The Mayflower that brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth was probably built before 1606. Christopher Jones of Harwich, Essex, was in command of the vessel as of August, 1609, and was part owner in 1612. Jones moved in 1611 to Rotherhithe, a shipping center on the south bank of the Thames near London. It was from there that his ship went to Southampton to make the historic voyage. Notations in the Port Books indicate that the Mayflower went on at least one voyage to Norway, carrying hats, hemp, Spanish salt, hops, vinegar and Gascon wine, returning with tar, deals (pine planks), and herring. More frequently, she traveled to Rochelle and Bordeaux with cloth and returned with wine. In the summer of 1620 she was hired to transport a group of colonists to the “northern parts of Virginia” (around the mouth of the Hudson River).
Like many ships of the time (such as the Santa Maria) the Mayflower was most likely a carrack with three masts, square-rigged on the foremast and mainmast but lateen-rigged on the mizzenmast. The ship’s dimensions are unknown but estimates based on its load, weight, and the typical size of 180-ton merchant ships of its day, suggest a length of 90–110 feet (27.4–33.5 m) and a width of about 25 feet (7.6 m).
Some of the Pilgrims were brought from Holland on the Speedwell, a smaller vessel that accompanied the Mayflower on its initial departure from Southampton, England, on August 15, 1620. When the Speedwell proved unseaworthy and was twice forced to return to port, the Mayflower set out alone from Plymouth, England, on September 16, after taking on some of the smaller ship’s passengers and supplies. Among the Mayflower’s most distinguished voyagers were William Bradford and Captain Myles Standish.
Chartered by a group of English merchants called the London Adventurers, the Mayflower was prevented by rough seas and storms from reaching the territory that had been granted in Virginia (a region then conceived of as much larger than the present-day U.S. state of Virginia, at the time including the Mayflower’s original destination in the area of the Hudson River in what is now New York state). Instead, after a 66-day voyage, it first landed November 21 on Cape Cod at what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts, and the day after Christmas it deposited its 102 settlers nearby at the site of Plymouth. The ship remained in port until the following April, when it left for England.