The History of the Mayflower

Mayflower 400 will take place in 2020 in destinations all over the country, and overseas, including Dartmouth. In preparation for this monumental occasion there will be lots of great events leading up to it. This is a truly significant event for Dartmouth and the other towns/cities involved as it marks the 400 year anniversary of when the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, UK to Plymouth, Massachusetts.

For more information on the events taking place throughout the town in 2020 click here. Or visit our Dartmouth Mayflower 400 page to find out about the special projects being planned for Dartmouth to help commemorate this unique occasion.

In 2020 Dartmouth is expected to be greeted with many visitors from the UK, America as well as the rest of the world to help celebrate this successful past voyage. Read on to learn more about the history of the Mayflower…

Henry VIII created the Church of England in the 1500’s as the Pope would not grant him a divorce from his first wife Catherine of Aragon, this causing him to be expelled. Following King Henry VIII’s expulsion by the Pope, the reformation of English churches began. Many different religious groups were formed, one being called the Separatists. Sadly, those who did not follow the Church of England were subject to prosecution. Many of the Separatists endured persecution and decided to move to Holland to live a more peaceful life.

Close to 12 years later, after discussing with the congregation that remained in England, the Separatists agreed they would move once again to Virginia, America and with an agreement with the Virginia Company, the Separatists sold up their belongings to buy a ship called the Speedwell. The Virginia Company offered investment for those who wished to help set up colonies on the North Coast of America in return for establishing trade links. The Separatists that were still living in England hired a ship called the Mayflower.

In 1620 the Speedwell set sail from Delfshaven, Holland to England to meet the Mayflower in Southampton. From the start there were concerns about the Speedwell as it had already needed repairs after acquiring a leak; regardless of this, on the 15th August both ships set sail. It did not take long for the Speedwell to begin taking on water again and the ships were diverted to Bayards Cove in Dartmouth. Following further repairs on the Speedwell, the two boats set sail once more, but unfortunately this second attempt was scuppered, 300 miles clear of Land’s End, the Speedwell started leaking again, causing the boats to turn back and head for Plymouth.

Eventually the Speedwell was deemed unfit for the voyage, and finally, on the 16th September, the Mayflower began its journey to America. The ship was blown off course by winter storms and instead of landing in New Virginia, it laid anchor on 21st November in Cape Harbour, now known as Provincetown. After realising this area was not going to be a suitable place to settle, the ship and those on board changed route and discovered land that had been left uninhabited after an outbreak of plague, deciding this to be the place to set up home, they had finally ended their voyage in Plymouth Bay, Massachusetts.

The Colony settled well, forming relationships with Native Americans and following their first plentiful harvest, had a three day celebration which has become widely known as the first Thanksgiving.


In the lead up to and during the 2020 commemoration of the sailing of the Mayflower on 16 September 1620, the town of Dartmouth launched a number of special projects and unique events. Details of some of these can be found below.


The Mayflower River Parade took place on Saturday 28th August 2021, as part of the Port of Dartmouth Royal Regatta. The aim of this event was to bring together as many boats as practicable to create a magnificent spectacle commemorating the historic Mayflower’s 400th anniversary. The Parade included some of the beautiful yachts who have previously enjoyed their visits to the river for the Classics Regattas or who have taken part in previous Regatta parades. 


A set of “Devon-style” call changes was composed to commemorate the Mayflower 400 events. These peals can be rung on 6, 8, 10 or 12 bells and will take just over one hour each to ring.


Unveiled on the South Embankment the sculpture, called Pilgrim, was a collaborative project between artist Mark Gregory and Dartmouth Academy. Mark created a sculpture of a figure representing a Pilgrim, crafting the framework out of galvanised steel. Mark and Nicola Perrott led workshops at the Academy, when students created images inspired by the Mayflower story and transferred them onto copper panels, using the repoussé method. These have been attached to the framework to create various areas of the sculpture.


Dartmouth’s Mayflower Trails tell the local story of the Mayflower and the towns relationship with the wider voyage. The Trail consist of three sections: 1 A Town Trail that takes visitors around the historic streets and points of interest. 2 A Walking Trail links Townstal – the original settlement – with the port. 3 The Castle Trail take visitors from Bayards Cove to Dartmouth Castle. All three Trail elements link up to crate the Mayflower Heritage Trail


A 10 foot replica model of the Mayflower is being built by Noss Marine Academy Students. It will be on permanent display in Dartmouth. The model will be open on one side lengthways to expose the interior contents and activities, also allowing opportunity for Augmented Virtual Reality experiences.


Safe Haven Scenes from the Mayflower painted by narration, song and instrumentals. An original theatrical piece with narration and songs embracing and incorporating scenes from the Mayflower story.


The Dartmouth Mayflower Anthem will establish a powerful and lasting commemoration of this momentous event. The composers have engaged the services of leading Portuguese tenor, Leonel Pinheiro, and the first DVD recording has been made.


The whole town will be dressed with pennants, thousands of pennants will be hanging from railings, on the ferries and the bandstand as part of the 2020 commemoration. Pennants have been crafted by individuals and local groups both in Dartmouth but also nationally and even from Dartmouth, USA.


Stories of the Mayflower is a collaborative project between 4 primary schools in Dartmouth and the surrounding area. It involved around 70 children in years 5 and 6. Each class has written and illustrated a different section of the Mayflower journey – background history, escape to and life in Leiden, Holland to Dartmouth on the Speedwell, life in Dartmouth, Dartmouth to America, settling in to new colony, one year later – Thanksgiving.


This exciting and creative project involves young film makers in the region. The idea at the heart of the project is to produce four short (10min.) films, each inspired by an aspect of the Mayflower story. The first phase of this project has now been completed, and the students have created two very different films – a documentary and a drama. Phase two of the project has unfortunately been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic