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  • Writer's pictureRichard Chambers

The Mayflower's Captain Christopher Jones hidden in London!

A merchant seaman who usually specialised in transporting wine around Europe may seem like an unusual choice of Captain to transport a group of religious (and maybe teetotal) separatists to the New World.

But in 1620 this was the task entrusted to Christopher Jones and his crew.

His ship Mayflower would make history and is known to every American as a symbol and foundation stone of their very nation.

But what happened to Captain Christopher Jones after he landed the new settlers at Plymouth Colony? Let's have a quick look at his life.

Christopher Jones was born around 1570 in Harwich, Essex, on the East Coast of Southern England. His father (also Christopher Jones) was a mariner and left his son his business interests after his death in 1578, setting Jones junior up for a career at sea.

The family home where Jones grew up in Harwich still stands, and is open to the public. (See photo left)

Christopher Jones married a local girl named Sara Twitt in 1593. Sara also came from a sea faring family and the marriage allowed Chris to consolidate a few business interests and grow his own merchant ventures.

Sadly Sara died aged 27, and Jones went on to marry another local woman and widow Josian Grey.

This marriage also brought further opportunities from the widows late husband who was a noted Captain and treasure hunter! This second marriage would produce 8 children.

By his mid thirties Christopher Jones was a prominent and prosperous citizen of the town and made freeman of the Borough of Harwich. He owned percentages in ships and was a trusted and experienced seaman and merchant.

He also clearly loved his wife even romantically naming the ship 'Josian' after her.

However, due to strict social definitions at the time he got in to a spot of bother in 1605.

Jones was arrested and accused of keeping hunting dogs, a pursuit that was only open to those classed as 'gentlemen' and whose land was valued at a certain per annum value. Apparently Jones had prospered but had not reached the class of 'gentleman'

Was he having ideas above his station?, or was Christopher Jones just achieving what would later be termed "The American Dream". A man from relatively humble origins who due to hard work, determination and perhaps a sprinkle of luck made his mark on the world despite the rigid class structure of his day. (That's my whimsical look at it)

By 1609 he is listed in Harwich records as Master and part owner of Mayflower, the first recorded link to the historic vessel that would forever be his legacy.

In 1611 he moved his family to Rotherhithe on the south bank of the river Thames, a mile downstream from the Tower of London, and mentioned as a quarter owner of the Mayflower.

The move to London must have been to seek out opportunities and wealth that were being generated by the huge appetite for alcohol from the wealthy upper classes.

Merchants were making huge sums importing wine from Spain, France, Portugal and the Canary Islands. Jones must have seen this as a great opportunity to provide for his family, and for a time things prospered.

However by 1620 this explosion of trade began to wane and an offer from Thomas Weston to charter his ship for an Atlantic voyage must have been too good to refuse.

It is also thought that Jones may have been interested in Puritan beliefs or at least sympathetic enough to them to risk his life and ship on such a perilous voyage into the virtual unknown.

The Mayflower Voyage

Rotherhithe, in mid July 1620 we find Captain Christopher Jones fitting out his ship with crew and supplies to take Pilgrims to the New World where they could set up a colony based on their own religious grounds.

It must have been uncomfortable for those religious puritans having to go down a jetty right past a notorious riverside Tavern "The Shippe" where prostitutes, drunks, sailors and all kinds of heathens stared at them in bewilderment having no idea where those brave adventurers were going or what they would go on to achieve.

The pub that those Pilgrims departed from is today renamed as The Mayflower, (Pictured left) and is a must visit for anyone interested in US history.

A flag of the USA sits harmoniously next to the Union Flag of the UK overlooking the river Thames and the very spot where Mayflower was anchored in 1620.

If you have ancestry that goes back to the original Mayflower passengers or crew you can sign a register at the pub. The pub itself is charming, very popular and a cosy place adorned with all sorts of nautical memorabilia.

Easily reached from central London by Cab or using public transport to Rotherhithe or Bermondsey.

Around 65 passengers boarded the Mayflower at Rotherhithe and the ship rendezvoused with the ship Speedwell at Plymouth (England)

Speedwell was not deemed seaworthy for such an arduous journey and Mayflower continued alone with 102 passengers and around 30-40 crew setting out on the 6th September 1620.

66 long and storm battered days later on the 11th November 1620, Mayflower arrived in Cape Cod bay, and anchored in what is now Provincetown. The Mayflower and its passengers and crew would go on to establish a settlement at Plymouth on the other side of the Cape Cod Bay.

What happened to Christopher Jones after the Mayflower Voyage?

The first winter in Plymouth was extremely hard, and Jones had to ride it out until the spring of 1621 until the weather improved for the journey home.

Many of the passengers lost their lives in those first months of the colony due to illness and the severe weather.

Captain Jones lost many of his men including the Boatswain, Quartermaster, Gunner and a dozen sailors. A successful return journey in a weakened state must have been daunting to say the least.

Leaving on the 5th April 1621 and due to favorable winds the crew made it back to London in half the time it took them to get to Provincetown, anchoring on the 5th May 1621.

By late summer 1621 the hardworking Christopher Jones was back out trading across Europe, but his health had suffered badly during his voyages to and from the new world and in early March 1622 he died at the age of just 52, securing his place in history.

As a resident and parishioner of Rotherhithe, Christopher Jones was buried in the town Churchyard of St Mary's Church, a stones throw from where the Mayflower was anchored. The exact location of his remains in the Churchyard are unknown, but tucked away in a quiet corner looking toward to the Mayflower Pub is a statue and memorial to this extraordinary man.

If you are an American or someone who loves visiting the USA, or perhaps someone who simply likes celebrating great achievements, then I suggest popping in to the Churchyard and thanking Captain Jones personally before raising a pint and toasting him in the Mayflower Pub opposite.

If you would like to join me on a hidden London tour contact me


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