Gary Hanna

Could You Survive the Mayflower ?

Imagine it’s 1620. You’re a Pilgrim on the Mayflower in the Atlantic Ocean. A storm hits and huge waves slam into the ship. As the Mayflower rocks from side to side, you start to worry. Will you reach America? 

A Tough Start

You’ve probably heard of the Mayflower and its famous passengers, the Pilgrims. But do you know how difficult their trip to America was? From storms at sea to horrible diseases, the Pilgrims faced many dangerous challenges. 

The first sign of trouble came early. The Pilgrims had planned to use two ships. But as they left England in August 1620, one ship sprang a leak. The Pilgrims were left with a single ship.

“Families had to decide who was going to stay back and who was going to the New World,” says Vicki Oman, an expert on Pilgrims. 

The Pilgrims were eager to start new lives and find religious freedom in America. So about 130 passengers and crew squeezed onto the remaining ship—along with goats, dogs, and chickens. The Mayflower sailed for America in September 1620. 

Months of Misery

Life on the ship wasn’t easy. Passengers were cooped up in a dark lower deck full of rats. Many of them got horribly seasick.

“People were throwing up all the time, which smelled terrible,” says Oman. 

But passengers weren’t allowed to get fresh air on the top deck, because they might get swept overboard. Supplies of food and fresh water ran low. Without enough nutrients, some people got a serious disease called scurvy.

Halfway through the voyage, a violent storm struck. As the ship got tossed about, passengers were thrown against walls. A large beam, or wooden support, cracked. 

Was it safe to continue on the damaged ship? The Pilgrims talked about turning back. But they fixed the beam and kept sailing.

Land at Last

After 66 days at sea, the Pilgrims finally reached the coast of what is now Massachusetts. Only two people—a sailor and a teenage boy—died on the trip to America. 

The Pilgrims built a village called Plymouth and made it through a tough first winter. They also planted crops. In 1621, they celebrated the harvest with a three-day feast. Today, we call that feast the first Thanksgiving. 

Think About It: For the Pilgrims, reaching America meant a new life. But what do you think their arrival meant for the Native Americans who already lived there? 

1. Why did the Pilgrims leave England?

2. What is the section “Months of Misery” mainly about?

3. What do you think was the most difficult challenge the Pilgrims faced? Why?

Close-Reading Questions

Click the Google Quiz button below to share these Close-Reading Questions with your class.

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