The Mayflower, the Pilgrim Fathers and Norfolk, 400 years on

A replica of the Mayflower Picture: Mayflower 400

A replica of the Mayflower Picture: Mayflower 400 - Credit: Mayflower 400

In September 1620 the Mayflower set sail for the new world of America. On board were around 130 passengers and crew – many with links to the county

Actors rehearse for the play 1620: A New World Odyssey as part the Mayflower 400 Harleston. Picture:

Actors rehearse for the play 1620: A New World Odyssey as part the Mayflower 400 Harleston. Picture: Kate Royall - Credit: Archant


A summer of celebrations planned for Harleston was curtailed by coronavirus.

This autumn the 400th anniversary events re-start – and will run from September 13 all the way through to November 2021 and the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving.

Harleston, and neighbouring Redenhall, were home to four of the Mayflower pilgrims and the town’s Mayflower anniversary relaunch will begin with an actual launch on September 13 as children from the town’s primary school race their own model Mayflowers on the river. The boats will sail downstream from Homersfield Old Bridge to Homersfield New Bridge, symbolising the journey from the old world to the new.

St Andrew's Church, Norwich Picture: Lydia Taylor/iwitness24

St Andrew's Church, Norwich Picture: Lydia Taylor/iwitness24 - Credit:

Most of the programme will be moved on a year with walks, talks, theatrical productions and festival fun planned for 2020, rescheduled for next year.

American descendants of Mayflower passengers the Fuller family of Harleston and Redenhall will return next summer for a dramatic retelling of their story, 1620: A New World Odyssey, by the Harleston Players.

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Brothers Samuel and Edward Fuller, and Edward’s wife Ann and son Samuel, crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower in 1620 and Samuel senior and Edward were two of the 41 signatories to the legal document, the “Mayflower Compact” which established how the new community would be governed and influenced the American Constitution.

Their father ran a butcher’s business in Harleston town centre and many of Harleston’s buildings would be familiar to them. Special walks and events will strip away modern-day Harleston to reveal how the town would have looked in 1620.

Harleston Market Place Picture: Denise Bradley

Harleston Market Place Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: ©Archant Photographic 2010

An exhibition at the museum will focus on the Fullers and Harleston Festival in August 2021 will include the chance to “board” an outline of the ship on the recreation ground.


Edward and Ann Fuller were members of Redenhall church before leaving Norfolk for a congregation in Holland led by former Norwich clergyman John Robinson. Their son, Samuel, was born in Redenhall in 1608, and travelled with them, first to Holland and then on to America. However it was a difficult and dangerous journey, with even more dangers from sickness, disease and hunger once they had arrived. Edward and Ann did not survive their first winter in America. Orphaned, Samuel was brought up by his uncle, the colony’s first doctor. Samuel junior grew up to become a freeman of Plymouth, Massachusetts, and he and his wife Jane had nine children.


John Robinson, who became known as the Pastor to the Pilgrims, was appointed as a clergyman at St Andrews Church, Norwich, in 1604.

Norwich was one of England’s largest and wealthiest cities, home to skilled, literate and independent craftspeople and traders. Many objected to being told how to worship and wanted church congregations, rather than bishops, to make decisions. John Robinson wanted the Church of England to move away from Roman Catholic influences but his views were too radical for church authorities and he was suspended. He returned to his home village in Nottinghamshire to lead a Separatist church. To avoid being persecuted for organising their own services whole congregations fled abroad and after John’s first attempt led to imprisonment he and his followers eventually arrived in Leiden, Holland in 1609. Eventually the pastor decided they needed more freedom and was instrumental in planning the pioneering journey to America. He sent two men to London to secure permission to settle and 50 of his congregation, many originally from Norfolk, sailed on the Mayflower. More followed, including one of his sons, but John himself never made it across the Atlantic, dying in Leiden in 1625 before he could join his flock in America.


Desire Minter, originally from Norwich, went to Leiden with her family. After her father died she worked for the Carver family, travelling with them to America, aged around 20. But she did not settle in America, probably returning to Norwich within a few years.


Francis Cooke was born in Norwich in 1583 and was living in Leiden before embarking on the Mayflower with his eldest son, John. His wife and remaining five children joined them in 1623 and Francis died in Plymouth, Massachusetts aged around 80.


Thomas Williams was born in Great Yarmouth in 1582 and, with his sister Elizabeth, joined the Separatist congregration, led by former Norwich priest John Robinson, in Holland.

He made it across the Atlantic on the Mayflower but, like many of the pilgrims, died soon after they arrived. By the end of the harsh winter of 1620/21 almost half of the new arrivals were dead, Apprentice tailor John Hooke was also from Yarmouth, and only 13 when he left for America. His family had also moved to Leiden, where young John was apprenticed to tailor, and church member, Isaac Allerton. He set out for America with the Allerton family, but died within weeks of arriving.


A passenger called Edmund Margesson, who died soon after arriving in America may have been from Swanninton, near Reepham, and a young man with the surname Tinker, who

also died before the first Thanksgiving, along with his parents, might have been born in Thurne, near Acle.


*Around 38 million Americans can trace their ancestors back to the 102 passengers and approximately 30 crew aboard the Mayflower when it arrived in Plymouth Bay, Massachusetts, at the start of the harsh winter of 1620. The people who became known as the Pilgrim Fathers wanted to worship in a way they believed was closer to the New Testament roots of Christianity. Others travelled to build a better future, for the chance to own land, for freedom and adventure, or as the servants or children or passengers.

*Two ships, the Speedwell and the Mayflower, should have made the voyage but the Speedwell was beset by problems. The ships set off from Southampton for America on August 15 1620 but had to turn back to Plymouth, where many of the Speedwell’s passengers crowded on to the Mayflower, which finally set sail on September 16.

*The official anniversary date being used to mark the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s departure is September 16. The Pilgrims themselves used the Julian calendar, which made the date September 6 because it is 10 days adrift of the Gregorian calendar we use today.

*The Mayflower finally arrived in what is today, Plymouth, Massachusetts, after 66 days at sea.

For more on the Mayflower visit

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