Women of Washington

Communicating America’s Founding Principles

Women of Washington is an educational organization with a focus on understanding local, national, and global issues that are critical to our world today.


In Search of Freedom - Part III
By Judy Leithe

The most famous ship in U.S. history, the Mayflower was not a passenger ship.  It is most widely-known for transporting 102 Pilgrims, plus perhaps 60 additional passengers and crew, to the New World. However, it was built strictly as a cargo ship, and could be pressed into service as a war ship to defend against any sea-bound enemies of the English Crown. 

Its estimated size was 90' long x 26' wide.  A good 1/2 of the ship's storage capacity, the entire bottom of the ship, was for cargo. The middle deck housed the gun room and the gun deck, where supplies were stored for the ship's guns and cannon.  The upper deck was where the heavy cargo apparatus and three massive masts were managed by the crew.   This top deck also held the steerage room, and the sleeping quarters for the Captain and the crew.  

The gun deck, also referred by the Pilgrims, as the "tween deck," was where the Pilgrims were quartered throughout their voyage.   This means 102 people "lived" in a space of about 54' long x 24' wide, and a ceiling height of just 5'5" - causing taller passengers to stoop while standing.   In this already cramped space, they also had to work around the ship's main mast pole, a cargo lift, and their own single-sail boat to be used for future exploration.  The Pilgrims occupied this space for the length of their 66-day voyage, as well as for another four months while at anchor, so search parties could explore the shore for a place to settle and begin building houses for shelter. 

The Mayflower Compact, the first governing document of the New World, was drawn up and signed aboard ship on the day the  Mayflower's anchor was dropped at Cape Cod.  At age 32, William Bradford had already assumed a leadership role, and it was left to him to write the final Compact, which was signed by 41 of the 51 adult male passengers.  

Given England's years of abhorrent treatment under King James' rule, the Pilgrims ultimately received his approval to begin a new colony in Virginia which, of course, was destined to became the Plymouth Colony of New England. 

It's interesting to note, in the wording of the Compact, that the Pilgrims maintained respect for their former country and its king.  In contrast to monarchical rule, however, the compact clearly outlined the importance of establishing a "civil body politic," with "equal laws...constitutions and offices...convenient for the general good of the Colony..."  In other words, self-government.  One hundred fifty years later John Adams, and other Founders, referred to the Mayflower Compact as the foundation for the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. 

The Mayflower Compact - Signed on November 12, 1620     

In the name of God, Amen.  We whose names are under-written, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, etc. 

Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.  In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the eleventh of November, in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth.  Anno Dom, 1620. 

Next week we'll explore William Bradford's 27-year journal entitled, Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620 - 1647.