Building Another Mayflower Centuries Later

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People on both sides of the Atlantic worked during the 1950s to construct a replica of the Mayflower, the ship that brought English colonists to America in 1620.

World War II ended and with peace came the opportunity to focus on many other things. A group of Americans decided to build a reproduction of early Plymouth, home of the Mayflower Pilgrims. Led by Henry Hornblower II, they formed Plimoth Plantation, a non-profit educational organization, and began to construct a replica of that first settlement at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Historical Backdrop for Mayflower II

Hornblower next contacted officials and technical experts on both sides of the Atlantic to see if a replica of the famous Mayflower, the ship that brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth, could be constructed in England, sailed to the United States and put on permanent exhibit as a national shrine.

World War II made strong allies of the English and Americans. At its close, Englishman Warwick Charlton, a press officer in the British-American forces, wanted to do something enduring to solidify Anglo-American relations.

Planning Stage for Mayflower II

In 1951, Plimoth Plantation commissioned naval architect William Baker to draw up plans for a new Mayflower. After Baker’s four years of spare-time research, the plans were ready. Early in 1955, they were published in The American Neptune.

Thousands of miles away, Charlton conceived of the idea of building a new Mayflower and sailing her to America to become an educational reminder of his country’s close ties with the United States. He contacted Plimoth Plantation trustees. It was proposed and agreed that Baker’s plans would be turned over to an English group and that Plimoth Plantation would have final ownership of Mayflower II.

Mayflower II Construction Begins

Mayflower II construction began the summer of 1955. Its main beam was cut from a solid 116 cubic foot log of Devon oak. Converted, it measured 55 cubic feet. Timber for the mast and spars came from Canada since wood that size is hard to come by in England. Mayflower II’s main mast was shaped from 80 feet of tough Oregon pine.

Modern machinery was of little use. The best tool for constructing Mayflower II’s more complicated timbers was the adze, basically an unchanged tool which has survived from the Pilgrim era.

Historic Ship Building Skills

Ropes for rigging and tackle—more than 400 of them together—were made from hemp by Gourock Ropeworks in the same way they were in the 17th century. Nobody needed to search the archives on using flax cloth for sails: at Francis Webster & Sons, the technique has been handed down for generations. The sails were cut and hand sewn by Harold Bridge of Brixham, England, where much of the work was done.

The amalgam of knowledge and skills was awe inspiring. The architect, builder and craftsmen each put some of themselves and their lives into building a replica of this famous ship which has become the icon for freedom of religion and separation of church and state for the American people.

Source:

  1. Commemorative brochure and press releases concerning the Mayflower II’s construction and voyage to the United States, issued by Plimoth Plantation (Plymouth, MA: 1957)