Image of the Mayflower Steps in Plymouth.

Plymouth has been the starting point for many globally significant voyages of discovery. But few of these are better known or have provided such a lasting international legacy, as the sailing of the Mayflower almost 400 years ago.

Dr Kathryn Gray, the University’s Associate Professor in Early American Literature, explains:

“When the Mayflower left Plymouth harbour in 1620, it was not the first ship to set sail across the Atlantic to North America, and nor was Plymouth Colony the first successful English colony in the New World. And yet, through the signing of the Mayflower Compact, a document that agreed a form of representational government, and the celebration of the first Thanksgiving, the Mayflower voyage and the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony became central to the popular origin narrative of the United States.

The experiences of the Mayflower passengers when they arrived in New England were, at times, harrowing: only half of the settlers survived the first winter, and without the help and resources from local Native American tribes, the Wampanoag in particular, it is unlikely that they would have survived at all. Embedded in this pivotal moment in history are the interconnected stories and experiences of the so-called Pilgrims, the indigenous populations, as well as other migrants to the North America, including slaves.

Mayflower Steps on a sunny day, looking towards the harbour.

“As we near the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower, the many legacies of this well-documented and well-known voyage, some of which are difficult and challenging, will be remembered, examined and debated.”

Key date | 16 September 2020 – Embarkation Day

Pioneering projects and exciting events

Not only is the University of Plymouth involved with programming the city-wide celebrations for Mayflower 400, but we are also collaborating on a range of exciting events and ambitious projects with partners across the UK and in the US. 

Pioneering initiatives which will ultimately enhance our students’ experience and academic endeavour through teaching and research.

Voyage to highlight the possibilities of autonomous ocean science

The University is conducting research into marine mammals, marine plastics and ocean chemistry as part of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship project

The aim is to highlight the future potential of autonomous ocean science as part of a pioneering voyage commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower.

Find out more about the Mayflower Autonomous Ship project

Mayflower Autonomous Ship - credit Rachel Nicholls-Lee
at Whiskerstay Ltd

Reconsidering the Mayflower

The passengers onboard the original Mayflower had little idea of what they were about to endure, and would have had no idea that their journey, and their experiences of settlement, would become a narrative of national origins.

They certainly couldn’t have contemplated that 400 years on, a vessel sharing the name Mayflower would make the same journey, without a single soul on board, and powered not by sails but by solar power.

400 years later, Dr Kathryn Gray, Associate Professor in Early American Literature, reflects on our assumptions about the Mayflower's voyage and its consequences.

Read Kathryn's opinion piece on the Mayflower

Mayflower ship

Boost for Mayflower 400 as Plymouth is awarded Cultural Development Funding

A project to build Plymouth’s creative industries and nurture creative people power has been awarded £3.5 million by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The University has partnered with Plymouth City Council, Destination Plymouth, Mayflower 400, Plymouth College of Art and Real Ideas to create iMayflower. The money is part of a £20m Cultural Development Fund for the regions announced by Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright.

An additional £750,000 has been awarded to Mayflower 400, giving a boost to creative events and activities planned around the event – iMayflower’s legacy is intended to go well beyond 2020. Read further details in the full report.

Mayflower Autonomous Ship - credit Rachel Nicholls-Lee
at Whiskerstay Ltd
The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (Rachel Nicholls-Lee at Whiskerstay Ltd)

Illuminate light festival

Marking the countdown to Mayflower 2020
Illuminate, a spectacular light festival that connects the Mayflower 400 destinations across the UK and internationally, returned to the historic Royal William Yard and other venues during November/December 2019. 
The festival offers an immersive experience, with projections and light installations, live performances and opportunities for audiences to interact with the works.
Find out more about Illuminate
Illuminate 2019

Transatlantic Exchanges Forum

The Transatlantic Exchanges forum brings together scholars working across different disciplines in the field of transatlantic studies. Our aim is to facilitate original research collaborations in this field.
Waves breaking on rocks.
Right Honourable Lord Burnett of Maldon, Chief Justice of England and Wales

Pilgrim Fathers Lecture

Established by the Plymouth Law Society and hosted by the University of Plymouth and Plymouth City Council, the lecture series, which commemorates the Pilgrim Fathers voyage to America in 1620 and embodies the themes of freedom and human rights, has become a celebrated annual event in the legal profession calendar, attracting current and past Lord Chancellors, Lord Justices of Appeal and Lords of Appeal.

For 2019, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, The Right Honourable The Lord Burnett of Maldon was the latest in a long list of distinguished members of the legal profession to present the lecture.

Find out more about the series

Study opportunities

If you're a student from the USA thinking of coming to study in Plymouth, you'll find all the essential information you need on our dedicated country guide page. From entry requirements and funding to discovering alumni stories, we've tried to provide all the information you will need if you are thinking about coming to study with us from the United States of America.

Mayflower 400: Decolonising cultural heritage and transforming narratives of remembering

Dr Kathryn Gray discusses her REF Impact case study.

The University of Plymouth – an award-winning institution

Find out about our latest awards and accreditation and learn about the fantastic achievements of the University, our students and our staff.
British Fireworks Championships 2013 from the Hoe