Mayflower II first set sail in the mind of a British soldier, Warwick Charlton, in 1942.
It would take another fifteen years for his idea – building an exact replica of the Pilgrim ship Mayflower and sailing her across the Atlantic – to become reality.
Here’s how it all began.
Warwick Charlton was 24 years old and on the staff of British General Field Marshall Montgomery – “Monty” – during the North Africa Campaign in 1942. During the World War II Monty commanded the British Eighth Army in North Africa from August 1942 until the final Allied victory in Tunisia in May 1943. He subsequently commanded the British during the Allied invasion of Sicily and the invasion of Italy.
On his journey back to England following the end of the War, Warwick read the journal of William Bradford, the leader of the Plymouth Colony in 1620. That was an eye-opener and changed the course of his life. A small group of English Pilgrims had risked everything to establish a new life in America, now 335 years later the world was benefiting from the strength and values of that grew from that colony.
After the war, Charlton returned to civilian life in London, where he worked as a journalist for a major newspaper, the Daily Express. Over pints of beer at the Wig and Pen Club in the Strand, he described his plan to build the Mayflower II to friends and colleagues. He would build it, sail it to America and then present it as a gift to the United States for all it given the United Kingdom during the War. An exact replica of the original Mayflower – a replica people could walk aboard to relive a seminal moment in American history – would be the perfect way to thank the U.S.A. for its contributions and sacrifices during World War II.
He found an expert shipbuilder, Stuart Upham, of Brixham, Devon, who agreed to build Mayflower II and then join the crew for the transatlantic voyage, thus guaranteeing her seaworthiness.
To float the boat financially, Charlton managed to persuade 200 industrial, commercial and individual sponsors to help finance the project. Manufacturers paid to send samples of their craftsmanship in “Treasure Chests” aboard Mayflower II. When no more money could be found in Britain, Charlton flew to America, where he talked the owner of the Mayflower Trucking Company into providing additional support.
By 1956 the ship was built and almost paid for when the Suez Crisis occurred. While many supporters of Mayflower II argued for postponing the voyage, Charlton insisted on moving ahead.
On April 20 1957, amid much publicity on both sides of the Atlantic (and fueled by Charlton staging the discovery of a “stowaway” on day two of the voyage), the 33 man crew – dressed as Pilgrim Fathers – set sail from Brixham to the “New World.”
Powered only by sail, Mayflower II took 54 days (11 days less than the original) to cross the Atlantic, during which time the crew encountered a violent storm and a severe depletion of supplies. The beer ration was reduced to a bottle a day.
When the ship arrived at Plymouth, Massachusetts, it was greeted by a crowd of 100,000, which included U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and Massachusetts Senator (and future U.S. President) John F. Kennedy. The ship’s crew told waiting journalists that the Mayflower was “the toughest ship for seasickness I have ever known.” Imagine what it must have been like in 1620.
NBC Television sent a news production crew to Plymouth to capture the ship’s arrival and broadcast it nationally to millions of viewers.
Learn more about Warwick Charlton – The Mayflower Man.