Preparing for Their Voyage


The following was taken from William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation.


William Bradford wrote a lengthy account of the years before the Separatists actually departed for America.  This group of people were dedicated to following and worshipping God as they saw in the scriptures. The 12 years they spent in Leyden, Holland were difficult years for them financially, but they were so grateful to be able to fellowship and worship God as they saw fit, that they endured it cheerfully.  Bradford described their years as “sweet fellowship”.  There were others that decided they would rather be thrown in prison or endure the persecution in England, rather than endure the same hardships.  Those years took a great toll on their group, it was mentioned how the children also labored, and eventually some were drawn away to the ways of the native Dutch of the land, involving themselves in evils, or taking up vocations that the parents did not find suitable.  John Robinson was the minister of their group and it was determined that he would stay with the remaining members of the fellowship at Leyden and come at a later date, which he was never able to do.  William Brewster, who was a senior Elder, was chosen to go with the group to America as their minister.   William Brewster has been described as a mentor to Bradford.  The following is an account of the final preparations and subsequent departure, recorded by William Bradford:


“Of their departure from Leyden, and other things there about, with their arrival at South Hamton, where they all met together, and took in their provisions.


At length, after much travail and these debates, all things were got ready and provided.  A small ship was bought, and fitted in Holland, which was intended as to serve to help to transport them, so to stay in the country and attend upon fishing and benefit of the colony when they came there.  Another was hired in London, of burden about nine score; and all other things got in readiness.  So being ready to depart, they had a day of solemn humiliation, their pastor taking his text from  Ezra 8:21. And there at the river, by Ahava, I proclaimed a fast, that we might humble ourselves before God, and seek of him a right way for us, and for our children, and for all our substance. Upon which he spent a good part of the day very profitably, and suitable to their present occasion.   The rest of the time was spent in pouring out prayers to the Lord with great ferverence, mixed with abundant tears.  And the time being come that they must depart, they were accompanied with most of their brethren out of the city, a few miles from a town called Delfes-Haven, where the ship lay ready to receive them.  So they left the goodly and pleasant city, which had been their resting place near 12 years; but they knew they were pilgrims and looked not much on those things, but lifted up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits.  When they came to the place they found the ship and all things ready; and such of their friends that could come with them, followed after them, and some also came from Amsterdam to see them ship and to take their leave of them.  That night was spent with little sleep by the most, but with friendly entertainment and christian discourse and other real expressions of true Christian love.  The next day, the wind being fair, they went aboard and their friends with them, where truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful parting….But the tide (which stays for no man) calling them away and they were thus oath to depart, their Rev. pastor falling down on his knees (and they all with him) with watery cheeks commended them with most fervent prayers to the Lord and his blessing.”


When this ship arrived in London to meet the Mayflower and the other passengers they found there were some problems.  Apparently the cost was more than had been agreed upon by the group in Leyden and there hadn’t been time to notify them of the changes before the group departed.   Mr. Weston, who was one of the investors, was there also, to confirm the arrangement and the group refused, and answered him, that he knew right well that these were not according to the first agreement, neither could they yield to them without the consent of the rest that were behind.  And indeed they had specific charge when they came away, from the chief of those that were behind not to do it.   At which he was much offended, and told them they must then look to stand on their own legs. So he returned in displeasure and this was the first ground of discontent between them. Mr. Weston showed no mercy and left them to shift for themselves.  They ended up selling some of their provisions, which they felt they had the most of and could spare, which was butter.


Once they set out to sea, the Speedwell, (which was the ship they had purchased to stay with them at their arrival in the New World) was leaking.  They turned back and thought they had it fixed, and set out again.  Again, it was found to be leaking.  They returned again and it was decided the vessel wasn’t seaworthy to make the voyage, so decisions were made that those who may not be able to bear up under burden of the adventure or who decided they didn’t want to go were left behind.  After another sorrowful parting, those that chose to continue, crowded onto the Mayflower and Bradford described it as follows:  And thus, like Gideon’s army, this small number was divided, as if the Lord by this work of this providence thought these few, to many for the great work he had to do”.  Bradford went on to relate, that the reason the Speedwell leaked, was because they had over masted and pressed with the sail too much,  After the ship was sold, it was returned to its original trim and made many voyages and performed well. 


An entry in Bradford’s journal dated Sept. 6. ….And I may not omit here a special work of God’s providence.  There was a proud and very profane young man, one of the seamen, of a lusty, able body, which made him the more haughty; he would all ways be condemning the poor people in their sickness and cursing them daily with grievous execrations, and did not hesitate to tell them, that he hoped to help cast half of them over board before they came to their journeys end, and to make merry with what they had; and if he were gently reproved, he would curse and swear most bitterly.  But it pleased God before they came half way over the sea, to smite this young man with a grievous disease, of which he died in a desperate manner, and so was himself the first that was thrown overboard.  Thus his curses light on his own head; and it was an astonishment to all his fellows, for they noted it be the just hand of God upon him.

Note: The text has been edited in to modern text for easier reading, taking care to only change the spelling to modern form.
Sources: William Bradford: History of Plymouth Plantation

Contributed by Kathryn Currier

posted May 25, 2009



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