In September, 1620, a group of religious separatists boarded the Mayflower and began a 66 day trip from England to the New World. But the 102 humans were not the only passengers aboard the small ship — record shows that two dogs joined the pilgrims on their historic journey across the Atlantic.
The first mention of these two early canine settlers appeared in the 17th century publication “Mourt’s Relation,” a document describing the lives of America’s early colonizers.
Pilgrim John Goodman, a 25-year-old Mayflower passenger, brought his Mastiff and English Springer Spaniel along for the voyage. Though the names of these dogs were not recorded, they have been recognized in history for helping the pilgrims establish their settlement on Cape Cod.
Goodman’s dogs became essential members of the settlement, providing protection and accompanying their owner on hunts.
One January day Goodman and fellow pilgrim Peter Browne took a team of men into the wilderness to collect materials for thatch roofing. Around noon that day, Goodman and Browne took the dogs further out into the brush. Hours passed, and the team lost sight of Goodman and Browne. Alarmed, they went back to the village and gathered a search party, but it seemed the men were lost.
As it grew dark, Goodman, Browne, and the two dogs gathered close together for warmth. It was cold and snowy, and the men had wandered a full five miles off course. Throughout the night, they heard roaring in the distance that the men took to be lions. They held the dogs close to them to keep them from running towards the dangerous beasts.
The following morning, with the help of his dogs, Goodman and his companion tracked their way back towards their village. They reached the camp around nightfall, half-frozen and hungry. Without the Mastiff or Spaniel, the men likely would not have survived the night. Neither of the pilgrims had dressed for the weather, and Goodman’s toes were so frost-bitten that his boots had to be cut from his feet by a fellow villager.
Sadly, due to illness, Goodman did not survive that first winter in the New World, but his dogs were cared for by the remaining pilgrims. While it is unclear whether or not Goodman’s dogs were present at the first Thanksgiving that following November, painter of United States history, Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, included the English Springer Spaniel in his depiction of the pilgrims’ famous meal with the native Wampanoag tribe.
Sources: History.com, The Mayflower Dogs