Mayflower 400, towards 2020

Plymouth has been the starting point for many great 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 Pilgrims, the indigenous populations, as well as other migrants to the North America, including slaves.

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.”

This story goes beyond the sharing of place names and is celebrated by many in the United States as the beginning of a national legacy and, in the UK, as the foundation of one of the most enduring alliances the world has ever known.

The Mayflower 400 commemorations are therefore an opportunity to celebrate those ties, and build new enduring collaborations and friendships. To steer our future, inspired by the past.

Key date

  • 16 September 2020 

  • Embarkation day

Pioneering projects

Not only is Plymouth University involved with programming the city-wide celebrations for Mayflower 400, we are 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.

An exciting events programme


The University is a proud sponsor of the city’s annual ‘Festival of Light’ which engages our local community towards Mayflower 400. This activity aligns with the research practice of Professor Chris Bennewith. Professor Bennewith who has recently joined the University as Head of the School of Art, Design and Architecture helped lead the Lux Festival in New Zealand and has been involved in the design of a spectacular sound and light display for Christmas at Kew Gardens

15th annual conference of the Transatlantic Studies Association

Academics and scholars from around the world came to Plymouth University for the 15th annual conference of the Transatlantic Studies Association (TSA).

Taking place at the University from 4-6 July 2016, the conference featured a series of talks, presentations and discussion groups centred around the United States and its international relationships past, present and future.

It featured a huge array of topics, ranging from contemporary poetry to cartography, Native Americans to nuclear disarmament, and cinema to slavery.

Discover more about the event

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.   

In November 2016 one of the country’s most high profile legal figures, the Rt Hon Sir Brian Leveson, came to Plymouth to deliver the 23rd annual Pilgrim Fathers lecture on criminal law in the 21st century.

Find out more about the latest lecture

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.

Plymouth University – an award winning institution

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