AS the Mayflower slowly traversed the choppy seas of the Atlantic, more than 100 passengers vied for room ¬– not an easy task with some of the argumentative and unpleasant characters onboard

On August 15, 1620, the Mayflower and the Speedwell left Southampton for North America.

Aboard were economic migrants seeking a prosperous life free from the limited opportunities of the Old World.

Some were religious Separatists also seeking freedom from persecution for their beliefs. 120 people left from Southampton with 102 continuing the journey from Plymouth where the ships called for repairs to the Speedwell which was abandoned.

Not long after the formation of the United States, those who sailed on the Mayflower became known as the Pilgrim Fathers and were sentimentally etched into the story of the founding of that nation.

The very name Pilgrim Fathers conjures images of pious, honest men motivated by good intentions devoid of rancor or deceit but, as is always the case, when you look behind the myth you find contradictions.

The passengers on the Mayflower included wives, single men and women and children all of whom were integral to the success of the voyage as a consequence the term Pilgrim Fathers has fallen out of favour and The Pilgrims used instead. This is still a misnomer as less than half of the migrants were religiously motivated.

Any large group has its share of difficult characters and on the Mayflower one such person was Christopher Martin described as a large, red faced man, self-important, pugnacious, overweight and breathless. He caused problems with the Mayflower’s crew by his constant interfering but mainly he argued with Robert Cushman who had negotiated the funding of the sailing.

Cushman confronted him over his lack of accounts for spending the migrants’ money.

Martin was put in charge of the Mayflower and he so upset everyone that when the ship anchored in Dartmouth he refused to let anyone go ashore as he knew they would not return.

His bullying led Cushman, who was convinced that Martin was embezzling them, to leave the Mayflower in Plymouth and not continue to America. He may well have been responsible for others not continuing too.

Aboard the Mayflower was John Billington, his wife and two sons who were singled out as responsible for tensions on the ship.

The boys managed to nearly destroy the Mayflower by firing off a gun near the gunpowder store.

Billington was said to be a difficult man with a chip on his shoulder over what he considered to be an unfair allocation of land. He was also accused of sending political letters undermining the colony back to England. He was found guilty of shooting John Newcomen in an argument over land and was hanged.

Perhaps the most distressing story is that of the More children from Shropshire. Their mother Katherine was accused of adultery by her husband Samuel who claimed he was not the father of their four children.

He removed the children from their mother and with the connivance of Thomas Western, who was organising the funding of the Mayflower’s sailing, had the children placed with the families of three leading Separatists on the Mayflower. Their mother having fought to recover her children and lost would never see them again.

Stephen Hopkins was a Hampshire man who in 1609 had been sentenced to hang for mutiny.

Hopkins sailed on the Mayflower and after arriving in America was in trouble for selling strong liquor on a Sunday and for overcharging people.

Unrest amongst the Mayflower passengers, when the non Separatist migrants argued that no one could command them and that they were free to do what they liked, led to a social contract known as the Mayflower Compact signed by all the male migrants who agreed to abide by rules and regulations to ensure civil order and their own survival.

Surprisingly given that the one motive for going to America was to gain freedom of religion the Separatists, and Puritans who later joined them made it impossible for other religious groups to live, work and thrive in New England.

When one migrant was aggrieved at the situation he returned to England to petition Cromwell but was thwarted by the wealthy Separatist Edward Winslow.

Read more about The Mayflower in Godfrey Collyer’s book SeeSouthampton: The Mayflower in Southampton. Godfrey Collyer is a tour guide with .