A voyage across the Atlantic, a new land to call home, and the beginning of a story that would shape a nation.
American history wouldn’t be the same without the arrival of the first community of Pilgrims who came from England. When they set sail on the Mayflower toward the New World, they probably had no idea what was in store for them, and even less idea about the impact their actions would have on the future of the world.
It’s time to learn about and celebrate Mayflower Day!
History of Mayflower Day
Mayflower Day is a celebration in honor of the Mayflower ship, one of the first ships to arrive in the New World, in what is now the United States
After its departure from Plymouth, England on September 16, 1620 the people on the ship experienced almost ten harrowing weeks at sea. After 66 days, the Mayflower finally arrived in Massachusetts where it docked, even though the captain had been aiming to land in Virginia. The ship got off course due to some storms faced at the high seas, as well as some navigational errors by the crew.
The Mayflower carried the first Pilgrim or Puritan settlers to America first at Cape Cod and then to the settlement called Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts. The ship carried 30 crew members and 102 passengers, three of whom were pregnant women. One of the babies was born at sea, just prior to arrival, so they disembarked at a count of 103.
Because there were no appropriate places to live in their new place, the Pilgrims lived on the ship for a few months, rowing back and forth to the land to build houses but sleeping on the ship at night.
Before they even landed the ship, the passengers signed the Mayflower Compact, which was an agreement about the new governing rules that would be set forth. This was signed on November 21, 1620, a month prior to their docking.
Mayflower Day was founded to commemorate and celebrate the important event that launched the first community of Europeans to live in the New World in what is now the United States of America.
Mayflower Day Timeline
Puritans start a church in England
Trying to found their own church, the Puritans are kicked out of England. First they head to the Netherlands, but eventually decide to set up a colony in America.
Mayflower sets sail twice
Leaving but having to turn back twice because its partner ship, Speedwell, leaks.
September 16, 1620
Mayflower finally sails
Filled with over 100 people, the Mayflower finally sets sail from Plymouth, England.
November 11, 1620
Mayflower Compact is signed
Before landing, the future colonists sign their set of rules that will rule them in the beginning of the settlement.
Mayflower lands in Plymouth
After stopping in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the Mayflower moves on to Plymouth where they settle.
How to Celebrate Mayflower Day
Mayflower Day is a great day to commemorate families with children as well as school classes who are learning about the history of the United States. Try out some of these ideas for celebrating the day:
Host a Mayflower Day Party
People who enjoy American history might get excited about hosting a party or event in honor of Mayflower Day. Invite guests to dress up as pilgrims or some of the original settlers from the Mayflower. Make the room festive with a variety of New World themed posters or decorations.
Activities might include doing a little research ahead of time so guests can play games like the ones that may have been played by children on the ship or early in their adventures in the New World. Or perhaps one activity could be for participants to build their own ships from various supplies like Popsicle sticks, toothpicks or clay.
Learn More About the Mayflower
While some of the details about the Mayflower are a bit unclear, this is the day to glean all of the possible information about this ocean vessel and the people who were on it. Consider some of these interesting facts to get started:
Most of the information about the Mayflower comes from William Bradford, a Puritan who was leaving England in search of more religious freedom. It is Bradford’s journal about the Atlantic crossing that much of the historical information comes from.
The Mayflower was rather crowded, measuring only 100 feet, but still they could have used more people to do all of the work needed to keep the ship afloat during the crossing.
At least ten United States Presidents can link their lineage to passengers from the Mayflower, including the two Bush presidents, Ford, Nixon, Franklin Roosevelt, Grant and others.
Nearly half of the original passengers of the Mayflower died during the first winter in Plymouth Rock. Even with the advantages of discovering an abandoned village left by Native Americans, the settlers struggled to stay alive.
Visit a Museum with Mayflower Exhibits
A few different museums in the New England area of the US provide exhibits and displays featuring information about the Mayflower. Mayflower Day would be an ideal time to head to a museum and gain some interesting information about the travels and life for the Pilgrims and settlers during that time. Try out one of these museums:
- Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA. A large collection of Pilgrim possessions, including William Bradford’s Bible, as well as opportunities to learn about life for the people on the Mayflower and the early time in Plymouth.
- Mayflower Museum in Plymouth, England, United Kingdom. This museum explores the seafaring history of the area as well as offering exhibits about the Mayflower ship from 1620, including a model ship.
- Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA. A complex museum of living history, this plantation reveals first hand what life was like for the early settlers in the area, as well as giving insight into the indigenous people who have lived there for thousands of years.
- The Jabez Howland House in Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA. The only remaining house in Plymouth, Massachusetts where the original Pilgrims actually spent time, this two story wooden house is on the National Register of Historic Places. It also functions as a living history museum with costumed characters and period furnishings.
Look Up Descendants of the Mayflower
Some American people might be wondering if perhaps their ancestors were part of the original ship or crew on the Mayflower. The Mayflower Society is an organization devoted to helping people find out if their family history connects with this original voyage and the Pilgrims by tracing their lineage.
Some well-known descendants of the Mayflower, in addition to ten United States presidents, include Julia Child, Noah Webster, Norman Rockwell, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. Take a look at The Mayflower Society website to learn more about the unique and interesting people who are descended from these brave seafaring settlers.
Mayflower Day FAQs
What was the Mayflower Compact?
The Mayflower Compact was a set of rules that was signed by the settlers who came to the New World.
Where did the Mayflower land?
The Mayflower landed first at Cape Cod, Massachusetts and then moved up to Plymouth where they settled.
How many people were on the Mayflower?
The Mayflower held 30 crew and 102 passengers, and a baby was born during the trip, so it ended with 103 passengers.
When did the Mayflower come to America?
The Mayflower sailed from Plymouth, England on September 6, 1620 and landed in the New World on November 11, 1620.
How big was the Mayflower?
The Mayflower ship was not a very big boat, measuring about 25 feet wide and 106 feet long.