Colonial Ships

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COLONIAL SHIPS, which brought the first European settlers to the New World, were very small. Sir Humphrey Gilbert's vessel, on which he lost his life, was a tent on ship. Christopher Newport's three ships, in which the first Virginians came to America, were of 100, 40, and 20 tons. The Mayflower was a 180-ton ship, its keel length 64 feet, beam width 26 feet, and depth from beam to keel 11 feet, while the full length was 90 feet. The Dove and the Ark, which carried Lord Baltimore's company to Maryland, were of 50 and 400 tons, respectively.

Passengers spent weeks or months crossing the Atlantic on these vessels. One ship made the journey in four weeks, but the Pilgrims' voyage took ten. The first Virginians and Lord Baltimore's party were at sea four months, and some Germans did not reach America until six months aboard ship. Because of this delay, food and water supplies were soon wretched. Scurvy generally incapacitated one-tenth of those on board. It was only when lemons and oranges were found to prevent scurvy that this condition improved. Over crowding, smallpox, seasickness, fevers, dysentery, and mouth diseases added their quota to the misery and suffering of the transatlantic voyage.

Small vessels were soon being made in the colonies, often in the forests, from where they were rolled on logs to the water's edge. By 1676, 730 ships had been built in Massachusetts alone, and hundreds more had been built in other New England colonies.


Millar, John F. American Ships of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods. New York: Norton, 1978.

Charles B.Swaney/a. r.

See alsoIndustries, Colonial ; Schooner ; Shipbuilding .