The Real Reason the Mayflower Landed at Plymouth Rock: Beer

You should be giving thanks for beer this Thanksgiving. Here’s why.

September 1620. The merchant ship, The Mayflower, left Plymouth England and set sail for the Virginia colony in North America. The passengers, known as Pilgrims today, were escaping religious persecution and seeking a new life. 


If you know your history, then you know that the Mayflower didn’t end up landing in Virginia. But you may wonder why.

While the ship did get blown off course, the crew and passengers were aware that they weren’t in the right place. Instead of heading farther south to Virginia, they made port in what is now Massachusetts. They landed at what they termed Plymouth Rock. 

Not as big as you imagined?

Not as big as you imagined?


The real reason that the Mayflower stopped at Plymouth Rock wasn’t due to bad directions, but because they ran out of beer. Yep, that’s right. Back in the 1600s beer was more or less considered a key part of one’s diet. Water on the other hand was the suspect beverage. Water tended to get pretty germy and wasn’t clean and filtered like we’ve grow accustomed to here in the Western world today. Beer though, beer could be kept on a ship in barrels for a long period of time with no ill effects or major germs. So, along with the benefits of getting a little buzz, beer was important for the Pilgrims and the sailors that were aboard the Mayflower. 

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It was so important that the sailors refused to continue sailing until they were assured that they could get more beer. One of the key pieces of evidence for this came from a pilgrim’s journal stating, “We could not take time for further search or consideration [for the Virginia colony], our victuals being much spent, especially our beer.”


The sailors on the Mayflower refused to keep sailing. So, the new colonists had to hop off the boat and start working on their own Plymouth brewing. The first thing they likely set up was their new brewery. I’m sure it didn’t take long for the Pilgrims to start drinking beer again. 


It wasn't just the Pilgrims that were thirsty in the new world, though. The English were already known for their beer back then. Samoset, a subordinate chief of a Native American tribe that lived near the Plymouth colony approached the Pilgrims not long after they had landed in the New World. The first question he supposedly asked: Do you have any beer? He had learned English from English fisherman who frequented the coast of North America who had also given him his first taste of English beer. 

If you want to learn more about beer and the history of America, I suggest you check out one of my favorite books: America Walks Into a Bar. Click the image below to check it out.

Bryant HoltComment