The Mayflower – gearing up for the 400th anniversary celebrations

On Friday 24th November 2017 the streets of Harwich will be lit in celebration of the town’s Illuminate Festival.  The festival marks the town’s connections to the ship The Mayflower.  The ship’s sailing to the New World took the first Pilgrims to their new home in America.  At the helm of the ship was a Harwich man, Christopher Jones.  Jones sailed the pilgrims and his crew to the New World arriving in Cape Cod in November 1620.  Harwich will be welcoming local school children who have taken on the task of creating lanterns to bring light to the dark evenings and help to begin the celebrations that mark the town’s place in the historic sailing of The Mayflower.

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Harwich’s connection to the sailing of The Mayflower was established in the early 20th Century by researchers confirming that the signature of the Captain of the Mayflower was the same signature as one Christopher Jones contained in the Harwich Charter of 1604.  The original charter is still held in the town archives, a vital part of Harwich’s history.

As a member of a local seafaring family, Christopher Jones had inherited boats and premises within the local area. In his father’s will Jones received a part share of a ship named the Marie Fortune alongside the associated stock from the ship.  His early career was spent importing cloth and wine from the continent, with his passage to the New World being a significant departure from his earlier trading.

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Originally married to a local girl by the name of Sara Twitt, on her death Jones married Josian Gray. Josian had previously been married to a local man by the name of Richard Gray and had come to her marriage to Jones a wealthy woman.  Josian was also from a well-known Harwich family of the time. Josian’s father Thomas Thompson was a wealthy mariner, owning a ship by the name of The Desire.  Thompson was a well-respected member of the community, however in 1567 court records show that he was accused of piracy!

Christopher Jones was an Alderman of Harwich, a person of local standing who was obliged to give money to the poor via the Poor Rates. Although a man of local standing and some wealth, Jones was not a Gentleman.  Court records show that Jones was fined for keeping dogs – an occupation reserved only for the landed gentry of the time.

Jones has a clear connection with Harwich. The house that he lived in with his wife Josian can still be seen in the town.  His signature can be found on key local documents and he is listed regularly in court documents of the time.

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As the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower draws near Harwich is poised to celebrate its ties to the Mayflower.  A project to develop a replica of the ship is underway and plans are developing to mark the important point the small coastal town had into the founding of the New World.

For more information on the Illuminate Festival visit the Harwich Festival website, www.harwichfestival.co.uk

By Sarah Mott

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