During our 2009 road tour of southwestern England, we visited the town of Plymouth, in Devonshire. Although Plymouth does not have a lot of “must see” sights, it has a permanent place in history as the launch point of several historic voyages, including the sailing in 1620 of the Mayflower, with its 102 pilgrim passengers on their way to the new world in search of religious freedom. Their journey across the Atlantic Ocean from Plymouth, England to Cape Cod (Massachusetts) took 67 days (they arrived December 21, 1620). The journey started in Holland, and was 133 days in total. Once they arrived in Cape Cod, it was another 10 weeks before all passengers were able to go ashore.
Forty-five of the 102 Mayflower passengers died during the first winter, not necessarily from New England’s bad weather, but more from the difficulties of the journey and the poor living conditions aboard the ship.
I have a special connection to the Mayflower, being a descendant of two of the passengers: Issac Allerton and Richard Warren (through my mother’s lineage). As we wandered the old part of Plymouth (called the Barbican), it was a thrill for me to come upon a lovely garden that contained a plaque of the names of the Mayflower passengers. It was a special feeling seeing my ancestors listed on that plaque.
The Barbican is an interesting area and contains a number of historic
buildings, which survived in spite of the heavy bombing damage inflicted on the city in World War II.
Because of its great natural harbor, Plymouth has been jump-off spot for many other explorers in addition to the Mayflower voyage. In 1577 Sir Francis Drake left from here on his round-the-world voyage. In 1768 James Cook departed Plymouth on the first of 3 voyages to the Pacific and the southern hemisphere including his epic voyage to Australia. In 1831 Charles Darwin left Plymouth for the Galapagos Islands.
From the Barbican, we walked up to a beautiful park, containing monuments to England’s many Naval heroes and battles, including Lord Nelson’s defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1805. The park overlooks the bay just to the west of the Plymouth Harbor—a great setting in which to linger on a pleasant summer day.
In the harbor, there is a monument indicating the place from which the Mayflower sailed. In the pavement the date “1620” is etched in the stone. As I considered that long voyage across an unknown ocean, it made me happy to think that we can now cross that same distance in a matter of a few hours rather than months aboard a crowded, creaky ship with poor living conditions and miserable food.
For more information on Plymouth click here.