As we noted last month, Christopher Jones, Master of the Mayflower, was not an accidental tourist in 1620. During the preceding 70 years, thousands of European fishing boats had sailed to the rich cod fishing grounds that stretched from Cape Cod to Newfoundland.
Two of the Mayflower’s mates had previously experienced trans-Atlantic crossings: first mate and gunnery officer John Clarke on a cattle boat to Jamestown, and Robert Coppin, second mate and navigator, on a whaling ship that entered Cape Cod Bay, where he unknowingly saw the future site of Plymouth Colony. Fifty fishing boats in Southampton Harbor had recently returned from their annual trans-Atlantic crossing as the Mayflower raised anchor to begin its historic voyage.
Jones planned his navigation carefully, enhanced by years of seafaring experiences coupled with current and reliable information provided by his maritime peers – masters, mates and navigators. Jones opted to follow a common navigational practice of his era. He selected a given parallel, followed it to landfall, then turned north or south toward the desired destination. He chose the 42nd parallel that brought the Mayflower to the shores of Cape Cod, within 60 nautical miles by latitude of Hudson River area, their stated destination.
Definitely Not Bribed
It is fortunate for all of us that the real master of the Mayflower in no way resembled the Christopher Jones portrayed by actor Spencer Tracy in the popular Pilgrim film, Plymouth Adventure, an Oscar-winning performance to boot. Bribery, if any, would have involved Master Johnson of the Speedwell. Evidence points to Dutch diplomatic intrigue to keep English settlers out of the Hudson River area, where the Dutch conducted a profitable fur trade.
Atlantic Crossing Highlights
The Mayflower survived a great storm that split the main deck beam, which was repaired with assistance from a large screw jack from the Pilgrim’s tool supply (not from a printing press as frequently alleged). The health and vitality of the colonists were greatly diminished by the 101-day journey from Southampton to Provincetown. Additional drama punctuated the crossing - John Howland was swept overboard and saved by grabbing a dangling rope, Oceanus Hopkins was born, the Mayflower escaped disaster at Pollack Rip, and the Mayflower Compact was signed.
Cape Cod Bay Exploration
Master Jones and crewmembers participated in the early Cape explorations seeking a promising site for the new colony. Mayflower crewmembers sailed the shallop through sleet and snow squalls as the Pilgrims desperately searched the Cape Cod Bay coastline, sailing by Yarmouth and Barnstable before entering Plymouth Harbor. For three months, Jones and his crew supplemented the colonists’ meager food supply with fish, fowl and game. Of note in early Pilgrim writings, “Master Jones returned with seals and fish.” “Master Jones went hunting with his men to return with several large ducks and a deer.”
It was only natural that friendships and acts of kindness would emerge as passengers and crew endured the same hardships and survival challenges. Giles Heale attended Isaac Allerton’s wife Mary during her difficult childbirth. On December 22, 1620 she delivered a stillborn son on the Mayflower and died February 12. Later, Allerton presented Giles with a book, Annotations Upon the Psalms by Henry Ainsworth, which Giles apparently treasured. Upon his return to England on the Mayflower in 1621, he gave the book of Psalms to his wife Mary. This much-traveled and treasured book is preserved in the Library of Virginia in Richmond and bears her signature with an elegant flourish and the notation, “My Book.”
Who was Giles Heale?
He was the ship’s barber-surgeon.” Regulations required Master Jones to retain a certified doctor to provide medical care for the passengers while onboard. The Mayflower’s unlikely colonization venture consisted of more children, women, and servants than men sailing to the new world.
Born about 1595, Giles Heale completed his nine-year apprenticeship and was accepted into London’s Guild of Barber-Surgeons in August 1619. Heale’s training prepared him for dispensing internal medicines and the challenges of fevers and plagues prevalent in London. He must have been overwhelmed by the perils and severity of the “general sickness” that faced him and the others in Plymouth that first winter, in which 50% of the crew and colonists perished.
Heale returned on the Mayflower in 1621 and settled into a less challenging medical practice in London. He died in 1653 and was buried April 8 in St Giles-in-the-Field Church in London. In the 1920s, a comparison of signatures on wills by historians confirmed that he was the surgeon on the Mayflower. After 367 years of total obscurity, Giles Heale’s valuable contributions may now receive long-overdue acknowledgment.
Health and Peace
From his vantage point aboard the Mayflower, Christopher Jones observed with growing satisfaction the transformation occurring on shore that spring. Warm weather restored health, vitality, and hope to an exhausted colony. They had survived and the planting season beckoned. Master Jones could whisper, “Job well done” and prepare to weigh anchor. The original term of his contract was simply to transport the colonists to the New World and depart. Had he not remained five months longer, the colony would have failed.
However, the good ship Mayflower had one more silent but vital mission. In addition to continue providing shelter for the colonists, the Mayflower carried 12 cannons, presenting a formidable presence in Plymouth Harbor. There, the Mayflower served as a highly visible floating fortress when the important peace treaty with Massasoit (actually a mutual defense pact) was adopted. Massasoit knew of the prosperity and security of Indian tribes that lived under the protection of French trading forts, and recognized the importance of such an arrangement with the English for his people.
Master Jones offered to transport any colonist back to England at no cost. Surprisingly, no one accepted this generous offer. Ten years later, when Massachusetts Bay Colony made a similar offer, 80 people accepted.
Mayflower Returns to Rotherhithe
The Mayflower, well rested and eager to display its prowess, completed the 3,000 miles in just 33 days, as fast as many clipper ships. Master Jones enjoyed fair winds and weather and a boost from the Gulf Stream current while transporting a lighter but equally important cargo. The trove of letters homeward-bound was interlaced with good and bad news.
Another important document returning on the Mayflower was the first will written in New England and taken to London for probate. William Mullins, father of young Priscilla, died on the Mayflower in February 1621. On his deathbed, Mullins verbally conveyed his final wishes to Governor John Carver, who recorded it. Governor Carver, Christopher Jones, and Dr. Giles Heale were present and served as witnesses. A prosperous merchant, Mullins divided his material belongings and left his share of land in “Northern Virginia” to his son if he came to Plimouth Colony, which he eventually did. Master Jones brought the will to London on the Mayflower. The will survives today.
The Mayflower delivered exciting and reassuring news – a successful colony had been planted! As soon as the Council of New England heard the news, it issued a valid patent known as the Second Pierce Patent or the Indenture of 1621. This good news would not reach Plimouth Colony until November 1621.
Fair winds and Following Seas
The Mayflower arrived 9 May 1621 from Plymouth and in October made another trading run to France for a cargo of salt. It then appears to have set down its anchor. Christopher Jones died 4 March 1622 of ill health, probably exacerbated by rigors of the Plymouth adventure. He was buried March 5 in an unmarked grave in St. Mary’s churchyard in Rotherhithe.
There have been conflicting reports about what actually happened to the Mayflower. Administration of his estate was granted to his widow Josian. Two years after Jones’s death, the owners had the ship appraised to settle the estate, and in May of 1624, the appraisers described the ship as being “in ruinis.” It is believed that the Mayflower was eventually broken up and sold off as scrap.
What eventually happened to the Mayflower isn’t as important; it endures as the symbol of courage, determination, and faith transporting a group of people and its Master, Christopher Jones, to a new world. And the rest is – history.
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