Thursday, July 02, 2015

Part One: The road to Independence

Contributor article by Dan Wilson

In a few days we will be Celebrating the most important National Holiday when it comes to those related to our Country. All of us know that the Fourth of July marks the birth of our nation that took place on July, 4th 1776. Yet few look back at the 150 years that passed before the Pilgrims who first stepped foot on the shores of North America. Nor do they think about why Canada did not follow us to our road to independence.

Our story begins on the Thames River Near London England. When about 65 passengers who were religious dissidents or Pilgrims as they are best known boarded the Mayflower with hopes of finding religious freedom.  Sometime in early July, 1620 the Mayflower began making her way down the Thames River toward the English Channel where she was supposed to meet up with another ship called Speedwell, who was supposed to accompany the Mayflower on her crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

On July 22nd 1620 the Mayflower and Speedwell also filled with a number of Church members from Holland met near land’s end in England. After a few weeks of preparing the two ships for their long voyage. On August 5th 1620 the two ships weighed anchor to set sail for the new land.

Shortly after the two ships set sail, the Speedwell sprang a leak. This forced the two ships to head for Dartmouth for repairs. After some delay as the Speedwell was being repaired. The two ships once again weighed Anchor bound for America.

After a few hundred miles the Speedwell sprang another leak. Since it was Nearly September, the Mayflower was forced to abandon Speedwell, so it could complete its voyage before the North Atlantic winter storms set in.

 After transferring as many passengers as possible, the Mayflower set sail, this time lay-denned with about a hundred and two passengers and a crew of around thirty. Bringing the total number of people on Board up to somewhere around one hundred and fifty.

Mayflower was by no means a large ship. She was only sixty five feet long. On her top deck were the Captain’s quarters and just forward was the steering room or the bridge as we call it today. Mayflower did not have a wheel like later ships, instead she was equipped with a tiller. A long pole that is attached to the top of the Rudder. Making steering the small ship extremely difficult. In the steering room they also had a compass and births for the ship’s officers.

Below was the gun deck that was around fifty feet long and about twenty five feet wide with a height of about five feet. Meaning even back then a number of passengers could not even stand upright. Though they had opening ports where cannons could be placed. This offered some ventilation but this did not improve the accommodations for the passengers and crew.

In the back portion of this deck was the powder room. That housed gunpowder and other provisions. The very front of this deck was where the windless was located. A windless is a winch of sorts used to raise and lower the anchor. Making this space even smaller. As for Bathrooms or heads as known on modern boats, there were none.

Passengers must have made some kind of holder for a Bucket so it would not slide across the deck. This Bucket would be used for passengers to relieve themselves. It must have had some sort of top as well. When the bucket was filled one of the gun ports was opened and the buckets contents were thrown overboard. As for the crew when it came to relieving themselves they had to fend for themselves. Meaning they used the Leeward rail on the top deck where they relieved themselves.

Since the gun deck did not have any access other than a grated portion of deck to access the lower deck. The grate could be removed allowing passengers access to the top deck. A rope ladder was lowered so that passengers could come up on the top deck when conditions allowed. This only made the accommodations that much more difficult for the passengers to endure.

Below the gun deck was the cargo hold where the cargo hold was located. This is where the ships cannons along with the provisions the Pilgrims would need after arriving on the new land. Provisions included beddings, clothing, weapons, farming tools and the reminder of what ever would be needed to survive in the new land. They also had limited food stores that had to be shared with Dogs, goats and sheep who would be left with the Pilgrims after they arrived.

Shortly after the ship left with a favorable comfortable breeze, It did not take long before the Mayflower ran into the first of many storms she would sail through as the little ship labored toward North America. Waves would crash over her decks drenching passengers who were near the grated access deck plate was.

As the small boat rolled in the large seas, passengers below were thrown about. Some became seasick making things worse. A few times conditions improved somewhat. So passengers could emerge from their retched lair for some comfort on the top deck where they could get some fresh air and strethout.

While on route for the Promised Land a main structural beam broke that required the help of some of the passengers who assisted the ships carpenter to create a jury rigged repair. Using a jackscrew, a device that looked like a long pipe with a series of threads on the top used for construction of homes. Finally repairs were made as the ship continued to labor through the heavy seas. Along this difficult trip two passengers perished as well.

Finally on November 9th 1620 land was spotted which turned out to be the end of Cape Cod. Since the Mayflower’s intended destination was Virginia. After a number of attempts to head south and follow the coast down to Virginia. The Mayflower was continuously turned back by the prevailing winter storms known as ‘Nor Easters’ (best described as winter hurricanes that lash the New England shores every winter).

Eventually the Mayflower gave up and sought refuge in Provincetown Harbor. A hooked shaped portion of land located at the end of Cape Cod. For those of you who have visited Provincetown, know it is now a beautiful town, though there is not many natural places where people could find refuge during the harsh New England Winters. The majority of the outer cape consists of mostly Sand Dunes and small trees. Obviously when the Pilgrims arrived, the town had yet to be built leaving them with no choice but to seek refuge on the Mayflower during that first difficult winter.

Since the Pilgrims were use to reasonably mild winters, they were poorly prepared for the cold New England winters, where temperatures frequently drop down to the single digits. A couple of times a year temperatures can drop as low as minus ten degrees in this region.

After the Mayflower dropped Anchor, a group of about 25 crew members and passengers set out on one of her two boats in search for a place to build their settlement. Along the way the search party came across several Cashes of stored corn and beans that were taken back to the Mayflower. On one occasion this party came across a native burial ground that they desecrated.

After several scouting trips where the group raided several other native food storage sites. While on one of their Scouting trips the group met up with the first Natives who knew about their missing stores and the damage done to their sacred burial site. The Natives were less than happy, but after the Pilgrims explained the desperate position they were in, the natives and Pilgrims were able to agree upon making restitution for what they took. Six months later the Pilgrims kept their promise and repaid the Native Americans for what they took.

Since conditions were so bad with the Pilgrims being ill prepared for the New England’s brutal winters. They lived on a diet of corn and beans as they endured the freezing conditions. Soon passengers began to die of a variety of illnesses. By the end of that first winter, only 53 of the original 102 passengers managed to survive. While about half of the crew also died during that first brutal winter.

In the spring of 1621 those remaining began to construct the village that we now know as Plymouth. Mayflower in mid-April of 1621 for the return to England where the original Mayflower arrived back to England a few months later. The first Mayflower would only last a few more years, when she was no longer deemed seaworthy in 1624 she was broken up and dispensed of. A Second Mayflower would arrive along with 35 passengers in 1629, though they were two entirely different ships.

Though Virginia was the first European Settlement, the Pilgrims who landed in New England were the first Europeans to settle in the North. This marks the beginnings of what we now call the United States of America. Though Virginia was the first settlement, New England and New York being closer would soon supersede the Southern settlement which is why Plymouth would go down in history as the birthplace of the United States of America.

Over the following year scouting parties would locate a well-protected Harbor further up the coast. This would later be known as Boston. Though Plymouth would continue to receive immigrants from Europe. It wasn’t long before the Boston Settlement would end up being the preferred location due to its protected harbor. This marks the end of part one of our series.

Thank you for taking the time to read the beginning of this three part series and hope you enjoyed reading this. I hope many of you learned something about the beginnings of our Country. To those in Virginia, I hope you enjoyed this correction in our American History. Tomorrow part two and three will be posted. Be sure to also tune in for my special Fourth of July addition on Saturday Symposium with Dan Wilson. Have a Safe and Happy Fourth of July and please give thanks and praise to God above for providing us with this beautiful Nation. GOD BLESS AMERICA.

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