The Mayflower's proud Essex roots and its link to American presidents

The Mayflower setting sail from Plymouth

The Mayflower set sail from Plymouth to the New World - but its story began in Essex - Credit: Getty Images

By Mica Bale

Before its voyage to the New World, The Mayflower had proud Essex roots, and some American presidents can be traced back to its passengers 

Although the Mayflower is hailed for its Puritan passage from Plymouth, did you know that this historic event was actually an Essex affair? From the place of its birth to its captain, yes, the Mayflower started life in the Essex town of Harwich. 

This year marks exactly 400 years since the death of her captain, Christopher Jones, the Harwich-born captain and co-owner of the Mayflower. Jones had the ocean in his blood. His father was a shipowner and, despite dying when Christopher was very young, he encouraged his son to pursue a career on the waves. Little did the young Harwich boy know that his actions would later go down in history. 

It is believed that the Mayflower was built in the town around 1600 and was utilised by Captain Jones for exporting goods for the next few years. Harwich already boasted a strong seafaring history with the likes of Sir Francis Drake and Queen Elizabeth I favouring the port town. Certainly Harwich was a town close to the captain's heart, as not only was he a local but he was also wed twice there. In fact, his former family home on King’s Head Street is now a visitor attraction and commemorates his life. Captain Jones rose to a degree of prominence in his hometown, where his wealth and skill as a captain was widely recognised. 

History has well documented the journey of the Mayflower, battling fearsome storms and overcoming the challenges that primitive seafaring methods created. The passengers put their lives in the hands of the Essex captain and his prowess at sea saw the safe deliverance of many individuals. 

In the November of 1620, America was still a country in its infancy – families and individuals who had made the life-changing journey had overcome the danger of the voyage but the real test had only just begun. In the words of the popular Broadway musical Hamilton, history certainly had its eyes on these travellers. 

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This Harwich-built vessel became a living legacy that has not ceased to thrive even centuries later. Just as there are still countless living descendants of those brave pilgrims today, many world-famous figures have come to also have their names immortalised by history and can trace their roots back to this revered Essex captain and his very special ship. In fact, some of the most famous descendants of those seafarers include several American presidents: John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams, who served as the second and sixth presidents respectively, George Bush, Franklin D Roosevelt and so on. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt was a descendant of a Mayflower passenger - Credit: Wikimedia

Remarkably, one passenger, John Howland, was saved from death after he fell from the Mayflower during a furious storm. Howland would go on to have at least 10 children and 80 grandchildren, with countless descendants including Franklin D Roosevelt and George H. W Bush, no less! 

Captain Jones would return to British soil after this history-changing journey, however, he succumbed to illness just two years later in 1622, likely as a result of the poor conditions aboard the Mayflower. Today, this Essex vessel might well be claimed by other areas, yet for a certainty, if it were not for the Harwich-built ship and her skilful captain, the events that would come to paint the tapestry of America’s history might never have happened. 

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