Trouble with Speedwell

Author’s photograph

Over the next few years, you’ll hear more and more about the 400th anniversary of the Puritans and Separatists who sailed on Mayflower in 1620. We know them as “The Pilgrims.” In 1620, the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in Massachusetts Bay, where they found harsh weather, an unfamiliar land, and where they were responsible for the care of (initially) 102 people in their new Colony.

William Bradford, the Governor of Plymouth Colony, is one of the few individuals who documented his life in the early years of the settlement. Governor Bradford was the longest-serving governor of the colony and is well known for his book, Of Plymouth Plantation, written between 1630 and 1651.

The New England Historic Genealogical Society is happy to be involved in planning the 2020 anniversary activities and we will be running excerpts from Governor Bradford’s book, Edward Winslow’s Good Newes in New England (1624), and Winslow and Bradford’s joint work Mourt’s Relation, written in 1620–21. This ongoing series about the Pilgrims, Mayflower, and the individuals from whom many of us descend should shed some light on this time in New England history.

“[Now] it was conceived by the workmen and all, that she was sufficient, and they might proceed without either fear or danger.”

We know the story of Mayflower carrying 102 brave souls to the New World, but do you know about Speedwell? This vessel, captained by a man named Reynolds, was a ship that was to accompany Mayflower on its journey. In the paragraph below, taken from Bradford’s book, the Governor describes the ‘lesser ship’ and those who had to turn back.

Being thus put to sea, they had not gone far but, the master of the lesser ship, complained that he found his ship so leaky as he durst not put further to sea till she was mended. So the master of the bigger ship (called Mr. Jones) being consulted with, they both resolved to put into Dartmouth and have her there searched and mended, which accordingly was done, to their great charge and loss of time and a fair wind. She was here thoroughly searched from stem to stem, some leaks were found and mended, and now it was conceived by the workmen and all, that she was sufficient, and they might proceed without either fear or danger. So with good hopes from hence, they put to sea again, conceiving they should go comfortably on, not looking for any more lets of this kind; but it fell out otherwise. For after they were gone to sea again about 100 leagues without the Lands End, holding company together all this while, the master of the small ship complained his ship was so leaky as he must bear up or sink at sea, for they could scarce free her with much pumping… So after they had took out such provision as the other ship could well stow, and concluded that both what number and what persons to send back, they made another sad parting; the one ship going back for London and the other was to proceed on her voyage.” – Chapter VIII

We hope these ongoing blog posts will educate Mayflower enthusiasts, descendants, and history lovers about the founders of “America’s Hometown” of Plymouth, Massachusetts.

To learn more about the passengers – their lives and their legacy – visit

About Sarah Dery

Sarah Dery, who lives in Concord, is the Research and Library Manager at American Ancestors/NEHGS; she has been with the Society since 2017. She supports the researchers and genealogists on the Research and Library teams, managing correspondence with constituents, organizing research information, and applying her genealogical knowledge in assisting our clients – both in-person and digitally. Sarah is a graduate of Rhode Island College in Providence and has a B.A. in anthropology and English Literature. Her interest in anthropology stems from her participation in a week-long archaeology dig at James Madison’s Montpelier in Virginia. Her family ancestry and expertise include Rhode Island, Connecticut, and French-Canada.

33 thoughts on “Trouble with Speedwell

      1. yes, my ancestor was one that started on the Speedwell and came later, but we know not which ship, but he was at Plymouth to marry in 1629. we’ve thought of his close neighbors as all coming on the same ship and that’s the ship we’ve thought of him coming over in and all of them then founding Eastham in 1644

  1. Certainly I enjoyed this story, not because I am a Mayflower descendent (I’m not), but because of the historical insight it brings. Thank you Sarah.

    1. Yes . That’s why I enjoyed the story , for it’s good historical insights . Reading it helps to reinforce our yankee identity and keep the 1620 dream alive . Thanks Sarah : )

  2. Hi Sarah, thank you very much for your informative post. How ironic it was that the leaking ship that turned around was named, “The Speedwell.” Personally, as a member of both the Mayflower Society and NEHGS, I am so happy that the close collaboration between these two “giants of genealogy” is proceeding beautifully and has become even stronger over the past several years…including NEHGS’s Christopher C. Child becoming Editor of the “Mayflower Descendant” two years ago.

  3. My ancestor arrived in America on the Speedwell. Question: the article says it returned to London, but I always thought it went back to the Netherlands for refitting. But perhaps it went to the Netherlands after London.

  4. Of the passengers that couldn’t come due to the Speedwell’s unseaworthiness, three actually were able to come later: Dr. Thomas Blossom in 1629, Mary Cushman in 1621, and Philip Delano also 1621. President Obama is a Blossom descendant, and thus missed being a Mayflower descendant. In this case I have better luck than the former president, as I’m descended from 14 of the passengers who have descendants living today, as well as Dr. Blossom.

    1. Aha! Philip Delano is one of my mom’s ancestors. Some years back I encountered an article on the Delano/De Lannoy and Mahieu families in Tourcoing . . . . it’s photocopied and stuffed away in one of my folders in the basement . . . somewhere . . . . As I recall, it took Philip’s genealogy back a couple of generations. But I haven’t looked at the Delanos in a while, and couldn’t say if I ever knew that he’d been on the Speedwell.

  5. PLEASE remember the pilgrims who immigrated on The Mayflower i 1620 were NOT Puritans…and we Mayflower descendants do not refer to them as such. Perhaps just a slip of a finger on a keyboard, otherwise this is an informative and interesting article for those who have not read Bradford’s book…

    1. Thank YOU for making that clarification.!

      Nobody believes me. Big difference. Just ask Metacom.

  6. I read “Of Plymouth Plantation,” this past summer, took it is small bits at times because I needed to get my mind into and around the language, the word “durst,” above for instance. I love it, but they spoke (or wrote) so differently in those days. However it was as if from the horses mouth so to speak to read how they actually made it, what occurred when they got here and for some years after, it became a wonderful piece of real History, written by one.who lived it. Would recommend it to any and all, if read once, worth reading again. Loved seeing this first installment from it.

    1. I had heard that the edition of Bradford’s writing by Caleb Johnson was well done (published in 2006), so I bought it! However, I’ve yet to tackle it, so I welcome these excerpts and comments by Sarah Dery and others at NEHGS.

  7. Absolutely, the Caleb Johnsone one is much better in that it doesn’t leave things out that Morrison thought was “unimportant” and it doesn’t change the order of events…I had the Morrison edition but a dear friend enlightened me as to its shortcomings and recommended the Johnson edition…I now recommend it to anyone interested in what “really” happened, day to day, with our “Pilgrims”

  8. My ancestors, Thomas and Anne Blossom and infant Elizabeth, were on the Speedwell. They came a bit later. Elizabeth married Edward FitzRandolph, also President Obama’s ancestor.

    1. They are also my ancestors. I love knowing their story and about the others who came here.

    1. There is an really good book entitled “Saints and Strangers,” by George F. Willison, 1945 It has a long subtitle but I loved this one. A good read with an Appendix of “The Pilgrim Company.” a good list of the people on Board those early ships.

    2. Oh my yes. Aboard the Anne were the wife and daughters of Richard Warren who arrived on the Mayflower and many other relatives of those who made that first voyage. There are many references to tell the list of who all traveled on those two ships, the Anne arriving in 1623.

  9. After two attempts on the Speedwell Philip de La Noyes signed onto a different ship and made it here. The Speedwell was repaired and rebuilt and served usefully as a freighting ship in the waters near Great Britain foir a number of years. Philip married one of my early relatives in Boston.

  10. I recently visited Dartmouth with the General Society of Mayflower Descendants’ Historic Sites Tour. We paid our respects at Bayard’s Cove, where the attempted repairs on the leaks took place. There were several monuments and plaques with information about the Mayflower and Speedwell along the wall in Bayard’s Cove. From there you can see the same view of the harbor and the two fortress towers guarding Dartmouth that you can see in the painting by Leslie Wilcox that hangs in Pilgrim Hall Museum (you just have to imagine the Mayflower and Speedwell are there!). There is still a little inn right there that was built in 1390. Since I knew this building was there whilst my Pilgrim ancestors were waiting for repairs, we decided to stop there for lunch. It was quite an experience to walk (and sit, and lunch!) in the footsteps of our ancestors. We also enjoyed seeing the Pilgrim Fathers Church in Delfshaven, Netherlands, where the Leiden congregation gathered for the last time together before some of them boarded the Speedwell to sail to meet the Mayflower. It was another emotional moment during our trip!

  11. Where might i find a list of the original passengers on the Speedwell? It has been a story passed down through our family for years that my ancestor, Richard Sears, was one of those passengers. However, once back at the dock, he decided to stay in England and attend to his recently deceased father’s business. He came on the Anne.

  12. I was told by my Grandmother that one of my ancestors came over on the Mayflower. How do I find out My family history? All I know is the Name Peter Davis and John Davis who lived in Nantucket as told to me by my Grandmother. She was a child there. When her father died she was still a child so she moved to Connecticut with her older sister. I remember Desire Davis being a name she said was a relative. All I have is verbal history. She told me a portrait of an ancestor is hanging in a Mall in Connecticut. Can you help me with what you know if the Mayflower history? I know my Great Grandfather owned a Ship building company and one relative invented the glass bottom boat. All I have is Verbal history and my Grandmother passed away years ago. Thanks

  13. I was told by my grandmother that I am a Mayflower descendent my grandmother was Violet Ruby Southworth, her father was Albert Southworth, his wife was Luella Southworth she also went by the name of Nellie. His father was Charles A. Southworth wife was Janetta Kissell. His father was Andrew A. Southworth, his wife was Elizabeth Miller also known as Elizabeth Soper. I would like help finding the rest of the family tree if possible. Thank you.

  14. What a great blog!
    I have a couple of ship-related questions:
    The Mayflower, of course, is iconic. Other than the fact that it was smaller than the Mayflower and its masts probably were too big, is there a good description of the Speedwell? The length, rigging, etc?
    It appears that in 1629, another ship also called the Mayflower sailed to New England. Is it properly called “Mayflower II” or is there some other way to differentiate between the two?

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