Over the last few weeks we've been looking at some of the events which lay behind The Mayflower leaving England for America on September 6th 1620. But who was responsible for sailing her? The number of the crew is uncertain with estimates ranging between 30 and 50. Best estimates suggest the crew was made up of around 14 Officers, and the remainder, however many they were, were seaman. We know little about most of the crew but a few are known to us. Therefore over the next couple of weeks we will bring you a series of short biographies on these crew members, beginning with the Captain, Cristopher Jones.
By his mid-thirties Jones had become a somewhat prominent citizen of the town and was named as a burgess of Harwich in a new town charter granted by King James. Jones was coming into his own about this time, and with an assist from a bounty, he built a 240-ton, larger than average ship of his own which he named after his second wife – Josian. Jones used the ship for trading voyages as far south as to Bordeaux in France.
It is not until August 1609 that Jones is first recorded as master and part owner of the Mayflower. At this time the ship was chartered for a voyage from London to Drontheim (Trondheim) in Norway, and back to London. Due to bad weather, on her return the ship lost an anchor and made short delivery of her cargo of herrings. Litigation was involved and was proceeding in 1612.
In about 1611 Jones decided to leave Harwich and moved south to London, where he made his home in Rotherhithe parish, a mile downstream on the Thames from the Tower of London. Records have the Mayflower in the Thames in London in 1613 – once in July and again in October and November. Records of 1616 again state Jones' ship was in the Thames and the noting of wine on board suggests the ship had recently been on a voyage to France, Spain, Portugal, the Canaries, or some other wine country. Indeed, up until Jones was commissioned by the Pilgrims to sail to North America, the Mayflower appears to have made many trips to transport wine back from Europe, which would be exchanged for goods such as wool.
In addition to wine and wool, with Jones as captain the Mayflower transported hats, hemp, Spanish salt, hops and vinegar to Norway and he may have taken the ship whaling in the North Atlantic in the Greenland area. Jones had traveled to Mediterranean Sea ports, being then part owner with Nichols, Robert Child, Thomas Short. In 1620 Capt. Jones and Robert Child still owned their quarter shares in the ship, and it was from them that Thomas Weston chartered her in the summer of 1620 to undertake the Pilgrim voyage.
Neither Jones nor the Mayflower had completed a transatlantic voyage previously and it may have been deterirating trade conditions in Europe that pushed him towards undertaking such a task. Of course we know the voyage was a success and Jones and his entire crew remained in North America over the winter of 1620/21. Originally he had planned to return to England as soon as the Pilgrims found a settlement site, but members of his ship's crew were ravaged by the same illnesses that overcame the Mayflower passengers, and so he had to remain in Plymouth Harbor "till he saw his men began to recover".
The Mayflower remained in Plymouth Harbor through the winter and then on April 5th, with her empty hold ballasted by stones from the Plymouth Harbor shore, Jones set sail for England. The Mayflower made excellent time on her return voyage back to England. The westerly winds that had buffeted the ship on departure pushed her along going home and she arrived at her home port in Rotherhithe on the Thames on May 5th 1621 – less than half the time it had taken her to sail to America.
By the summer of 1621 Jones had resumed his former trading voyages to continental Europe. But by this time it had become evident that the severe deprivations of the transatlantic voyage had badly undermined his health. He died in early March 1622 at about age 52 after coming back from a voyage to France. St Mary The Virgin in Rotherhithe records his burial as March 5th in their churchyard.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on the voyage of the Mayflower. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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