selective history

Connections and context that are Left out


New England, Caribbean trading links 17th and 18th Centuries

While Mayflower 400 claim that their websites’

‘education pages … are here to help you explorethe wider context of the Mayflower voyage’

there are several very important omissions. This includes the trade between the New England colonies and the British Caribbean slave colonies, New England’s role in the Atlantic slave trade, with its devastating consequences for numerous African and Indigenous American countries, and the place of slavery in the New England colonies themselves.




John Winthrop was the first Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, established 1630 when he landed with 1000 English Puritan colonists in the area that became Boston. His son Henry was one of the first British colonists in Barbados in 1627. This very early New England/ Caribbean connection subsequently led to the highly profitable trade in sugar and molasses from the Caribbean for food for the Island’s slaves from New England.



Edward Winslow  is famous for being the source of the story of the ‘First Thanksgiving’ in the Autumn of 1621 and being one the leading Mayflower Separatists. However, on the Mayflower 400 website the connections between Winslow and the British occupation of Jamaica is sanitised (see quote below). The Puritan Lord Protector in 1655, Oliver Cromwell, had sent an expedition to take more Caribbean Slave Islands for Britain, a policy, known as ‘Western Design’. The invasion force had five commissioners, two military, three civilian, of whom the head one was Edward Winslow. The British forces failed to take the Island of Hispaniola, but went on to take another Spanish Controlled Island, Jamaica, and, during this phase of the journey, Winslow died.


Mayflower 400 description

“in 1655 Cromwell placed him on a military expedition to the West Indies with the aim of establishing new English settlements there. This would have been a high honour and a new colony for him to be part of and Cromwell wanted him to be the Governor of Jamaica. He would never see it though, having died on board during the voyage. He died a god-fearing Pilgrim at heart and with him went a very special set of skills that built friendships, won negotiations and established a new way of life in a new land.”


The 1655 British invasion of the Caribbean was an important episode in the history of colonialism. Britain’s acquisition of the immensely profitable plantation slavery Island of Jamaica proved, subsequently, to be decisive economically to the creation of the British Empire and the start of the industrial revolution. The New England/ Caribbean connections are crucial to providing the context of the economic success of the New England colonies, which in turn create the context for the creation of the Mayflower story. 98


Population decline in Africa and the ‘Slave Trade’

‘By the latter half of the eighteenth century, when 80,00 or 100,00 young men and women were taken from the African coast annually, the Atlantic trade was responsible for a subtraction that could have taken each year’s natural population increase in west and Central Africa. Particular peoples and nations seem to have been entirely destroyed by the traffic, others greatly weakened.’ Death due to lengthy journeys to the Africa coasts & wars.

It is estimated that ‘in order to deliver nine million slaves to the coast in the entire period 1700-1850, some twenty-one million people were probably captured.’ 5 million died within a year of capture, 7 million used by slavery in Africa to maintain ‘the African based apparatus of capture and commerce’. ‘population dropped in each of the major West and Central African zones involved in the Atlantic slave trade in the period 1720-1850.’

Blackburn, R. (1997) ‘The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern 1492-1800’, London, Verso P387/8