Ellen Goes to America (Part 1)
by Alice Stratton

EDITOR'S NOTE: "Ellen Goes to America (Part 1)" was originally published in Friend, October 1982, p. 10.

The article is also available online at:

The article is reprinted here with permission.

The choppy waters of the North Sea gently rocked the Speedwell anchored at Delfshaven, Holland. Crowding the ship’s deck were the passengers, along with their families and friends who had come to say good-bye.

Roger gathered his little sister Ellen into his arms. “Be happy that you are going to America,” he said. Ellen wrapped her arms around his neck, and her tears wet his cheek. Releasing herself, she ran to her parents, Kathrine and Edward Howard.

“Oh, Papa! Mama!” she exclaimed. “I don’t want to go away and leave my sister and brother behind.”

“Don’t worry, little sister,” Sarah said, comforting her. “Roger and I will come to America before long. Just wait and see. And remember, Ellen, although you’re almost the littlest Pilgrim on board, you must be brave, because you’re going to a brave new world.”

“Sarah, why are Pilgrims so poor?” Ellen asked. “If we were rich enough, our whole family could go to America. Then I wouldn’t feel so awful.”

“Come on, Ellen, dry your tears. I’ll tell you what—let’s play one more game of pretend before you go. Let’s pretend that I have lots of bags of gold,” suggested Sarah.

Ellen liked to play pretend with Sarah. “What are you going to do with lots of bags of gold?” she asked.

“I’m going to buy a whole fleet of ships. I’ll tell all the Pilgrims to get aboard, and I’ll take them across the ocean where they can never be persecuted again.” Sarah’s smile broadened. “Better still, let’s pretend that I’m a genie. I’ll wrap a magic web around King James, and I’ll say, ‘Aye, Your Majesty, you’re going to be banished to a faraway island where you can never rant and rave and thunder at people or throw them into prison or hang them or clap them into the stocks again. Never again will you tell people how to worship, for they will belong to any church they like.’ And then I’ll sit and watch while he flies into a rage. His beard will bristle, and his face will turn red. Then he’ll spin off into the air to an island of peacocks and apes.”

As Ellen giggled, Sarah hugged her and said, “See, it’s better to laugh than to cry.”

Edward Howard had gone down the plank for one more piece of equipment. When Ellen saw him returning with a strange, heavy load, she asked, “Papa, why are you bringing that big iron screw clamp onto the ship?”

“I’m not sure,” he replied, “but something tells me we’re going to need it.” Papa had worked at the docks for the twelve years they’d been in Holland; he understood about ships.

Sarah and Roger were small when their parents had fled from England to Holland with a group of Separatists, or Pilgrims, but they still remembered the persecutions of King James I. Ellen had been born in Holland, and she loved it because it was home to her. The Dutch people were good to the Pilgrims, allowing them to worship as they pleased. But now the Pilgrim children were speaking mostly Dutch, and the older ones were marrying into Dutch families.

“No one would ever know you’re a little English girl,” Mama once said to Ellen.

“We need to find a country of our own,” Papa declared.

In church on Sundays Ellen bowed her head and listened to Elder Brewster pray. He always thanked Heavenly Father for the kindness the Dutch people had shown them, but lately he had been adding, “Please don’t let us lose our English heritage. Guide us to a land where we can worship as we desire and where we can bring up our children as Englishmen.”

Finally, the prayers were answered, and everyone knew that America was to be their land of promise. A London company agreed to pay their passage there in return for furs, fish, and lumber from America. A patent was given them to settle in the northern part of the Virginia colony. What the Pilgrims didn’t know was that the settlers in Virginia were still bound to the Anglican Church, because King James was not interested in granting freedom of worship to any of his subjects anywhere. However, the king was very interested in the wealth that the English emigrants would send back to England from America.

Since not everyone could go to America at once, it was agreed that Elder Brewster would go with the first group. Pastor John Robinson would remain with those who planned to come later.

So on a July morning in 1620, the emigrants gathered on the deck of the Speedwell and knelt with Pastor Robinson. He stretched his hands toward heaven and, with tears streaming down his cheeks, commended them to the Lord. Then he disembarked.

The people on shore were also crying as they watched the departing ship. Aboard the Speedwell, the rails were crowded with excited, heavyhearted passengers frantically waving a last farewell to those still lining the quay. Ellen waved at Sarah and Roger until they were finally lost from view.

They sailed for England where the Mayflower awaited them. From there the two ships started for America but had to turn back when the Speedwell began leaking badly. The passengers on the Speedwell had to board the Mayflower. Finally the Mayflower, with 102 passengers and its crew, set sail for America on September 16, 1620. Of these voyagers, only thirty-five were Pilgrims. The others were either members of the Anglican Church or strangers and had no intention of changing their religion.

Master Christopher Jones was a rough seadog, as sea captains sometimes had to be. He was also good and kind. He loved his stout, chunky Mayflower and said of her, “Aye, she is apple-cheeked, double-decked, and a fine, sweet ship.”

Closely packed below deck were the stores and livestock of the colony—goats, swine, poultry, bread, butter, cheese, eggs, fish, vegetables, clothing, books, cooking utensils, farm implements, muskets, armor, cannon, and goods for trade with the Indians. The ship’s cargo was so heavy that she rode very low in the sea.

While the Mayflower skimmed westward with the breeze in her sails, Ellen played on deck with four-year-old Mary Allerton, the youngest passenger on board.

“Mary,” Ellen said, “shall we play pretend?”

“How do we play pretend?” Mary asked.

“Well, first, you make believe you’re my sister. Now I need to find a brother. Let me see … John Howland will be just right.” Walking briskly up to him, she said, “Ahoy, mate. A jolly good day it is.”

“Righto!” replied John, grinning. “That it is.”

“Aye, and a jolly good day for pretending,” Ellen added. “Would you like to pretend you’re my brother?”

“I’d like that very much,” the boy answered.

“Then it’s all settled. We are a family. Families stick together on ocean voyages and help each other.” Pretending helped ease Ellen’s homesick longing for Sarah and Roger.

One day a gale came shrieking out of the north. It tugged at the rigging, and the ship strained and groaned. Below deck, the passengers huddled together and comforted each other.

Clinging to her father, Ellen cried, “Papa, is the ship going to sink?”

“No,” he replied. “The Lord wants us to arrive in America.”

“How do you know, Papa?”

“Because He saved us once before when we fled from England and were driven by storms on the North Sea. When the water washed over us, the mariners cried out, ‘We sink! We sink!’ With divine faith, Elder Brewster cried, ‘Yet, Lord, thou canst save!’ The ship recovered, the violent storm ceased, and the Lord filled our minds with much comfort.”

Just then a wall of water lashed across the deck of the Mayflower. Wood cracked and splintered, and the main beam buckled, pulling deck boards with it. Water seeped through to the lower deck.

Cries of terror went up. “The ship is sinking!” a seaman cried.

“Brewster,” a stranger sneered, “I’ve heard about the miracle on the North Sea. See if your prayers can save us now.”

Elder Brewster looked the man in the eye and said, “We know for a certainty the Lord can save. But right now we need to combine work with faith. Come, let’s be up on deck.”

Strong and lusty seamen were struggling against the winds and the waves. The passengers ran to help them push boards against the fractured beam, trying vainly to press it up and together again.

“This iron muscle will help!” Edward Howard shouted. He came forward carrying the great iron screw clamp he had brought from Holland, and the mast was soon repaired. In gratitude the Pilgrims knelt while Elder Brewster committed them once more to the Lord.

For several days the Mayflower wallowed in the subsiding storm. At the first hint of sunshine, Ellen tugged at John Howland’s hand. “I need you to walk on deck with me,” she said.

“All right, little sister, we both need the fresh air.”

On the upper deck, Ellen admiringly patted the main beam so securely mended with her father’s clamp. At that moment a capricious wave sloshed over the deck, and John was washed overboard. Clinging to the mast, Ellen screamed and screamed. Swiftly sailors came. Miraculously John had caught hold of the topsail halyard (rope) that was dangling over the side. The halyard ran out at length, but John held on tightly, and the sailors hauled him in.

Relieved, Ellen buried her face in her hands. “Lord, thank Thee for helping John get hold of the halyard,” she whispered.

Waves and wind were gentle at last. Sailors climbed rope ladders up the mainmast and loosed the sails. While the Mayflower sailed smoothly under the stars, the passengers sweetly slept.

When Ellen awoke, she heard the cry of a newborn baby. Her feet swiftly pattered past the cabin doors until she came to the bedside of Elizabeth Hopkins. Wrapped in a blanket beside her lay the tiny baby. Ellen stared in wonder.

Little Demaris Hopkins grinned and announced, “He’s my brother!”

“Just imagine, Demaris, having a brother born in the middle of the ocean!” Ellen exclaimed.

Steven Hopkins, the baby’s father, patted Ellen on the head. “Guess what we’re going to name him! We’re going to call him Oceanus (Latin word for ocean).”

“Oh, my!” Ellen exclaimed and ran swiftly to tell her mother.

Every day Elder Brewster led the daily prayers, in spite of jeers and complaints. If mighty King James had not intimidated the Pilgrims, however, surely the strangers on board could not.

One of the worst tormenters was a huge, brawny seaman. “Aye, I’ll be burying half of you praying psalm singers at sea,” he taunted. Often he cursed and swore at them bitterly. Then one morning he was stricken. By afternoon he was dead, and his lifeless body was lowered over the side of the ship.

For sixty-six long days and sixty-six long nights, they sailed westward. On the dawn of November 10, 1620, the lookout spied a faint dark line off the starboard bow and raised a cry: “Land, ahoy!” Excitedly the passengers crowded the rail, peering toward the horizon. “Aye, there she is!” Edward shouted. Encircling his wife and little daughter in his arms, he said, “We’re almost home. There is our first glimpse of America.”

All about them people were laughing and crying. As the promised land came closer into view, the Pilgrims burst into songs of joy.

(To be concluded.)