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Christopher Jones is believed to have been born in Harwich, Essex about 1570 although baptismal records are blank for his parish church for the period of time between April 1565 and June 1571.
He was a son of Christopher Jones (Sr.) and his wife Sybil _____. The senior Jones was also a mariner and ship owner who died in 1578, leaving to his young son bearing his name, and his interest in the ship Marie Fortune when he should attain the age of eighteen years. Jones' mother Sybil married Richard Russel after his father’s death and continued to reside at the Jones family home on Kings Head Street in Harwich which is presently a visitor attraction. The family home of Christopher Jones’ first wife Sara Twitt is across from the Jones home on Kings Head Street and is now a hostelry, the Alma.
Christopher Jones married twice:
1. Jones married Sara Twitt at St. Nicholas Church, Harwich on December 23, 1593. She was age 17 and had been born about 1576. She was Jones’ neighbor, living opposite each other on Kings Head Street, Harwich, both residences still existing as visitor attractions. Sara had a wealthy father, Thomas Twitt, who had strong shipping interests. At his death, her father provided considerable funds for her and a 1/12 share in his ship Apollo. The two families combined their shipping interests to mutual advantage.
Within a year of his marriage to Sara they had a boy named Thomas, after Sara’s father. But per the Church Burial Register, it records the infant’s death on April 17, 1596. Sara had no more children and died at age 27. She was buried in Harwich on May 23, 1603.
2. Jones married his second wife, Widow Josian ___ Gray, widow of Richard Gray, age 21, at St. Nicholas Church in Harwich a few months after his first wife's Sara’s death in 1603. Josian had seafaring relatives and her late husband was a noted mariner with friends among the Captains of the 1588 Armada Fleet and which included ‘treasure hunting’ in the Indies, this have may included attacks on Spanish treasure ships. Josian probably brought a substantial marriage portion and had inherited her late husband’s house in Church Street, Harwich together with other land and property. One of his ships was named Josian, in honor of his wife.
It is believed Josian may have remarried in 1626 as in that year a ‘Joan Jones’, widow, married one Thomas Bartelmore at Stepney, London, directly across the Thames from Rotherhithe.
Their marriage produced eight children, of whom the following four children were known to have been born in Harwich:
And the following children were born in Rotherhithe, London to which the family moved in 1611.
Queen Elizabeth I called Harwich ‘a pretty town’ and it was extremely loyal to her in sending three ships to join the attack against the Spanish Armada in 1588. As with Plymouth, Harwich became wealthy by the pillaging of Spanish ships of the Armada though its primary business then was the export of English woolen cloth to Holland for finishing. Its explorers also could relate some stories of far places traveled to, with tales when Jones was a youth of their men voyaging as far as Baffin Island in the far Arctic.
The entrance to Harwich port was covered with dangerous sandbars and sailors had to stay alert at all times. A prime example of this was on a night in 1627 when a strong North Sea storm wrecked more than thirty ships. These were the waters in when Jones served his apprenticeship at the side of his father and grandfather, who were both Harwich skippers. At age eighteen, Jones inherited his first part-share of a ship.
Harwich was a town managed by a company of mariners and shipwrights who enforced harsh discipline. In 1605 some women were hanged as witches and harlots and were dragged through the streets by a cart and with such as dice games also being banned. As with other seaports around the country, Harwich was a place where sea captains and merchants ran the local government and levied their own taxes on the citizens to take care of town business.
In his mid-thirties Jones was somewhat of a prominent Harwich citizen and was named as a burgess of Harwich in a new town charter granted by King James. Jones was coming into his own about this time, and with an assist from a bounty, he built a 240 ton, larger than average ship of his own which he named after his second wife – Josian. Jones used the ship for trading voyages as far south as to Bordeaux in France.
In 1601 he was one of 77 men who took the oath as freeman of the Borough of Harwich.
In 1604 his name is listed as one of the 24 capital burgesses on the Great Charter granted by King James I.
Civil accounts record Jones acting as an assessor for tax on land and property and also as a jury member when his father-in-law was reprimanded for failing to repair steps to the quay adjacent to his house.
In 1605 Jones was accused, with George Colman, for keeping hunting dogs, a pursuit that was only open to those classed as ‘gentlemen’ whose land was valued at a certain per annum value. Apparently Jones had prospered but had not reached the class of ‘gentleman’.
In August 1609 records first note Christopher Jones as master and part owner of the Mayflower when his ship was chartered for a voyage from London to Drontheim (Trondheim) in Norway, and back to London. Due to bad weather, on her return the ship lost an anchor and made short delivery of her cargo of herrings. Litigation was involved and was proceeding in 1612.
In a document of January 1611, Christopher Jones is described as being ‘of Harwich’, and his ship is called the Mayflower of Harwich (in Essex co.).
Then about 1611, Jones decided to leave Harwich and moved south to London, where he made his home in Rotherhithe parish, a mile downstream on the Thames from the Tower of London. By that time, Jones had traded the ship Josian for a quarter-share in the smaller ship Mayflower.
In 1611 Christopher Jones is recorded as removing to Rotherhithe parish, then in Surrey, now in London. This was his home until his death in 1622.
Records of Jones’ ship Mayflower have the ship twice in the Thames in London in 1613 – once in July and again in October and November.
Records of 1616 again state Jones’ ship was in the Thames and the noting of wine on board suggests the ship had recently been on a voyage to France, Spain, Portugal, the Canaries, or some other wine country.
In the late 16th century, Rotherhithe and Ratcliff parishes were country retreats of the wealthy Londoners, but gradually, as London grew, they filled with buildings and population. By the late 1620s, those parishes accounted for 120 mariners. Wine was the primary trade product of commercial London and made the fortune of Rotherhithe’s mariners. Jones’ wealthiest associate was also a ship’s master, Anthony Wood of the ship Rainbow, who ranked at the top of parish taxpayers, owning shares of three ships and numerous houses on both sides of the Thames. He owed his wealth to the fine vintages of the Spanish port of Alicante, which was the favorite drink of James I and was a quite lucrative trade. Jones’ wealthiest client was William Speight, one of the mercantile elite, who resided in Vinery Ward, the wine merchant’s district, opposite Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. As warden of the Company of Merchant Taylors, Speight owned property that ranged from country estates in Suffolk to lower-level dwellings and warehouses in London. In May 1620, on his last trip before carrying the Pilgrims, Jones carried fifty tons of wine for Speight which was extremely profitable for the merchant.
Men like Wood, Speight and Jones prospered due to the popularity of alcohol as the wealth of the landowning classes increased. At the peak of the wine trade in 1615, London imported three times the wine that was imported typically twenty years previously. In 1615, a typical voyage by Jones in Mayflower would see him bring back from France as much as eighty tons of wine and on the trip to New England, the Mayflower carried at least one keg each of French or Dutch wine. When Jones left London aboard the Mayflower on a voyage to France, he would normally carry as trade goods to exchange for quality French wine a hold filled with English woolens, the country’s strongest export. As a family man, Jones had to keep his ship operating, and as trade was waning due to the European economic situation, the offer of Thomas Weston of the Merchant Adventurers to charter his ship for an Atlantic voyage seemed to come at a most opportune time.
In addition to wine and wool, with Jones as Mayflower captain, it had transported hats, hemp, Spanish salt, hops and vinegar to Norway and may have taken the ship whaling in the North Atlantic in the Greenland area. Jones had traveled to Mediterranean ports, being then part owner with Nichols, Robert Child, Thomas Short. In 1620 Capt. Jones and Robert Child still owned their quarter shares in the ship, and it was from them that Thomas Weston chartered her in the summer of 1620 to undertake the Pilgrim voyage.
Most scholars agree with author Charles Banks' estimation that the Mayflower had a crew of about 50: 36 men ‘before the mast’ (crew) and 14 officers on the captain's staff. This included the following officers: four mates, four quartermasters, surgeon, carpenter, cooper, cook, boatswain and gunner. The entire crew stayed with the Mayflower when it wintered-over in Plymouth in 1620-1621, with about half of them dying during that time, including the gunner, boatswain, 3 of 4 quartermasters and cook. The survivors returned to London on the Mayflower sailing from Plymouth on April 5, 1621.
The identity of several key officers under the captain has been well established. Two Masters Mates (Pilot) with previous New World sailing experience were John Clarke, age 45, and Robert Coppin. They were assisted by Masters Mates Andrew Williamson and John Parker. And an important person on the captain’s staff that Bradford oddly neglected to mention was the ship’s surgeon, a young man just out of apprenticeship as a London Barber-Surgeon by the name of Giles Heale. His name appears as a witness to the death-bed will of William Mullins in February 1621. Another person that Bradford also did not mention who is recorded as possibly being a principal officer of the Mayflower due to his title, is a man identified only as “Master” Leaver. He is recorded in Mourt’s Relation (1622) as rescuing Pilgrims lost in a forest in January 1621.
The Mayflower embarked about sixty-five passengers in London about the middle of July 1620, proceeded to Southampton on the English south coast and met the Speedwell bringing the Leyden contingent from Holland. The two ships planned to begin their trans-Atlantic journey on August 5, but problems with the Speedwell, which could not be corrected, caused the loss of a month of critical voyage time with the fall Atlantic gale season coming on. Some Speedwell passengers chose not to continue and went to London and with some coming aboard the Mayflower, which with 102 passengers and a crew of possibly 30-40, finally departed Plymouth on September 16. And after almost two months of fighting gales and with the ship’s timbers rupturing, and with a detriment to the health of all on board, the Mayflower finally anchored with the hook of Cape Cod harbor on November 11.
Over the next five months Captain Jones and the Mayflower would remain in Plymouth. He had originally planned to return to England as soon as the Pilgrims found a settlement site, but members of his ship’s crew were ravaged by the same illnesses that overcame the Mayflower passengers, and he had to remain in Plymouth Harbor “till he saw his men began to recover”.
The Mayflower remained in Plymouth Harbor through the winter of 1620-1621 and then on April 5, with her empty hold ballasted by stones from the Plymouth Harbor shore, Jones set sail for England. As with the Pilgrims, her sailors had been decimated by illness, with Jones having lost his boatswain, his gunner, three quartermasters, the cook, and more than a dozen sailors.
The Mayflower made excellent time on her return voyage back to England. The westerly winds that had buffeted the ship coming out, pushed her along going home and she arrived at her home port in Rotherhithe on the Thames on May 5, 1621 – less than half the time it had taken her to sail to America.
Among the 102 passengers were six Essex residents from the Great Burstead area, south-west of Harwich. These included Christopher Martin, the Mayflower’s Treasurer who was responsible for provisioning the ship, his wife, step-son and servant, together with two single men from Great Burstead – Peter Browne and Richard Britteridge. All died that first winter in Plymouth except Peter Browne.
After Jones’ return from New England, by the summer of 1621 he had resumed his former trading voyages to Europe. But by this time it had become evident that the deprivations of the Pilgrim voyage had badly undermined his health as it had so many other Mayflower voyagers.
Christopher Jones died in early March 1622 at about age 52 after coming back from a voyage to France. St. Mary The Virgin in Rotherhithe records his burial as March 5 in their churchyard. Administration of his estate was granted to his widow August 26 following, but of the subsequent history of her and her young children nothing is known for certain.
The rector at St. Mary’s from 1611-1654 was Thomas Gataker, a man of puritan leanings, and Captain Jones may have learned Puritanism from him. Also from Rotherhithe were Mayflower part owners John Moore and First Mate John Clarke, after whom Clarke’s Island, Plymouth Bay, Massachusetts is named. Clarke had been baptized in St. Mary’s in 1575 and spent 1611-1616 as a prisoner of the Spanish.
Although St. Mary’s Church was rebuilt in 1715, it contains many memorials to sailors from the original (medieval) church, although Captain Jones’ grave was lost during the rebuilding.
Per St. Mary’s information, Jones’ body was buried in the churchyard but the exact location almost 400 years later is unknown.
There are two memorials in St. Mary’s to famous Rotherhithe resident Captain Jones and the Mayflower:
In 1995 a tablet in memorial of Captain Jones and the sailing of the Mayflower from Rotherhithe has been placed inside the St. Mary’s Church in the East end.
In 2004 a large round ‘blue plaque’ indicating a place of special interest, was placed on a wall outside St. Mary’s church tower. It denotes the sailing of the Mayflower in 1620 and of its commander, Captain Christopher Jones, as being of Rotherhithe.