Very little is known about the ship which brought the Pilgrims to New England. No name is given in Bradford’s History Of Plimoth Plantation, nor in the other early accounts. The first mention occurred in a document of 1623, which assigned to the individual colonists an acre of land apiece. The list of people was subdivided by ship name, and the first group came under the heading, “The Falles of their grounds which over in May-Floure, according as their lotes were cast 1623.” Bradford in his History stated only that she “…was hired at London, of urthen about nine scoure,…” A later passage concerning John Howland’s fall from the Mayflower and subsequent rescue refers to his catching hold of a topsail halyard, thus indicating that topsails were present.
After several misidentifications (such as the Mayflower under the command of William Pierce which brought additional colonists to Plymouth in 1629, or another Mayflower with a master named Thomas Jones, which had been a slave ship), R.G. Marsden was able to demonstrate in 1904 that the Mayflower in question was out of Harwich and later of London, Christopher Jones, master.
Marsden searched the English High Court of Admiralty Records looking for a matching vessel which could have traveled from London between July, 1620 and May, 1621. This proved to be a lengthy operation as “Mayflower” was a popular ship’s name; but, he eventually reduced the number to six, and finally to one, the Mayflower of Harwich, whose master was Christopher Jones. It was Christopher Jones who had witnessed the will of William Mullins, which was discovered in the public records at Somerset House in London, aboard the ship in 1621.
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).
After Mayflower’s return to England in May of 1621, she was again involved in trade between London and France. The last mention in the Port Books was recorded on October 31, 1621. Her master, Christopher Jones, died in early 1622. On May 26, 1624, an application was received by the High Court of Admiralty from Mayflower owners, Robert Child, John Moore and the widow of
Christopher Jones declaring the ship to be “in ruinis” and requesting an appraisment. This was the last recorded reference.
There have been several claims advanced as to what happened to the Mayflower after she was scrapped. One is that the timbers of the ship were incorporated into the construction of a barn in Buckinghamshire. To quote Samuel Eliot Morison: “The Rev. J. Rendel Harris, the gentleman who argues for an Egyptian discovery of America, in an extraordinary pair of books”.
The ship model Finding of the Mayflower and The Last of the Mayflower (1920) demonstrates in a series of wild syllogisms that the Mayflower’s bones came to their final resting place as the roof timbers on an old barn at Jordans, Buckinghamshire, which is preserved by the Society of Friends.” (Bradford, Of Plimoth Plantation, Morison ed., 1984, p. 52n.)
The masts of Mayflower have also been claimed by Harris to exist as wooden pillars in an “Independent” or rather Baptist chapel in Abington, Oxfordshire, England, that was built around 1700, for which there is no evidence beyond a local tradition that they were the masts of the Brielle, the ship which brought William of Orange to England in 1688. Harris simply prefers that they be of the Mayflower.
Plimoth Plantation’s Mayflower II is a re-creation of the famous ship that brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. No picture of the Mayflower ever existed, although many speculative artistic representations were made during the 19th century. More accurate research resulted in the R.C. Anderson model of 1925, which W.A. Baker used as a starting point for the designs commissioned by Plimoth Plantation.