Speedwell (1577 ship)

Last updated

  • Swiftsure (1577–1605)
  • Speedwell (1605–)
General characteristics
Tonnage60 tons

Speedwell was a 60-ton pinnace that, along with Mayflower , transported the Pilgrims and was the smaller of the two ships. A vessel of the same name and size traveled to the New World seventeen years prior as the flagship of the first expedition of Martin Pring.



Speedwell was built in 1577, under the name Swiftsure, as part of English preparations for war against Spain. She participated in the fight against the Spanish Armada. During the Earl of Essex's 1596 Azores expedition she served as the ship of his second in command, Sir Gelli Meyrick. After hostilities with Spain ended, she was decommissioned in 1605, and renamed Speedwell.


The Embarkation of the Pilgrims, 1843, US Capitol Rotunda. The name of the ship, Speedwell, and 1620 are written in the foreground of the painting. Embarkation of the Pilgrims.jpg
The Embarkation of the Pilgrims, 1843, US Capitol Rotunda. The name of the ship, Speedwell, and 1620 are written in the foreground of the painting.

Captain Blossom, a Leiden Separatist, bought Speedwell in July 1620. [1] They then sailed under the command of Captain Reynolds to Southampton, England to meet the sister ship, Mayflower, which had been chartered by merchant investors (again Captain Blossom). In Southampton they joined with other Separatists and the additional colonists hired by the investors. Speedwell was already leaking. The ships lay at anchor in Southampton almost two weeks while Speedwell was being repaired and the group had to sell some of their belongings, food and stores, to cover costs and port fees. [2]

The two ships began the voyage on 5 August 1620, but Speedwell was found to be taking on water, and the two ships put into Dartmouth for repairs. On the second attempt, Mayflower and Speedwell sailed about 100 leagues (about 300 nautical miles (560 km; 350 mi)) beyond Land's End in Cornwall, but Speedwell was again found to be taking on water. Both vessels returned to Dartmouth. The Separatists decided to go on to America on Mayflower. [1] According to Bradford, Speedwell was sold at auction in London, and after being repaired made a number of successful voyages for her new owners. At least two of her passengers, Captain Thomas Blossom and a son, returned to Leiden. [3]

Prior to the voyage, Speedwell had been refitted in Delfshaven and had two masts. Nathaniel Philbrick theorizes that the crew used a mast that was too big for the ship, and that the added stress caused holes to form in the hull. [4] William Bradford wrote that the "overmasting" strained the ship's hull, but attributes the main cause of her leaking to actions on the part of the crew. [3] Passenger Robert Cushman wrote from Dartmouth in August 1620 that the leaking was caused by a loose board approximately two feet long. [5]

Eleven people from Speedwell boarded Mayflower, leaving 20 people to return to London (including Cushman) while a combined company of 102 continued the voyage. For a third time, Mayflower headed for the New World. She left Plymouth on 6 September 1620 and entered Cape Cod Bay on 11 November. Speedwell's replacement, Fortune, eventually followed, arriving at Plymouth Colony one year later on 9 November 1621. Philippe de Lannoy on Speedwell made the trip.

Under the ownership of Captain John Thomas Chappell, the Speedwell sailed again on May 28, 1635 from Southampton, finally arriving in Virginia. The ship then returned to England and was then refitted and sold.

Speedwell in art

The reverse of the $10,000 bill shows a scene from Weir's painting of Speedwell. US-$10000-FRN-1918-Fr-1135d (reverse only).jpg
The reverse of the $10,000 bill shows a scene from Weir's painting of Speedwell.

In 1837, Robert Walter Weir was commissioned by the United States Congress to paint an historical depiction of the Pilgrims. This painting was placed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda at Washington, D.C. in December 1843. Known as The Embarkation of the Pilgrims, the remarkable 12 by 18 feet (3.7 by 5.5 m) painting is a scene on board Speedwell while harbored in Delfs [or Delft] Haven, Holland. The historical event dramatized took place on July 22, 1620. [6] Weir would later paint another, much smaller oil on canvas that is now displayed in the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The paintings are similar except for lighting and a few minor changes. The 1857 work measures about 4 by 6 feet (1.2 by 1.8 m). The Embarkation of the Pilgrims is depicted on the reverse of the 10,000 dollar bill (Federal Reserve Note) issued in 1918. [7] Only five examples of this bill are known, and "none exist outside of institutional collections."

Speedwell in fiction

A fiction based on fact novel, A Spurious Brood [8] outlines a possible explanation for the sabotage of Speedwell, based on the true story of Katherine More, whose children were sent to America on board Mayflower. In Hornblower and the Atropos , one of the C. S. Forester novels about fictional British naval officer Horatio Hornblower, a treasure ship named Speedwell has sunk in Turkey's Marmorice Bay, and Hornblower's mission is to recover the treasure from the bottom of the bay. Speedwell is also mentioned several times in battle-action scenes in the historical fiction novel, Armada: A Novel, [9] written by Charles Gidley Wheeler and published in 1987.

Related Research Articles

1620 Calendar year

1620 (MDCXX) was a leap year starting on Wednesday of the Gregorian calendar and a leap year starting on Saturday of the Julian calendar, the 1620th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 620th year of the 2nd millennium, the 20th year of the 17th century, and the 1st year of the 1620s decade. As of the start of 1620, the Gregorian calendar was 10 days ahead of the Julian calendar, which remained in localized use until 1923.

Pilgrims (Plymouth Colony) Early settlers of Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts

The Pilgrims were the English settlers who came to North America on the Mayflower and established the Plymouth Colony in what is today Plymouth, Massachusetts, named after the final departure port of Plymouth, Devon. Their leadership came from the religious congregations of Brownists, or Separatist Puritans, who had fled religious persecution in England for the tolerance of 17th-century Holland in the Netherlands.

Myles Standish English military officer hired by the Pilgrims (1584–1656)

Myles Standish was an English military officer. He was hired as military adviser for Plymouth Colony in present-day Massachusetts, United States by the Pilgrims. Standish accompanied the Pilgrims on the ship Mayflower and played a leading role in the administration and defense of Plymouth Colony from its foundation in 1620. On February 17, 1621, the Plymouth Colony militia elected him as its first commander and continued to re-elect him to that position for the remainder of his life. Standish served at various times as an agent of Plymouth Colony on a return trip to England, as assistant governor of the colony, and as its treasurer.

Plymouth Colony English colonial venture in America (1620–1691)

Plymouth Colony was an English colonial venture in America from 1620 to 1691 at a location that had previously been surveyed and named by Captain John Smith. The settlement served as the capital of the colony and developed as the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts. At its height, Plymouth Colony occupied most of the southeastern portion of Massachusetts.

William Bradford (governor) 17th-century English separatist leader

William Bradford was an English Puritan separatist originally from the West Riding of Yorkshire in Northern England. He moved to Leiden in Holland in order to escape persecution from King James I of England, and then emigrated to the Plymouth Colony on the Mayflower in 1620. He was a signatory to the Mayflower Compact and went on to serve as Governor of the Plymouth Colony intermittently for about 30 years between 1621 and 1657. His journal Of Plymouth Plantation covered the years from 1620 to 1646 in Plymouth.

John Carver (Plymouth Colony governor) Mayflower passenger and New World colonist

John Carver was one of the Pilgrims who braved the Mayflower voyage in 1620 which resulted in the creation of Plymouth Colony in America. He is credited with writing the Mayflower Compact and was its first signer, and he was also the first governor of Plymouth Colony.

Edward Winslow Governor of Plymouth Colony (1595–1655)

Edward Winslow was a Separatist who traveled on the Mayflower in 1620. He was one of several senior leaders on the ship and also later at Plymouth Colony. Both Edward Winslow and his brother, Gilbert Winslow signed the Mayflower Compact. In Plymouth he served in a number of governmental positions such as assistant governor, three times was governor and also was the colony's agent in London. In early 1621 he had been one of several key leaders on whom Governor Bradford depended after the death of John Carver. He was the author of several important pamphlets, including Good Newes from New England and co-wrote with William Bradford the historic Mourt's Relation, which ends with an account of the First Thanksgiving and the abundance of the New World. In 1655 he died of fever while on an English naval expedition in the Caribbean against the Spanish.

William Brewster (<i>Mayflower</i> passenger) Early English colonist in North America

William Brewster was an English official and Mayflower passenger in 1620. In Plymouth Colony, by virtue of his education and existing stature with those immigrating from the Netherlands, Brewster, a Brownist, became senior elder and the leader of the community.

Christopher Martin (<i>Mayflower</i> passenger)

Christopher Martin and his family embarked on the historic 1620 voyage of the Pilgrim ship Mayflower on its journey to the New World. He was initially the governor of passengers on the ship Speedwell until that ship was found to be unseaworthy, and later on the Mayflower, until replaced by John Carver. He was a signatory to the Mayflower Compact. He and his family all perished in the first winter at Plymouth Colony.

Robert Cushman (1577–1625) was an important leader and organiser of the Mayflower voyage in 1620, serving as Chief Agent in London for the Leiden Separatist contingent from 1617 to 1620 and later for Plymouth Colony until his death in 1625 in England. His historically famous booklet titled 'Cry of a Stone' was written about 1619 and finally published in 1642, many years after his death in 1625. The work is an important pre-sailing Pilgrim account of the Leiden group's religious lives.

John Howland accompanied the English Separatists and other passengers when they left England on the Mayflower to settle in Plymouth. He was an indentured servant and in later years an executive assistant and personal secretary to Governor John Carver.

Christopher Jones (<i>Mayflower</i> captain) English sailor and master of the Mayflower (1570-1622)

Master Christopher Jones Jr. was the captain of the 1620 voyage of the Pilgrim ship Mayflower.

John Tilley (<i>Mayflower</i> passenger) Mayflower passenger

John Tilley and his family were passengers on the historic 1620 voyage of the Mayflower. He was a signatory to the Mayflower Compact, and died with his wife in the first Pilgrim winter in the New World.

<i>Mayflower</i> Famous ship of the 17th century

Mayflower was an English ship that transported a group of English families known today as the Pilgrims from England to the New World in 1620. After a grueling 10 weeks at sea, Mayflower, with 102 passengers and a crew of about 30, reached America, dropping anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on November 21 [O.S. November 11], 1620.

Thomas Weston (1584-c.1647) was a London merchant who first became involved with the Leiden Separatists who settled Plymouth colony in 1620 and became known as the Pilgrims.

John Turner (<i>Mayflower</i> passenger)

John Turner was a passenger, along with his two sons, on the 1620 voyage of the historic Pilgrim ship the Mayflower. He was a signatory to the Mayflower Compact and perished with his sons that first winter.

Philip Delano arrived in Plymouth Colony in November 1621 on the voyage of the ship Fortune. He was about 18 years of age on arrival. Mayflower passenger Francis Cooke was his uncle with whom he may initially have resided. Philip Delano lived a long life in Plymouth Colony where he became a person of some note, being involved in numerous governmental activities such as civil commissions and juries. Among his early activities was in becoming a very young (investment) Purchaser in 1626 and making the first recorded land sale in Plymouth after the institution of private property. At his death it is believed he had become a person of some wealth.

In the fall of 1621 the Fortune was the second English ship destined for Plymouth Colony in the New World, one year after the voyage of the Pilgrim ship Mayflower. Financed as the Mayflower was by Thomas Weston and others of the London-based Merchant Adventurers, Fortune was to transport thirty-five settlers to the colony on a ship that was much smaller than Mayflower. The Fortune required two months to prepare for the voyage and once underway, reached Cape Cod on 9 November 1621 and the colony itself in late November. The ship was unexpected by those in Plymouth colony and although it brought useful settlers, many of whom were young men, it brought no supplies, further straining the limited food resources of the colony. The ship only stayed in the colony about three weeks, returning to England in December loaded with valuable furs and other goods. But when nearing England, instead of heading to the English Channel, a navigation error caused the ship to sail south-east to the coast of France, where it was overtaken and seized by a French warship.

Mayflower Compact signatories

The Mayflower Compact was an iconic document in the history of America, written and signed aboard the Mayflower on November 11, 1620 while anchored in Provincetown Harbor in Massachusetts. The Compact was originally drafted as an instrument to maintain unity and discipline in Plymouth Colony, but it has become one of the most historic documents in American history. It was published in London in Mourt's Relation in 1622, and the authors had added a preamble to clarify its meaning: "it was thought good there should be an association and agreement, that we should combine together in one body, and to submit to such government and governors as we should by common consent agree to make and choose."


  1. 1 2 "The Voyage of the Mayflower & Speedwell", Pilgrim Hall Museum
  2. "Mayflower - the Southampton story", Southampton City Council [ permanent dead link ]
  3. 1 2 Ames 1907, Chapter II.
  4. Philbrick, Nathaniel (2007). Mayflower. Penguin Publishing.
  5. Ames 1907, Appendix VIII.
  6. "Embarkation of the Pilgrims | Architect of the Capitol".
  7. http://www.pilgrimhallmuseum.org/ce_history_paintings.htm
  8. "A Spurious Brood". Phil Revell. Archived from the original on 6 June 2013. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
  9. Wheeler, Charles Gidley (April 2005). Armada: A Novel. ISBN   9780595348978 . Retrieved 10 May 2016.