Although appearing to be a typical early seventeenth century English merchantman, the 'Stars and Stripes' flying at her foremasthead reveals the identity of this seemingly archaic vessel as Mayflower II, the twentieth century replica of her more famous namesake which took the Pilgrim Fathers to North America in 1620. The most celebrated ship in Colonial American history, the original Mayflower is thought to have been built at Leigh, England, in 1606 and was measured at a mere 180 tons. Only 90 feet in length with a 26 foot beam, she carried a crew of between 20 and 30 men and somehow managed to cram 50 men, 20 women and 34 children into her dank and cheerless hold for the long and perilous journey which was to take them to freedom in the New World. Leaving Plymouth, Devon, on 6th September 1620, Mayflower finally sighted the North American continent on 11th November and, after sixty-seven days at sea, anchored in Provincetown Harbor. Their intended destination was actually Virginia but contrary winds had blown the ship north to a landfall in what became Massachusetts. As it was already so late in the year, the emigrants resolved to settle where they were and the rest is history
The idea of creating a replica of the legendary Mayflower was conceived during the Second World War by Warwick Charlton, a London newspaper journalist then on active service. He saw the project as the ideal way of cementing Anglo-American relations and whilst there was plenty of support for it from the outset, it still took over ten years to come to fruition. Built of English oak by Stuart Upham of Brixham, Devon, Mayflower II's keel was laid on 28th July 1955 and she was launched in September the following year. On 16th April 1957 she put to sea under sail for the first time and four days later, on 20th April, she sailed from Brixham bound for Plymouth, Massachusetts. Commanded by the author and square-rigger veteran Alan Villiers and with a crew of 33 men, she survived at least one severe Atlantic storm and made the crossing in 54 days, a significant improvement on her namesake back in 1620. Vice-President Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, then a junior Senator, were amongst the vast crowd of 100,000 people which assembled to watch her come into Plymouth, after which she was presented to the Plymouth Plantation (a Massachusetts museum dedicated to the history of the Pilgrim Fathers) where she remains on exhibition. It has been estimated that, in the intervening years, some 40 million people have visited her and trodden her decks to marvel at this memorial to their forefathers.