15 Interesting Facts About the Mayflower for Kids

September 26, 2022

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With American Thanksgiving coming soon, are you learning about the Mayflower in your homeschool? If you are, then you’ll love these interesting facts about the Mayflower that you can share with your kids.


Facts About the Mayflower

The whole story of the voyage of the Mayflower and the lives of the people who travelled as passengers is stunning! Check out these facts about the Mayflower that you may not know and enjoy some fun Mayflower crafts in your homeschool this month.

What was the Mayflower?

The Mayflower was a merchant ship that was chartered by the Separatist group we now know as Pilgrims. They wanted to make a new life in the New World where they could enjoy religious freedom. The Mayflower set sail on September 16, 1620.

How big was the Mayflower?

The Mayflower was not that big! It measured only 80 feet long and 24 feet wide. This cargo ship normally took wine and dry goods between England and Bordeaux and now it had to fit 102 passengers with all their belongings plus a crew of about 25-30.

The merchant ship could carry 180 tons of cargo, which is considered a small ship. It also wasn’t a ship that normally sailed the wide open ocean.

Who financed the Mayflower’s voyage?

The Virginia Company gave the Pilgrims permission to settle in the Northern parts of Virginia. Financing came from a merchant in London. And the King of England himself gave the Pilgrims permission to officially leave the Church of England. Everything seemed to be in place.

Who were the Mayflower pilgrims?

The Mayflower pilgrims came from different walks of life. Of the 102 Mayflower passengers, only 40 were “Separatists” or Saints (now called Pilgrims) leaving due to religious persecution. The other 62 were secular colonists. Then, there were an additional 25-30 members of the crew.

Of the people on board, 50 were male passengers, 19 were women, and 33 were children or youth. The captain of the Mayflower was Christopher Jones with Captain Myles Standish assisting. Other familiar names on the voyage of the Mayflower include William Bradford and William Brewster.

William Bradford was the Separatist leader who also proposed the Mayflower Compact. He later became governor of the Plymouth Colony. William Brewster was an elder of the Leiden congregation and the main spiritual leader of the group of Separatists.

Why did the passengers feel they needed to leave England?

This group of Pilgrims were English Protestants who felt religious persecution in England because they didn’t want to join the official Church of England. Instead, they wanted to have the freedom to worship God without the trappings of the official church.

So in 1608 these Protestants moved from Scrooby, England, to Holland, where they hoped they would find religious freedom. However, in Holland they were surprised to find a secular culture where their children were influenced in a negative way. So now these Pilgrim fathers felt they had no choice but to leave Europe altogether and sail for the New World.

Where did the passengers sleep?

The passengers slept wherever they could find room. When talking about the Mayflower voyage, we have to keep in mind that this trip was supposed to include two ships – the Mayflower and the Speedwell. However, soon after leaving the port at Southampton, the Speedwell starting taking on water and so both ships had to return to port in Plymouth.

All of the travelers then squeezed onto the Mayflower. Many passengers likely didn’t care where they slept because they were so sea sick some could hardly get up! The delay caused by the leaking Speedwell caused the Mayflower to have to sail during peak storm season. So this was not a smooth trip by any means.

What route did the Mayflower sail?

The Mayflower left Plymouth, England and sailed the Atlantic Ocean intending to land in the Colony of Virginia. But the Gulf Stream pushed their voyage northward. The first half of the voyage was generally uneventful, but in the middle of the Atlantic, they found themselves in the middle of heavy storms.

This pushed them significantly off course.

When they reached land in North America, the crew of the Mayflower found themselves too far north – in Cape Cod, New England. Winter was coming quickly and they had no time to build adequate shelter, so they stayed onboard the Mayflower for that first winter.

When the Mayflower returned to England the next year, the colonists settled inland in what became known as Plymouth Plantation.

What was it like on the Mayflower?

The Mayflower’s passengers had a rough crossing. They only had about 2 by 7 feet of space per person. Crew members had to work to keep the cargo ship afloat in the bad weather during the trip. Many people suffered from seasickness.

All 102 passengers lived primarily on the gun deck. This was a cramped area measuring only 80 by 20 feet and with ceiling only 5 feet high. Because of ravaging storms, families had to stay beneath deck in the semi-darkness. Everyone and everything was wet.

What did the passengers do all day?

The Mayflower’s passengers spent most of their time on the gun deck, which was below the upper decks of the ship. As such, they were cramped and didn’t have much light. The high waves made it dangerous to go on the upper decks. Instead, the passengers stayed in the middle of the boat, or the “tween deck,” which was above the cargo hold.

What did the passengers of the Mayflower eat?

The Mayflower passengers primarily ate dried food stores such as dried meat, fruit, and beans. They also had cheese and salt port. An important part of their diet was hard tack, which is a cracker-like biscuit. All the passengers, including children, drank beer.

How big of a crew did the Mayflower have?

The crew of the Mayflower was about 25 to thirty single men. The captain and higher ranking crew slept in the poop house, which was the highest section of the ship. Below the poop house was the general cabin where the rest of the crew slept.

Captain Christopher Jones was the man responsible for taking his ship across rough seas when it was charter by the Separatists. One famous member of the crew was John Alden, who was the ship’s barrel maker. He was also one of the first to sign the Mayflower Compact and later played a leading role in the Plymouth Colony.

Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, by William Halsall
Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, by William Halsall– public domain.

Facts about the Mayflower

Here are some fun facts about the Mayflower.

  • The first Thanksgiving didn’t happen right away. In fact, that iconic feast with the Indians took place at the end of the harvest in 1621. You might be surprised to know that the Pilgrims were outnumbered 2 to 1 by their Native American counterparts.
  • There are 10 million Americans living today who are descended from the Mayflower passengers!
  • At least three of the Presidents of the United States were descended from Mayflower passengers. They are John Adams, James Garfield, and Zachary Taylor.
  • Oceanus Hopkins was the baby boy born to Elizabeth Hopkins during the trans-Atlantic trip. The first English child born in the New World to the Pilgrims was Peregrine White. He was actually born aboard the Mayflower while it was in Cape Cod harbor.

10 Things You Might Not Know about the Mayflower

The Mayflower Compact

Since these travelers had landed out of their original destination, they needed to set up a legitimate form of self-government as soon as possible. So these colonists drafted and signed The Mayflower Compact.

This became the first document to establish self government in North America. They agreed to set up a “civil body politic” and create fair and equal laws. All the men on the Mayflower signed this document and they lived under this agreement until 1791 when the Plymouth Colony became part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The importance of the Mayflower Compact is that it was a first of its kind of agreement, where the people themselves agreed to the laws that governed them.

It was a distinct break from the authority of the Crown. And it set a precedence for other colonies in North America. It even inspired the Founding Fathers as they established self-government in the United States Constitution.

Free Resources You Might Enjoy

Final Thoughts on the Mayflower

The small group of people who sailed on the Mayflower had a significant role in establishing the seeds of the American dream. The fledgling colonies and then independent country that was formed over 150 years later owe their gratitude to the brave settlers who arrived on the Mayflower.

Their courage through many trials and hardships is an inspiration to us today. And their example of self-governance, religious freedom, and perseverance continue to be worthy goals as we remember their fateful voyage over 400 years later.

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