Category Archives: Virginia

Mayflower 400: the science of sailing across the ocean in 1620


Jonathan Ridley, Solent University

It is July 1620 in Southampton, England. Arriving into port is the Speedwell, a ship carrying a small religious group from the Netherlands. Anchored just off of the west quay of the town is the Mayflower, a larger ship with more passengers aboard, which is loading for a transatlantic voyage with the Speedwell. The passengers have permission and funding to start a trading settlement in the Colony of Virginia (which at the time extended far further than the modern state of Virginia), under the control of the Virginia Company.

Despite the historical significance of the Mayflower, we know very little about the ship and its voyage. We only know its name from a document written three years after the voyage. At the time the Mayflower was not notable or special and – because some of the passengers faced persecution for their religious activities – they probably kept a low profile.

Evidence suggests that it was “burden about nine score” or 180 tons. “Burden” was a term for cargo capacity, while a “tun” was a large cask of wine. The ship could therefore carry the equivalent of 180 tuns of wine.

There are unfortunately no illustrations or plans of The Mayflower from the time, so we don’t even know for certain what the ship looked like. We do know, however, that ships around this time were built to a series of similar rules (outlined in Swedish shipbuilder Fredrik Henrik af Chapman’s Architectura Navalis Mercatoria, published in 1768). We can therefore begin to estimate the proportions for the cargo carried, but with a caution that the rules varied between shipwrights, with many details not recorded and drawings not made.

In fact, the famous 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys tells us that shipwrights “depended on their eyes … never pretending to the laying down of a draught, their knowledge lying in their hands so confusedly”. Based on typical proportions from the time we could expect that The Mayflower would have been around 30 metres in hull length and about 7.5 metres in breadth.

English merchant vessels were also expected to form a navy to protect the country if required. From similar vessels of the time, we can therefore reasonably assume that The Mayflower had raised “castles” at the bow and stern. A height advantage from the castles would have been useful in battle to fight and resist boarding.

The ship would also have carried a small number of cannon – mainly for self-defence. These would have been on a cramped gun-deck (where the passengers would also live) with gun-ports.

The voyage

On August 15 1620, the two ships sailed for the New World from Southampton, but as soon as they departed, the Speedwell started leaking badly (despite some repairs already having been made in Southampton), requiring a diversion to Dartmouth to make repairs.

In mid-September 1620, they again departed England, but around 300 miles west of Land’s End the Speedwell leaked badly again, with the ship’s master complaining that “his ship was so leaky, as he must bear up, or sink at sea”. They returned to Plymouth, transferred as many passengers and stores as possible to the Mayflower, and set sail west again on 16 September. At the time it was suggested that the leaks were a plot by the captain and crew of the Speedwell to avoid a long and dangerous voyage.

Navigation in the 1600s was comparatively more advanced than many other sciences at the time. Sailors could measure their heading with magnetic compasses, and their speed with a log that was trailed behind the ship.

By measuring the height of the North Star above the horizon with instruments that were the forerunners of sextants, sailors could determine their position north of the equator (known as the “latitude”). However, on a rolling ship under cloudy skies taking accurate measurements and finding accurate positions was far from easy.

Knowing your position west or east of a point (“longitude”) was far more complicated. It could be found from measuring the local time when the sun reached its highest point in the sky, and comparing it to the time at a known point on land, as the local noon occurs four minutes later for every degree of longitude travelled west around the world.

Sadly clocks at the time were nowhere near accurate enough to measure this, and accurately measuring the height of the sun was difficult. Instead, sailors at the time used a combination of the compass, hourglasses and a log to record direction, time and speed, calculating a resulting position based on “dead reckoning”, which would become more inaccurate as the voyage progressed.

Despite some treacherous storms that nearly destroyed the vessel, The Mayflower arrived in North America after 66 days’ sailing. The ship was, however, just off Cape Cod, slightly north of the Colony of Virginia (which at that time extended north to Long Island Sound) where the colonists had permission to settle.

They tried sailing south, but encountered treacherous reefs and breaking waves and, low on provisions, they wisely headed north again, coming ashore initially at Provincetown, Massachusetts on November 21. But having landed outside of the Colony of Virginia, they had no contract to settle, or laws to follow.

Their solution was to draw up a democratic agreement (known as the Mayflower Compact), which governed them independently from England until they could obtain permission to settle where they landed. This was the first western example of a consensual government without a monarch. If their navigation had taken them just 65 miles further south, they would have landed in the Colony of Virginia, and history may have been different.

The Mayflower itself returned to England the following year, but sadly her Captain died in 1622. Left on the riverbank of the Thames, she fell into disrepair and was in such a poor condition that she was sold for parts in 1624. Ironically the Speedwell lasted far longer, sailing from Southampton to Virginia and back in 1635.The Conversation

Jonathan Ridley, Head of Engineering, Faculty of Creative Industries, Architecture and Engineering, Solent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Mayflower 400: were the Pilgrims asylum seekers or subversives?



Principled revolutionaries: the Pilgrim Monument at Provincetown, Massachusetts.
TWA Photography via Shutterstock

Polly Ha, University of East Anglia

They were enemies of the state – religious malcontents and political subversives. This left England’s most radical puritans with just two options under Tudor treason law (besides execution, of course): either shut up or pack up and leave.

Elizabethan severity against Roman Catholics made sense, as Catholic powers across Europe were waging war against England. They united in a series of conspiracies to replace Elizabeth I with Mary Queen of Scots. The pope excommunicated Elizabeth and even ordered English subjects not to “dare obey her orders”.

But why would a Protestant queen outlaw zealous Protestants – and what was so subversive about worshipping the way they wanted?

The trouble was that some reformists went beyond insisting on minor improvements to the Church of England. They denounced it all together as false. They rejected the monarch’s supremacy over the church. And they widely publicised all this, calling bishops monstrous beasts.

When James VI of Scotland came to the English throne in 1603, his attempts to appease both ends of the spectrum fell on deaf ears. Disaffected Catholics hatched an elaborate plan to blow up the king and parliament in the Gunpowder Plot. On the other end of discontent, zealous Protestants separated from the Church of England and decided to pack up and leave. But they refused to shut up.

Many puritan dissenters headed to the Netherlands, where they exploited freedom of the press to print and distribute illicit texts from Leiden. They did so, according to the chief minister and leader of the core Mayflower migrants, John Robinson, because “lesse hurt comes by silence, than by speech” but so too “doth lesse good”.

New documents

Recently discovered manuscripts held at Trinity College Dublin Library shed new light on the pilgrims’ views and their later reception. Robinson himself had been strongly influenced by Henry Jacob (1562/3-1624), a Calvinist minister from Kent.

Jacob engaged in extensive underground exchanges with his fellow puritan critics. These hidden debates open up new ways of seeing how Jacob and Robinson played a far more radical role in one of the greatest political, military, and religious conflicts in British history.

According to his critics, Jacob was the first in the English-speaking world to espouse a view of ecclesiastical “independency”. Invoking the ancient Roman Republic’s idea of liberty as non-dependence, he argued explicitly that each particular church was free and not dependent on any higher ecclesiastical authority (whether the pope, bishop or church council). More importantly, he argued for the first time that any group of individual believers had the freedom to set up a new church society if they so chose.

Contemporaries feared Jacob would “begin a new world” by justifying the freedom to create new self-authenticating church societies. And that was exactly what he did. He migrated to Virginia after planting an independent church in London.

He also inspired Robinson, who cited Jacob to justify the freedom to establish new churches. Robinson further developed the idea of the freedom to discover the unknown, warning that injury from falling forward was less fatal than falling backwards.

Brave new world

Two decades after the Mayflower voyage to the new world, these ideas were threatening to create another crisis back in the old world.

Critics claimed that Robinson was responsible for spreading far more radical ideas back in England than in the new Plymouth colony. As the British Isles spiralled into civil war in the 1640s, radicals seized the moment to make new claims to liberty – which ended in the trial and execution of Charles I.

Painting of crowd watching execution of Charles I. Four figures in inset pictures including one of a man with king's head.
Regicide: the execution of Charles I on January 30, 1649, outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall, London.
Unknown artist/Scottish National Gallery

It was here that Robinson reappeared. His work was allegedly plagiarised by revolutionaries in parliament’s New Model Army who were fighting against royalist troops and threatening to dismantle all social hierarchy.

Edmund Chillenden was one such army agitator who appeared to silently lift Robinson’s arguments to make the case for any man – however humble and whether ordained as a minister or not – to preach publicly. No surprise that Chillenden was also a member of one of Jacob’s offshoot churches in London.

Jacob’s brand of independence did more than simply revive the Roman idea of freedom as non-dependence. He was the first person to argue that the church was defined in the New Testament solely as an independent congregation, as opposed to seeing each church as part of a single universal visible church.

This stretched independence beyond a political idea reserved for an elite group of men and made it universally applicable to every believer. This meant it could appeal to men lower down the social order and might even extend to women.

Robinson was careful to qualify the most egalitarian implications of his ideas. For instance, he denied that women had the right to speak and teach in public church assemblies ordinarily. (Exceptional women who were seen as prophetesses could speak openly in church, but this was rare.) New England colonists were at pains to deny their views would result in social anarchy.

But the Jacob connection again tells a different story.

Another member of the Jacob offshoot churches in London cited Robinson to stretch the social boundaries of freedom as independence. Katherine Chidley was one of the earliest and most vocal female writers and political activists in the English Revolution, leading an army of women in London to petition parliament.

She vigorously defended Robinson’s views in her Justification of Independant Churches. For Chidley, there was nothing exceptional about this. She believed in the freedom and natural ability of women to speak independently in public.

Following the Plymouth plantation in the new world, Robinson helped plant a new one in the old. Chidley used his ideas to justify female speech and dissent. Her public interventions were offensive – and even insulting – to many at the time because they challenged traditional hierarchy and overturned social conventions. They were pushing the same ideas in England that had prompted the Mayflower voyage.

One obvious difference, of course, was that she didn’t have to pack up or shut up. Instead, she spoke up.The Conversation

Polly Ha, Reader in Early Modern History, University of East Anglia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Mayflower 400: the English were relative latecomers to the Americas, despite the USA’s founding myth



Map of the New World from the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, believed to be the first true atlas in the modern sense.
Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598)/Boston Public Library

David Gehring, University of Nottingham

Popular anglophone histories tend to play up England’s settlement of the “New World”, but – in reality – England under Elizabeth I was, by comparison with Spain and France, a minor player on the European scene and for the most part non-existent in the New World.

Having lost Calais, its final territory in France, in 1558 – and having experienced the two short reigns of King Edward VI and Queen Mary – England could not compete with the strength, stability and financial resources of Spain. At that time Spain was vastly rich as gold and silver flowed from the mines of the New World, especially from Potosi, into Spanish coffers.

England and Spain had long been allies before Elizabeth’s reign – Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon, was Spanish, as was Mary Tudor’s husband Philip II. But animosities beneath the surface eventually boiled over into open warfare after England intervened in the Dutch Revolt to support the Dutch against Spanish control in 1585.

Philip had entertained the idea of aggression against England prior to 1585, but English engagement in the Netherlands along with piracy on the seas by the likes of Francis Drake provoked the launching of the Spanish Armada in 1588 in an attempt to invade and subjugate England to Spanish control. As the saying goes, “God blew and they were scattered”, and the 1580s mark a turning point in English ambition on the seas and relative to its European neighbours.

With adventurers such as Drake, Walter Raleigh and other privateers, soon independent Englishmen found private investors to finance their voyages to, and activity in, the New World. This was seen as a countermeasure to Spain and an opportunity to explore commercial ventures for trade.

The landing of the Mayflower in November 1620 is a significant historical marker. Its recognition is warranted because of the legacy that followed. But in many ways, the Mayflower represents not only the beginning of an Anglo-American story, for it is just one part of a wider European tale of exploration, settlement, and displacement and subjugation of indigenous populations.

The Mayflower followed the first successful English settlement at Jamestown in 1607, which itself was more than a century after the initial forays of the Spanish and Portuguese in the Americas.

‘In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue’

Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo) was Italian and sailed to the New World under a Spanish flag. Other Italians followed in his wake – including Amerigo Vespucci, under both Spanish and Portuguese flags shortly after Columbus, and Giovanni Verrazzano under the French flag in 1524. Zuan Caboto (Britain knows him as John Cabot) sailed under an English flag in the 1490s, but his efforts never resulted in any permanent settlements by the English. Spanish exploration and colonisation in the New World stretched thousands of miles from deep into South America to the plains of North America.

Set of Spanish stamps featuring explorers and monarchs involved in settlement of the Americas.
Spain was very proud of its role in colonising the Americas, as this set of stamps from 1987 suggests.
neftali via Shutterstock

New Spain (“Hispania Nova”) dominated early maps of the western hemisphere, and in these lands the Spanish government established colonial governance and administration, complete with churches and missionaries to attempt converting the indigenous. Lands claimed by Portugal in modern-day Brazil were also vast and easily recognisable on such maps.

International acknowledgement of Spanish and Portuguese territories and domination came with the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 – which, in the years that followed, earned the pope’s approval in Rome. Not to be outdone, by 1550 the French explored and subsequently claimed massive lands in what is now Canada – “Nova Francia”, though active settlement by the French in this area was limited.

Spain’s activity was not restricted to Central or South America. Spanish exploration in North America continued to expand as the century progressed. Hernando de Soto explored Florida during the 1540s, while Francisco Coronado the south-west (and Grand Canyon) at the same time. What is today Mexico had by this point been thoroughly occupied by Spain, the colonial capital city of Mexico City being built upon the ashes of the former Aztec city of Tenochtitlan.

The Spanish empire expanded further and further across the globe under King Philip II during the second half of the 16th century, especially when all Portuguese lands came under his dominion in 1580. So mighty, so awe-inspiring was Spanish power in Europe and the New World that none dared question it, even if daredevils like Drake drew Spanish ire by plundering along the coasts of South America during the 1570s.

Statue of Francis Drake in armour at Plymouth Hoe in south-west England.
Hero or villain? Francis Drake is a bit of both.
ian woolcock via Shutterstock

So expansive, so far-reaching were Spanish lands that Europeans – the English very much included – knew how the sun never set on the Spanish empire in the 16th century (long before it never set on the British empire of the 19th).

Playing catch-up

By the early 17th century, England was more assured of itself on a European level than it had been since the reign of Henry VIII, but it still had a lot of catching up to do. Alongside Spain (especially having absorbed Portuguese dominions), the Dutch and even the Danish soon became active in exploring and claiming lands in the Americas.

The English, led by private companies or religious refugees, such as the Mayflower pilgrims, were in some respects on the back foot until the second half of the 17th century.

To situate the Mayflower within a broader context of European exploration and colonisation, and to understand early modern England among its mainland European neighbours, is not to belittle the achievements or significance of either. Rather, doing so helps us to see how a wide variety of countries and peoples came together – in commerce and trade but also in rivalry and war – to bring European cultures to the indigenous cultures of the New World with dramatic and often horrible effects.

And so began the great mixing and melding of peoples in the Americas.The Conversation

David Gehring, Assistant Professor in Early Modern British History, University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


USA: Jamestown Founders



Article: USA – Jamestown Colonists Were Cannibals?


The link below is to an article that looks at claims that the early colonists of Jamestown in the USA were cannibals.

For more visit:
http://mentalfloss.com/article/50398/early-jamestown-colonists-were-cannibals-apparently


Article: The First Aeroplane Death


The link below is to an article that considers the first person to die in an aeroplane accident.

For more visit:
http://www.neatorama.com/2013/03/13/Orville-Wright-and-the-First-Person-to-Die-in-an-Airplane/


Today in History: 05 April 1614


Pocahontas Marries English Colonist John Rolfe in Virginia

On this day in 1614, Native American Pocahontas married English colonist John Rolfe in Virginia. The marriage would only last 3 years, with Pocahontas dying in England.

For more, visit:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pocahontas
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Rolfe

Books:
Pocahontas, by Jennie Helmes Blachert
Pocahontas, by Elizabeth Eggleston Seelye & Edward Eggleston


Today in History: 22 March 1622


The Indian Massacre of 1622 in Jamestown, Virginia

On this day in 1622, Indians of the Powhatan Confederacy carried out what was known as the Indian Massacre of 1622. A quarter of the English population were wiped out by the Indians who carried out a series of raids along the James River in Virginia.

For more, visit:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_massacre_of_1622

Booklet:
Jamestown by Edward Hagaman Hall

 


Today in History – 10 May 1863


American Civil War: Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson Died

On this day in 1863, Confederate General Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson died from wounds sustained from friendly fire during the American Civil War. Following a magnificent victory at Chancellorsville on the 2nd May 1863, Jackson was making his way back to his own lines when he was accidently shot by Confederate pickets who mistook him and his staff for Union troops.

Having been returned to Confedrate lines, Jackson survived the amputation of an arm only to die of pneumonia on the 10th May 1863. It was a loss the south could ill afford. He was one of the greatest generals of the war.

 


Today in History – 26 April 1865


United States: John Wilkes Booth is Killed

On the 14th April 1865, John Wilkes Booth assassinated the President of the United States of America at Ford’s Theatre, in Washington D.C. Booth, a Confederate sympathizer, managed to escape the scene of his crime and fled on horseback to a farm in northern Virginia. It was here, 12 days after his attack on the president that Booth was shot and killed.

John Wilkes Booth was born on the 10th May 1838, into the well known Booth family and became a well known actor in his own right. But it would be his assassination of Abraham Lincoln that he would always be remembered for.

Eight other co-conspirators were tried and convicted for their parts in the assassination and other roles in the plot that resulted in the death of the president. Four of these were hung a short time later.

 


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