Breakdown: Why the Pilgrims voyage to America wasn’t an easy one

Published: Nov. 21, 2021 at 10:08 AM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Mayflower is one of the most important ships in American history.

This cargo ship brought the pilgrims to Massachusetts during the Great Puritan Migration in the 17th century.

The voyage itself across the Atlantic Ocean took 66 days, from their departure on September 6, 1620.

The first half of the voyage was smooth with sunny skies and fair weather; the only major problem was sea-sickness.

But by October, they began encountering a number of Atlantic storms that made the voyage treacherous. They did not know then, what we know today: The peak of the Atlantic Hurricane Season happens to be through the months of August to October.

The hurricane season peaks between August and October, with September 10 as the day you're...
The hurricane season peaks between August and October, with September 10 as the day you're statistically most likely to find a tropical cyclone somewhere in the Atlantic basin.(WMC)

A series of storms caused the ship to leak and the main mast to crack. The crew managed to fix the beam and fill some of the leaks. Several times, the wind was so strong they had to just drift where the weather took them, it was not safe to use the ship’s sails.

After more than two months at sea, the Pilgrims finally arrived at Cape Cod on November 11, 1620. The Pilgrims intended to land in Northern Virginia, however, as the Pilgrims headed south, it encountered some very rough seas, and nearly shipwrecked.

The Pilgrims landed roughly 600 miles north (in Cape Code) of where they originally planned...
The Pilgrims landed roughly 600 miles north (in Cape Code) of where they originally planned (present day Norfolk, VA area) due to storms blowing them off course. (

The Pilgrims then decided, rather than risk another attempt to go south, they would just stay and explore Cape Cod. They turned back north, rounded the tip, and anchored in what is now Provincetown Harbor.

The Pilgrims would spend the next month and a half exploring Cape Cod, trying to decide where they would build their plantation. On December 25, 1620, they had finally decided upon Plymouth, and began construction of their first buildings.

The colonists spent the first winter living onboard the Mayflower. Only 53 passengers and half the crew survived. Women were particularly hard hit; of the 19 women who had boarded the Mayflower, only five survived the cold New England winter, confined to the ship where disease and cold were rampant. The Mayflower sailed back to England in April 1621, and once the group moved ashore, the colonists faced even more challenges.

During their first winter in America, more than half of the Plymouth colonists died from malnutrition, disease and exposure to the harsh New England weather.

In fact, without the help of the area’s native people, it is likely that none of the colonists would have survived. An English-speaking Abenaki named Samoset helped the colonists form an alliance with the local Wampanoags, who taught them how to hunt local animals, gather shellfish and grow corn, beans and squash.

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