By this time there were already colonies established in America but, since they were “crown colonies” under the harsh rule of England, the Pilgrims had no desire to join one of them or even be near one. This caused them considerable difficulty in getting a charter from the kingdom and financial assistance. They overcame this difficulty by soliciting financial aid from private investors and by a little deception in dealing with the government. And so, early in the year of 1620, plans were taking shape for part of the Green Gate congregation to join another group in England and, from there, set sail for America.
In Leyden, Dr. Samuel Fuller and others pooled their money and bought a ship named Speedwell and hired Captain Reynolds to pilot her. Extensive repairs were made and larger masts were fitted, which later proved to be a mistake. Late in July they sailed from Delft Haven and were on their way to Southampton in England. This was a sad departure for many because they were leaving behind friends and, some of them, even families that they might never see again. The Speedwell proved to be unstable and awkward on the sea but sailed without mishap to Southampton where the Mayflower lay waiting at anchor. The Mayflower, at 180 tons, was three times the size of Speedwell. The Pilgrims had indeed chartered a fine ship which proved to be fortunate for them.
It was already disturbingly late in the season when, on the fifth of August, Captain Christopher Jones put the Mayflower out to sea with the Speedwell following close behind. At last, after months of struggle and frustration, they were on the way to a new and free land! But their excitement was soon crushed when, after only a few days at sea, the Speedwell was leaking so badly that both ships turned back. After nearly two weeks of repair work at Dartmouth, they were once more sailing westward. This time they were more than 300 miles out when the Speedwell again was taking on water at a dangerous rate. There was nothing to do but turn back again; this time putting in at Plymouth. This time it was decided that the larger masts which had been fitted to the Speedwell at Delft Haven were too large for the ship and were pulling it apart. Further delay was out of the question by this time and there was no choice but to abandon the Speedwell and proceed with the Mayflower alone. Of course, there wasn’t room on the Mayflower for everyone so some had to stay behind. At this point, some of them were eager to stay. Finally, on September 6, 1620 the Mayflower sailed away to the west with 102 passengers on board. Two of Robert Fuller’s children rode the decks of this history making ship as well as one of his grandchildren. They were Deacon/Doctor Samuel Fuller and Edward Fuller with his son, Samuel. Dr. Samuel had left behind his wife, Bridgett, who sailed to America three years later on the Anne or Little James.
This voyage should not be regarded as a pleasure cruise. Indeed, it must have been a very trying ordeal. Consider that shipboard sanitation facilities at that time were a bucket that, after being used, was carried to the rail and emptied into the ocean. Bathing was impossible because there was no fresh water for that purpose, and bathing with sea water leads to cracks and sores in the skin. Just imagine what conditions must have been on the lower decks after a couple of weeks of confinement without baths and most of the people seasick. Further into the voyage Atlantic storms struck and passengers were forced to stay below for days at a time with the ship constantly pitching and rolling. Two people died enroute, one a seaman from the ship’s crew and the other, Dr. Samuel Fuller’s servant. What a joy and relief it must have been to once again reach land after 66 days of these foul conditions and a diet of salt pork and hard bread. It was the eleventh day of November when the Mayflower dropped anchor off the tip of Cape Cod. This is where the deception of the king and his court comes to light. The Pilgrims were to sail to the Virginia Colony and settle within the land grant. They blamed navigational error for the fact they came to shore so far north of Virginia, but there is little doubt that this had been their secret intention all along. After all, this was a brand new territory without anyone to force the rules of the king and church upon them.
Excerpted from “Wool Trompers” by J.L.Fuller