a granite sarcophagus erected by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants in 1921. It contains skeletal remains accidentally disinterred from the hill in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The first rediscovery of Pilgrim remains occurred in 1735 following a heavy rain, which washed many of the bones down the hill and into the harbor. Remains found nearby during the digging of sewer lines in 1855 and 1883 were sent to Boston to determine if they were Europeans or Native. Pronounced European by Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., four skeletons were returned to Plymouth and placed in a lead-lined casket in the top of the old Hammatt Billings canopy over Plymouth Rock in 1867. The casket was retrieved when the old canopy was torn down, and it was interred in the present memorial, erected by the Society of Mayflower Descendants on May 24, 1921.
The sarcophagus on Cole’s Hill
Mary and Thomas were buried on Burial Hill, the hill at the top of First (later Leyden) Street. The exact date as to when this ground became used as a cemetery is not known. There are no written records of the earliest burials. The earliest grave markers were made of wood, and none exist today. The site was used as a fort from 1621 until 1676. The earliest engraved headstone marks the grave of Edward Gray, who died in 1681. There are only 7 headstones that precede 1700.
Burial Hill (originally Fort Hill)
Thus the exact site where Mary and Thomas were buried is not known. However, there is a 25 foot granite column, erected by Cushman descendants in 1858 that honors Robert Cushman and his sons, with a small mention of Mary on one of the plaques.
Isaac Allerton ——Mary Norris
(1586-1639) ( 1587-1621)
Bartholomew Remember Mary —- Thomas Cushman (m. 1635)
(1613-1638) (1615-1656?) (1616-1699) (1607-1691)
Thomas Mary Sarah Isaac Elkanah Lydia Fear Eleazar
(b. 1637) (b ?) (b.1641) (b.1648) (b.1651) (b.1652) (b.1653) (b.1656)
These bare facts about Mary told me that she would have been central to the development of the colony, which would form the backstory of my book. And I noted that she had survived eight childbirths, no doubt due to the skill of the colony’s midwife, Bridget Fuller. Only two of her children, Mary and Fear, predeceased her.
But with so little information, I could create Mary as I saw her, which is a gift to a writer.
A few words about other candidates for my main character:
Bridget Fuller: Bridget Fuller was the wife of the physician Samuel Fuller, who had basically taught himself medicine prior to the voyage to the New World. Shew arrived on the Anne in 1623, already with a reputation as a midwife and teacher. She figures prominently in my book.
Priscilla Mullins: Priscilla was 18 when she embarked with her family on the Mayflower. The entire family except for Priscilla died the first winter. In 1622 0r 1623, she married to John Alden, the Mayflower‘s cooper, who had decided to remain at Plymouth rather than return to England with the ship. John and Priscilla lived in Plymouth until the late 1630s, when they moved north to found the neighboring town of Duxbury. John and Priscilla had ten or eleven children, most of whom lived to adulthood and married. In my book, Priscilla and Mary share a life-long friendship.
Elisabeth Warren: Elizabeth Warren was the one Pilgrim woman who broke through the patriarchal conventions of 17th-century society. Nothing is known of her English background, apart from her marriage to Richard Warren, who sailed on the Mayflower without her. Warren was reunited with his wife and five daughters when the Anne arrived in 1623 but died in 1628, leaving Elizabeth a widow with 7 children (five young women, ranging from early teens to probably early twenties, and two small boys under the age of 5). She never remarried.
Her name appears regularly in the records of Plymouth Colony during the long period of her widowhood, first as paying the taxes owed by all heads of household and then as executor of her husband’s estate. She also became one of the ‘purchasers’ of the colony’s debts to the Merchant Adventurers who had financed the colony, since her husband had agreed to do this before his death. In 1635, Elizabeth Warren appears in the Records of Plymouth Colony as a totally independent agent, the only Pilgrim woman to be such.
When she died in 1673, this remarkable woman received the unprecedented but well–earned tribute of a eulogy in the Records of Plymouth Colony:
Mistress Elizabeth Warren, an aged widow, aged above 90 years, deceased
on the second of October, 1673. Who, having lived a godly life, came to her
grave as a shock of corn fully ripe.
While Elizabeth Warren would have been a good central character, her life did not span the life of the colony, and while she was a remarkable woman, she would not have been in a central position in Plymouth. She is mentioned several times in my book, however.
In my next post, I will tell you about some of the research I did for the book.
Our second day on the train was short. We were served a good breakfast and a charcuterie board before disembarking in Moab. Both were delicious. Our first notable sight was the De Beque Canyon, named for Dr. Wallace De Beque, a Canadian and Civil War veteran who settled there in 1884 with his third wife. It is a narrow canyon on the Colorado River, approximately 15 miles long. Geologically the canyon walls are stair-step cliffs of shoreline sands deposited during the Cretaceous era, 145 million to 66 million years ago.
We then passed the town of Palisade, home to the famous Palisade peaches and the beginning of wine country for Colorado, and Mount Garfield, named after the 20th US President, James Garfield. It is 6765 feet high, part of the Book Cliffs, a series of desert mountains and cliffs so named because they appear similar to a shelf of books.
The train then passed through Grand Junction, the second largest city in Colorado, at the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers, where fruit orchards and more vineyards are found. Then on to Ruby Canyon. Ruby Canyon gets its name from the fact it is lined with red sandstone cliffs. There is a painting on the side of the canyon indicating the Colorado/Utah state line.
We arrived outside of Maob, at the end of the line. This line does not connect with the major rail line running through Utah because of the ongoing clean-up work to remove uranium tailings on this side of the town, so we rode buses to our hotel destinations.
Moab was a typical wild west town, a favorite hideout for many gangs of outlaws in the 1800s because of the surrounding deep canyons.The discovery of uranium in the 1950s put Moab on the map and it now attracts visitors, like us, to come to explore the five surrounding national parks: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion.
The following day we visited Arches National Park. Originally a cattle ranch, it was established as a national monument in 1929 and a national park by President Nixon in 1970. It got its name from the over 2,000 rock arches found within its boundaries. Water and ice, extreme temperatures, and underground salt movement sculpted the rock scenery of the park over a hundred million years of erosion. While the arches are the main draw, towering spires, pinnacles, and balanced rocks (rocks balancing on what look like precarious bases) are part of the vistas. We went early in the morning when it is cool and the air is so clean and fresh, you want to spend time thinking about breathing!
I’m just going to show you some of my favorite rock formations.
The Three Gossips
Delicate Arch – you can see the La Sal Mountains through the arch
Marching Elephants (see the ears?)
A pocket arch – not all the way through
And one that seemed to be giving us the middle finger!
The next day, we headed to the La Sal Mountains, traveling down the Colorado River valley and then climbing to around 5000 feet. The view down the valley was spectacular and I could have sat there all day, enjoying the cool breeze, and the clean and fresh air, and absolute quiet, except for the wind in the pine trees!
I hope you enjoyed coming along on our trip as much as we enjoyed taking it!
For my birthday this year, Hubs decided we should take the Canadian Rocky Mountain Railway from Denver to Moab. Canadian Railways just opened this route this year and it’s proved to be enormously popular.
Spoiler: some of these a pictures not taken by me!
After flying from Raleigh-Durham to Atlanta and then to Denver, we stayed in the mile-high city in a hotel that had been created from the old railway station. The rooms were commodious and comfortable and the original vast waiting room had been converted into a comfortable waiting room with sofas and chairs, with various restaurants and bars surrounding it. It was a fabulous place to people watch and when they came in to get a drink or coffee or just sit to talk.
We left by bus the next day from a remote railyard, where they laid out the red carpet for us. Our bags were sent ahead by truck to that night’s stopover in Glenwood Springs, so we just brought a small bag with things we thought we might need.
The view from our car was spectacular. While not completely glass-topped, it did have a partial glass roof, and our vantage point for everything was vista-like. And the food! They plied us with a breakfast and a lunch fit for a king, plus all the drinks we could possibly want.
The haze is the smoke from the CA wildfires
When gold and silver were discovered in the Rockies in the 1860s, railroad lines were built between canyons and over high passes to connect all the mining camps in the state. These lines connect and were the basis of the rail line we to. The first climb we made was up the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies and is an engineering marvel with the tight 10-degree radius of the switchback curves to keep the grade to 2%.
We discovered there are a lot (30) tunnels over a 13-mile segment of rail that were hand-blasted through solid rock on the way up to the Continental Divide. No pictures, just blackness!
We passed the beautiful Gross Reservoir that holds water piped from the western side of the Continental Divide and supplies Denver and the agricultural Great Plains to the east. The Continental Divide, which separates water flowing west into the Pacific from those flowing east into the Atlantic, runs from Alaska to the southern tip of South America. It runs through the heart of Colorado for 650 miles crossing many of the state’s mountains’ peaks. I checked the direction of the water in the rivers/ streams we encountered just to make sure.
My view and the reservoir
A ten-mile-long tunnel, called the Moffat Tunnel, was built by David Moffat, a Denver banker, and cost him his entire fortune. It eliminated 10,800 degrees of curvature, replacing the rail that looped dangerously over Rollins Peak. It is an incredible feat of engineering, ingenuity, and persistence.
Although the final cost of the tunnel was $23,972,843. The project excavated 3,000,000,000 pounds of rock over the five-year project, and construction was intensive with 800 men working around the clock for three and a half years.
The Colorado River began as a rather narrow stream that widened as we passed westward from the Continental Divide and followed on the left or right side of the railroad tracks. Byers Canyon, 13 miles long, is the first of many carved by this river on its march to the Pacific, and was followed by Gore Canyon, which is bordered by cliffs 1,000 feet high. We saw rafters and kayakers in the white water of the Colorado in this canyon. Then we saw Burn Canyon, sheathed by red sandstone, and then the Dotsero Cutoff where the Eagle River joins the Colorado.
Byers Canyon, top, and Gore Canyon, bottom
Towards the end of the first day, we traversed Glenwood Canyon, the largest of the Upper Colorado and one of the most scenic in the US. The canyon was formed relatively recently in the Pleistocene era by the rapid cutting of the Colorado down through layers of sedimentary rock. The canyon was hit with a devastating wildfire in 2020, which burned 30,000 acres and led to rock and mudslides the following winter that closed I 70 and the railroad tracks for about ten days. There was evidence all around: burned and charred trees and piles of boulders and mud.
We ended the day in Glenwood Springs, originally called Fort Defiance, but renamed by entrepreneur Isaac Cooper after his wife’s hometown. Frankly, I like the original name. Cooper and silver baron Walter Deveraux make the town into a world-class hot springs destination with the arrival there of the railroad in 1887.
It is still renowned for its hot springs and was a real Wild West town with visitors such a Buffalo Bill Cody and Doc Holliday. Holliday is buried in the town’s Pioneer Cemetery. You will recall John Henry “Doc” Holliday (1851 – 1887) was a gambler, gunfighter, and dentist. He was a close friend and associate of the famous lawman Wyatt Earp and is best remembered for his role in the events leading up to and following the gunfight at the OK Corral.
We were booked into the Hotel Denver, built in 1914, and decided to walk to the cemetery. Little did we know it was about a mile uphill from the hotel with another half-mile straight up a mountainside (final altitude around 6000 feet). The walk, which would have been manageable by us at sea level, nearly flattened us.
Next: On to Moab and the La Sal mountains!