This film gives an account of the long and hazardous sea voyage of a band of English settlers who landed in Cape Cod Bay in 1620. These Pilgrims came to America seeking freedom from persecution and the right to worship as they chose. Under the leadership of its founder, Elder William Brewster, this group of Separatists (one of many "Puritan" sects) left Southampton, England, in August 1620 bound for the New World. A total of 50 men, 20 women, and 32 children set sail in two ships commissioned for the voyage, the Speedwell and the Mayflower, the latter under the command of the hard-bitten Captain Christopher Jones who made it clear that he despised these people and their religious principles. Although he was not a member of the group, John Alden, a carpenter by trade, boarded the ship and was immediately attracted to Priscilla Mullins. Captain Miles Standish, also a non-Separatist, was commissioned to instruct the Pilgrims in the use of firearms.
Shortly after the voyage started, the Speedwell became unseaworthy and both ships returned to Southampton. After a short delay, the passengers from the Speedwell were crowded into the Mayflower, and the journey began once more. During the sixty-five-day passage, the group endured a violent storm, scant rations of food and water, as well as illness and abuse from Captain Jones and his crew. The calm demeanor and faith in God demonstrated by these Pilgrims were unfathomable to their persecutors, especially the quiet determined manner demonstrated by William Bradford, one of their leaders. His wife, Dorothy, and Captain Jones fell in love during the voyage. Ultimately, she slipped overboard and drowned when her guilt overwhelmed her. One of the highlights of the film is the signing of the Mayflower Compact (see my image gallery and my title page); this scene is intended to promote the patriotic theme of the movie. As the group landed at Cape Cod Bay in November 1620, Jones at last showed some compassion for the plight of this suffering group; he kept the Mayflower standing by for the long, hard winter during which 46 of the settlers died. In the spring, the Pilgrims planted crops (with the help of the Indians) and started to build their church and houses. Captain Jones told Bradford that Dorothy Bradford loved her husband in a way she never loved him (Jones). Before Captain Jones left to return to England, the settlers gave him a scroll in appreciation for his help. He marveled that none of the settlers took him up on his offer to take them back to England, and he promised that he would return.