Celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower on both sides of the Atlantic

This year, both the UK and US are gearing up for major celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of one momentous maiden voyage.

Sunday, March 15, 2020,
By Helen Warwick
The Mayflower II is a replica of the 17th century ship Mayflower, celebrated for transporting the ...
The Mayflower II is a replica of the 17th-century ship Mayflower, celebrated for transporting the Pilgrims to the New World.
Photograph by Getty

In 1620, 102 passengers boarded the Mayflower at Plymouth, bidding farewell to British shores for a land that had only been discovered by Columbus less than 150 years earlier. Many were searching for religious freedom and a new life in distant lands, but none of the men, women and children could have predicted how their journey would shape the future of the USA. Their mission was to set up the ‘Plymouth Colony’ in the New World: something the surviving passengers – the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ — managed to achieve, forming one of the USA’s major historical colonisations. And to commemorate that pioneering journey, celebrations are underway both here at home and in the US

Home shores:
As the city where it all began, Plymouth is readying itself for a year’s worth of events to mark the 400th anniversary. There’s the Mayflower Ceremony, exactly 400 years to the day the ship set sail (16 September) — a four-nation event bringing a 1,000-strong choir together to perform a specially composed piece of music telling the ship’s story and legacy. A few days later, the Mayflower Muster will signal a one-time-only gathering of military ships in the Plymouth Sound.

But change is apace in the Devon port, with transformational facelifts across the city, and central to Plymouth’s celebrations this year is the opening of the hotly anticipated cultural centre, The Box. Located in the former spot of the city museum and art gallery, the centre is set to take the arts scene up a notch when its doors open in May. The grand opening of the £45m project will be marked with the exhibition Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy, the largest Mayflower exhibition in history, and a fascinating look at items and images garnered from the US, UK and the Netherlands that tell the story of the journey, those who took it, the native Americans they met and the settlement itself.   

Don’t miss: Plymouth-based dance group, Street Factory, will be leading a mass street dance – Roots UP! — in ode to the Mayflower (25 July).

 

Across the pond
Meanwhile, behind the scenes in Massachusetts, a haul of craftsmen are finishing restoration of the Mayflower II — a full-scale replica of the ship that was originally built in 1955 as a gift to the US following the Second World War. The faithful reproduction — with solid oak timbers and horn lanterns — has been docked in Connecticut since 2016, but will sail into Boston Harbour alongside the historic USS Constitution this spring to great fanfare. Docking in Charlestown Navy Yard for a six-day maritime festival from 14-19 May, expect live music, ship tours and food trucks. There’s also the Plymouth 400 Commemoration Opening (24 April) at the city’s Memorial Hall, with a programme of speakers, visual and performing arts, and the Official Maritime Salute (27-28 June) that’ll herald a regatta of wooden ships, yachts and pleasure craft in the harbour. Ticket-holders will also be able to nab a table on the waterfront for a New England lobster dinner. 

Don’t miss
The Embarkation Festival — an arts and culture fest dedicated to the traditions, cuisine and music of the original settlers and the native Wampanoag people along Plymouth’s waterfront. (19 September)


In numbers: Mayflower voyage

128
The number of days at sea from Britain to the US, a journey hampered by poor weather

3
women at least six months pregnant on the Mayflower

30 metres
the estimated length of the Mayflower

2
the number of dogs taken aboard. It’s thought there were also goats, pigs and chickens to take to the new settlement

53
passengers (and only five women) survived the journey and the ensuing bitter winter of 1620/21

6 May
1621, the date the Mayflower returned to Britain

 

Published in the April 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK) 

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