The departure of the Mayflower and Speedwell from Southampton in 1620.

Tomorrow marks the 399th anniversary of the departure of the Mayflower and the Speedwell from Southampton.

The City is working collaboratively with Plymouth and several other locations associated with the voyage and the passengers to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the sailing in 2020.

It is expected that a sizeable number of the 35 million people who claim to be descendants of the people who sailed on the Mayflower will visit Britain with many coming to Southampton.

The people who sailed on the Mayflower have been generally known as the Pilgrim Fathers.

This term was first used in a Forefathers’ Day celebration in Boston, Massachusetts in 1798 and was specifically a reference to those seeking religious freedom.

Today we prefer not to use this term as there were women and children on the ship and they played an equally important part in the success of the voyage and the early years in America as did the economic migrants.

Some parents sailed without their children intending for them to join them later while some children sailed without their parents.

Not all the people on the Mayflower were pleasant people - one was hanged for murder a few years after arriving in North America and another managed to upset the Mayflower’s crew with his arrogance.

Southampton’s part in the sailing is important for it was here over a two-week period that supplies were purchased for the crossing and the early months in North America as well as everything they needed to establish their colony.

Repairs to the Speedwell were also carried out here and according to letters written by Robert Cushman, the ship had to be trimmed twice in Southampton before she was seaworthy to continue.

It is possible that some of the shipwrights who worked on the Speedwell may have found her familiar, for a ship with the same name and dimensions had been built in Southampton possibly by Essaye Whittiffe a shipwright who lived in Bugle Street.

According to Southampton’s Book of Instruments it had been issued with a certificate under the Town Seal in 1606.

Many other important events took place in Southampton and these are described in detail on the ‘Southampton and the Mayflower’ walks available with the See Southampton tour guides.

On the August 15, 1620, the two ships sailed out of Southampton heading directly for North America with 120 passengers on board who were going for economic reasons or for freedom of religion.

Problems with a leaking Speedwell meant that they had to put into Dartmouth for repairs and then into Plymouth where they decided to abandon her.

102 people continued on the Mayflower while the 18 people who remained planned to join the others later. Amongst them were Robert Cushman and his family, a deeply religious man who had played a leading part in negotiations and the planning of the journey but who had become very unwell and thought he would not survive the journey.

The Mayflower left Plymouth on the September 16, over a month after leaving Southampton and it was to be a further 66 days before they reached North America.

The plan was to settle in Virginia but, because they were sailing west, they had to tack across the Atlantic with a zigzag path against the wind. This is probably why they ended up in New England which was further north than intended. This meant they faced a hard winter and had problems with their land grant.

The sailing of the Mayflower is important historically for her passengers established the second colony in North America after Jamestown and their descendants went on to establish the world’s richest and most powerful nation.

The indigenous people of North America paid a great price for this as they lost most of their land and almost 90 per cent of them died from diseases introduced by the settlers or as a consequence of warfare. Many were also captured and sold as slaves to plantation owners in the West Indies.

By Godfry Collyer - tour guide with