Mayflower – Encyclopedia of U.S. History

In the early 1600s, a new religious movement was gaining momentum
in England. Challenging the traditions of the Anglican Church, or
Church of England, members of the movement sought to simplify and
purify the Protestant Christian churches. (See Protestantism.) Called Puritans, they were harassed by English authorities because their movement threatened the power of the Anglican Church.
Seeking religious freedom, many Puritans left England to settle new
religious communities in other countries, including America. The first
102 of these emigrants to America are called Pilgrims, from a Latin
word that means “wanderer in foreign lands.” The Pilgrims left for
America in 1620 aboard the Mayflower.
The Mayflower was a three-mast merchant ship with a normal
speed of two and a half miles per hour. It was chartered along with the
vessel Speedwell to carry the Pilgrims to America. The Speedwell proved
unseaworthy and, after a few attempts to fix it, was abandoned in
England. On September 16, 1620, the Mayflower set sail with its passengers
and crew. Landing in Massachusetts on November 21, it remained in
the service of the Pilgrims and other settlers until housing could be built
on the mainland. It sailed for its return to England on April 5, 1621.
Although it is known to have reached England safely, its fate afterward is
lost to history. The confusion arises in part because several other ships of the time also were called Mayflower.