1588, a ship named Mayflower of 200 tons, commanded by one
Edward Banks, took part in chasing the Spanish Armada up
the Channel. She was commissioned and financed on that occasion
by the City of London. One of her owners, John Vassall,
of Stepney, moved in 1591 to Leigh-on-Sea, near Southend
at the mouth of the Thames. A Mayflower of Leigh appears
in the London port books of 1606, taking on a cargo of cloth
for Middelburg in Holland; her master was Robert Bonner
of Leigh. A year later, Robert Bonner was listed as master
of the Mayflower of London, unloading a cargo of wine from
Bordeaux. In 1608 Bonner was listed as master of the Josian,
whose master in 1606 and 1607 was Christopher Jones. In
1609 Jones appeared as master and quarter owner of the Mayflower
From then on, this Mayflower sailed fairly regularly
to the French ports of La Rochelle and Bordeaux, carrying
cloth, hose, and rabbit skins, and bringing back wine
and brandy. In 1609 she brought furs from Norway, and
twice in 1614 she fetched home silks from Hamburg. On
Tuesday, May 23, 1620, she docked in the Port of London
from La Rochelle, the second voyage to France that year.
Something more than two weeks later, Weston chartered
her for the crossing to New England.
The ship on which Weston and Cushman, the English agents
of the Pilgrims, had taken an option over the weekend
of June 10-12, 1620, was considerably smaller.
Available records indicate that by 1624 the Mayflower
of Pilgrim fame had three joint owners, Robert Child,
John Moore, and Mrs. Josian Jones, widow of the captain.
These three applied in that year to the Admiralty for
an appraisal. It was carried out by four mariners and
shipwrights of Rotherhithe, who valued the vessel at the
unpretentious total of one hundred and twenty-eight pounds,
eight shillings, and fourpence. One eminent historical
researcher, Dr. Rendel Harris, was so convinced that that
figure was preposterously low that he wrote in 1920 that
it must have represented only the widow's share.
Some historians suggest the Mayflower was broken up after
the 1624 appraisal.
But looking further into historical records unearths
the will of one Robert Sheffield of Stepney, dated September
10, 1625, in which his share of a ship named Mayflower
was bequeathed to his wife Joan or Josian. Some think
the legatee was the widow of Captain Jones. If it was,
she had married three times and went on to make it four,
for Robert Sheffield's widow married Simon Jefferson of
Blackfriars in 1630, and thereafter Sheffield's other
heirs commenced a lawsuit against Jefferson in 1636 concerning
"the Mayflower and other property."
Confusing things further is the fact that in 1621 Captain
Richard Swan sailed in the Hart to the Arabian coast,
a voyage listed in the marine records of the East India
Company. Swan joined a fleet which set out from the port
of Surat in the Punjab on April 6. The fleet, heading
for the Persian Gulf, captured on May 1 a two-hundred-ton
Portuguese vessel, the San Antonio, bound for Goa with
a cargo of rice. This prize was renamed Mayflower. She
sailed so badly (Swan called her "that leeward cart")
that she delayed the fleet, but on June 7 four ships,
London, Andrews, Primrose, and Mayflower, anchored beyond
Ras-al-Hadd, referred to by the English as Cape Rosalgate.
Here they enjoyed "all sorts of refreshments"
until a guerrilla force of "certain Portingals"
arrived to defend the port and drive the English out.
The English counter-attacked, defeated the Portuguese,
and "for their dishonesty burned the town and spoiled
many of their date trees." Then the fleet went on
to the Persian Gulf where the newly named Mayflower, which
had been leaking badly, was broken up for firewood. The
account of the whole affair was written by Richard Jefferies
on October 5, 1621.
For us today, it is clear that the ill-fated San Antonio
had not the remotest connection with the Mayflower of
Plymouth fame. But what has really muddled historians
is the Mayflower of 1629 and 1630. Thomas Prence wrote
in his journal in August 1629: "Thirty-five of our
friends with their families arrived at Plymouth. They
shipped at London in May, with the ships that came to
Salem, which brings over many pious persons to begin the
churches there. So that their being long kept back is
now accomplished by Heaven with a double blessing....
The charge is reckoned on the several families, some fifty
pounds, some forty, some thirty, as their numbers and
expenses were, which our undertakers pay for gratis, besides
giving them houses, preparing them grounds to plant on,
and maintain them with corn, etc., above thirteen or fourteen
months, before they have a harvest of their own production."
James Sherley sent a letter with the new arrivals, dated
March 25, 1629, which said in part: "Here are now
many of yours and our friends from Leyden, coming over
who though for the most part be but a weak company, yet
herein is a good part of that end ordained, which was
aimed at, and which hath been so strongly opposed, by
some of our former Adventurers. But God hath His working
in these things, which man cannot frustrate. With them
we have also sent some servants in the ship called the
Talbot that went hence lately; but these come in the Mayflower."
And Captain John Smith wrote under the date 1629: "In
this year a great company of people of good rank, zeal,
means, and quality, have made a great stock, and with
six good ships in the months of April and May they set
sail from Thames for the Bay of Massachusetts, otherwise
called Charles River; viz. the George Bonaventure of twenty
pieces of ordnance, the Talbot nineteen, the Lions Whelp
eight, the Mayflower fourteen, the Four Sisters fourteen,
the Pilgrim four, with three hundred and fifty men, women
The master of the Mayflower was William Peirce. Roger
Harman commanded the Four Sisters and William Wobridge
the Pilgrim. (note the use of "Pilgrim" as a
In 1630 the Mayflower sailed from Southampton with the
Whale. She was listed as "Mayflower of Yarmouth."
William Peirce was by then master of the Lion.
A Mayflower of Yarmouth, tonnage between 240 and 250,
owner Thomas Howarth, is registered as sailing under letters
of marque to the fishing grounds off Greenland on July
23, 1626, October 3, 1627, and June 29, 1631.
Then there is the Mayflower commanded by Thomas Webber
of Boston, the ship that brought an order of canvas to
America from England in 1654 for one John Eliot. This
Mayflower is described as being about two hundred tons
, and when she was riding at anchor in Boston Harbor on
October 6, 1652, Webber sold one sixteenth of her "for
good and valuable considerations" to one John Pinchon
of Springfield, Massachusetts. Next day he sold another
sixteenth to Theodore Atkinson, a Boston felt maker, "as
well as of said ship as of all and singular her masts,
sails, sailyards, etc."
A British scholar, Sir Edwin Arnold, speaking in 1889
at Harvard on the subject of Sanskrit studies, told his
audience about a Mayflower that had been sunk off the
coast of Coromandel in 1659. He mentioned Masulipatam
and Malabar. This Mayflower, he said, was 240 tons burden,
carried twenty-four guns and a crew of fifty-five, and
had sailed to Coromandel with the Eagle and the Endymion
in 1655. The three ships had arranged to rendezvous at
St. Helena on the way home if they happened to get separated
at sea. This Mayflower had arrived at Plymouth, Devon,
on August 26, 1657, and had set out for Coromandel again
on February 22, 1658, with a cargo of bullion worth £7500.
She had sunk the following year, apparently in shallow
water, for the wreck passed into the hands of an Indian
broker in Surat on February 16, 1660, and he managed to
repair the vessel sufficiently to use her afterward for
local trading, though she was never again capable of navigating
the open sea.
Dr. Rendel Harris patiently worked out the comings and
goings of every Mayflower recorded in the English port
books for the first two thirds of the seventeenth century.
What he found out includes specific information about
Christopher Jones's (and the Pilgrim's) Mayflower.
On January 28, 1620, Jones brought the Mayflower in to
London and landed a cargo of 113 1/4 tons of French wine
in eight lots, the biggest 30 1/4 tons, the smallest 8
tons. During the next three days Jones unloaded a further
37 3/4 tons in four consignments. On May 15, 1620, the
Mayflower brought in another wine cargo, 50 1/4 tons of
ordinary wine and 19 of "conyacks wine" (cognac).