16 September marks the 400th centenary of the sailing of the Mayflower from England to the United States. After 66 days at sea the Mayflower anchored on the tip of Cape Cod at what is now known as Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Explore the towns and villages connected with the Mayflower trail through its ship and pilgrims, and discover the places associated with the religious Separatists.
Many of the Separatists came from North Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire. The Trail, with the use of interpretation panels, provides visitors with information about the area’s history, and its association with the Separatists.
Scrooby, Babworth and Retford, Nottinghamshire
Several of the most well-known pilgrims came from the area around the historic market town of Retford where the Pilgrims Gallery in the Bassetlaw Museum tells the story of the pilgrims of North Nottinghamshire. The museum is housed in the grade two Georgian Amcott House.
Scrooby and Babworth are pretty villages in the heart of rural Nottinghamshire. Scrooby, the birthplace of Pilgrim elder William Brewster, who is believed to have founded a Separatist Church in his family home. Brewster was inspired by the words of the radical preacher Richard Clyfton at nearby All Saint’s Church in Babworth. Close to Retford, Sturton le Steeple, an unspoilt rural village, is the birthplace of John Robinson, one of the key pilgrims.
Austerfield, near Doncaster
St Helena’s Church, the Austerfield Field Study Centre and the Butten Meadow plaque commemorate the connections to the Mayflower Pilgrims.
William Bradford who became the second elected Governor of the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1621 was born here, and was baptized at St Helena’s church where the original font can be seen today. He continued to serve the Colony for almost 30 years. Heavily influenced by leading Pilgrim William Brewster, he grew into a passionate religious radical, escaping to Holland with the Brewster family at the age of 18. After travelling to America, Bradford was a signatory of the historic Mayflower Compact, and bequeathed much of our knowledge about their momentous journey and early years of the Colony in his journal,‘Of Plimoth Plantation’.
Located on the edge of the North Sea, the Pilgrim Fathers Memorial marks the point at Scotia Creek where the Scrooby congregation, which included Brewster and Bradford, made their first attempt to escape to Holland. Along with other Separatists they were held in cells, and tried in Boston Guildhall.
Separatists are thought to have worshipped clandestinely at Gainsborough Old Hall, now regarded as one of the best-preserved medieval manor houses in Britain. Their preacher, John Smyth, had a strong influence on the Mayflower Pilgrims, and is considered to have been a founder of the Baptist Church.
In 1606, they formally separated from the state church. Two groups formed, one in Gainsborough, the other in Scrooby, under the care of preacher Richard Clifton, the former rector of Babworth.
From Immingham Creek on the edge of the River Humber, the Separatists made a dangerous but successful escape to Leiden in Holland in search of religious freedom. They lived there for almost 12 years before many of them returned for their final voyage to the New World.
The Mayflower is believed to have been built in Harwich before 1600 and was common and part-owned by her Master, Captain Christopher Jones whose house still stands near the waterfront.
Home to the Mayflower’s Captain and most of its crew, it was the home port of the Mayflower, and from where it sailed in July 1620 to join the Speedwell.
The Mayflower arrived in Southampton in late July 1620, and several days later was joined by the Speedwell, carrying the pilgrims from Leiden. Their intention was to prepare both vessels, and sail from here to America.
Southampton was a thriving seaport offering all the facilities for the long sea voyage. Many of the buildings and streets familiar to the Pilgrims still exist. It is thought William Brewster slipped aboard here, having been in hiding after publishing material that angered King James.
According to Southampton’s Book of Instruments records, a ship called Speedwell was built locally in 1606 and this may have been the vessel that returned to her home port. The Speedwell was found to be leaking and may have had too large a mast and sail area. The extensive ship building and repair facilities near West Quay were very useful in expediting repairs.
The Bargate in the centre of the High Street was built as the main entrance to the medieval walled town around 1180 AD. Most of the medieval city walls still survive together with the vaults where the merchants stored their wine.
It is thought that the Pilgrims and settlers shopped during the day, sleeping on board both ships which were supposedly anchored just off West Quay. The Mayflower and Speedwell left together through the Westgate on Saturday 15 August.
The town’s trail around the town’s historic streets tells the local story of its relationship with the voyage undertaken by the pilgrims, and paints a picture of 17th century Dartmouth, as it was when the Mayflower and Speedwell, carrying the pilgrims, sailed into the harbour in 1620. The two ships didn’t get very far before the Speedwell began to take on water. They changed course for Dartmouth in Devon, arriving on 23 August 1620. Both ships lay at anchor in the harbour, off Bayard’s Cove, while repairs were carried out.
The Speedwell sprung another leak making it necessary to dock in Plymouth, where it was found unfit to continue its journey. It was however the final stop for the Mayflower which with up to 30 crew and 102 passengers set sail across the Atlantic to the New World.
Some of the bustling port of 1620 still survives today with historic buildings such as Elizabethan, Old Customs, and Island Houses still standing. The latter, situated on Southside Street, and dating from between 1572 and 1600, is reputed to be where the Pilgrims were entertained prior to their departure for the New World.
Due to the Coronavirus, the celebratory events to mark the sailing of the Mayflower have been rescheduled throughout 2021 Events planned during the summer months include the British Fireworks Championships, the Mayflower Four Nations Ceremony, the Mayflower Military Muster and the Rehabilitation Triathlon hosted by the Royal Marines.
Hear what Plymouth would have been like for the Pilgrims prior to the sailing of the Mayflower.
For an escorted tour in the UK ‘The American Connection’ marking the 401st anniversary of the Mayflower, Silver Travel Advisor recommends Travel Editions.