Fifty Years ago Today

Today is the Twentieth of April. Fifty years ago today Mayflower II set sail for America from Plymouth, England. If you take a look at the website on our museum site devoted Mayflower II you will see a lot on how the ship was built, and sailed over to the United States in 1957. If you don’t want to look at that site I will tell you that story in brief. It is a story of serendipity, tenacity and pragmatic sailorly ability.

Our museum was founded by Henry Hornblower, a historian by inclination and a stockbroker by family tradition. He had a dream to build a recreation of the village occupied by the pilgrims in the 1620s. Part of that dream included representing a native village, as well as some type of reproduction of the pilgrim ship. Toward that end, he commissioned William Baker to research and develop a set of plans to build a new ship. They toyed with the idea of making a full-scale waterline model, that is, a ship built in cement, from the waterline up. Another suggestion was to build a scale model of the ship and of course the ultimate plan was to build a full size ship that would be authentic in every detail and be able to sail on the high seas. Baker sought out bids to construct the ship from American shipyards in Maine and Massachusetts including a Plymouth, Mass. Local yard run by the Jesse family.

On the far side of the Atlantic a man named Warwick Charlton had been developing his own plan to build a reproduction ship as a good will gesture toward the people of America. As a journalist during World War II he saw first hand the way American and British soldiers worked together to defeat a common enemy. Warwick wanted to commemorate and continue to foster that sense of brotherhood by building then sailing to America a full-scale reproduction of the Pilgrim ship. He would give it to the people of America as a gift much like the French gave the United States the Statue of Liberty.

Warwick read an article by Bill Baker in which Baker discussed his preliminary research into the question of what the original mayflower looked like. Warwick contacted the new museum and ultimately came to an agreement with baker and Hornblower. In essence the agreement stated that Warwick’s group. Project mayflower, would finance, build and sail the ship to America. The Plantation would supply Baker’s plans, and expertise in historic ship construction, and accept the responsibility of caring for the gift ship in the name of the people of the United States.

Stuart Upham’s shipyard, in Brixham England was chosen by Warwick to build the ship. Upham hired men long retired from shipbuilding to lead the construction. He searched far and wide for suitable timbers to build the ship and with Baker’s plans and advice found sources for hemp rigging, flax sails, and all types of equipment and materials necessary to build the authentic reproduction ship.

The picture below is an aerial shot of Brixham harbor with the newly completed Mayflower II swinging on a mooring. As more fiftieth anniversary dates come along I’ll continue the story of the ship. (By the way, thanks Jack for the suggestion on the topic of this post.)

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