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In August 1620, a group of religious Englishmen known as the pilgrims wait on a Southampton dock to sail to America. Their trip has been financed by Virginia investors, who plan to make a compact with the voyagers to work five days a week for the Virginia company and two days for themselves. Although not a pilgrim himself, young carpenter John Alden is eager for adventure and signs on for the voyage, as do several others. The captain of the ship, called The Mayflower , is Christopher Jones, a cynic, who takes payment from Mr. Weston of the Virginia company to change the ship's course to New England but not tell the passengers. Once onboard, John finds himself quartered with William Brewster, the fugitive leader of the pilgrims, but does not tell the authorities. Just before the Mayflower sets sail, Weston reveals that terms of the compact have been changed and the settlers will need to work seven days a week for the company. When the passengers refuse to sign, Jones realizes that Weston had planned this and had secretly been buying the bankrupt New England company in the hope that the hardworking pilgrims would make it profitable. Because the voyage has already been paid for, Jones agrees to keep his passengers. The night before sailing, Jones gets drunk in a local tavern and when he comes back onboard, encounters Dorothy Bradford, the pretty, younger wife of William Bradford. Attracted to Dorothy, Jones tries to force himself on her, but her screams summon Bradford. The next morning, August 6th, the Mayflower and its companion ship, the Speedwell set sail. Young William Button happily says that he will be the first to see the new world, a vow written down by Gilbert Winslow, who chronicles the voyage. By August 15th, the Speedwell is on the verge of sinking and Jones determines that both ships must return to England. Although the passengers concur, Jones is irritated that Bradford has insisted that the passengers vote on the issue. In Plymouth, eighteen of the Mayflower passengers decide to remain in England, and the rest vote to allow those on the Speedwell to sail with them, despite Jones's warnings of danger and short rations. After setting sail again, the Mayflower encounters dry weather, and water is limited. When John helps fellow passenger Priscilla Mullins obtain some fresh water for washing, she then passes it around, and eventually Dorothy tosses it overboard. First mate Coppin sees this and drags her to Jones, who reveals how low the water supply is, but says that there is always water for a friend of the captain. Insulted, Dorothy rushes back to her cabin, where Bradford brusquely tells her not to interact with the sailors. Soon the weather turns cold and William, among others, comes down with lung fever. A large storm hits, and the passengers are terrified. When a woman mistakenly reports that her son is on deck, Bradford goes to find him and falls into the water, but is saved by Jones and Gilbert. As the storm rages, the mast falls and one of the timbers beneath the deck breaks. The ship is only saved from foundering when John suggests that they use a large printing press in the cargo hold to hoist the ceiling. The press works and for the first time, Jones smiles. After the storm passes, Dorothy goes to Jones to thank him for saving her husband. He sends her away, but notices that before leaving, she gently touches his jacket. By October, the voyage has taken its toll on the passengers, many of whom have come down with fever or scurvy. Rations and firewood are dangerously low as the cold increases. One night, Dorothy approaches Jones on deck. He admits his longing for her, but she merely says that she has discovered his secret, that he has a heart. On Wednesday, November 8th, the sixty-fourth day of their voyage, one of the dogs on the ship finds a dead land bird. Some of the passengers bring William on deck, but as he looks out, he collapses and dies. After he is buried at sea, land is finally sighted. Although the passengers think that they have reached Virginia, crewman Greene tells them that it is New England, but assumes that they will stay only a few days before sailing on. When Bradford and the other leaders go to see Jones, he tells them that they will be staying in New England. Bradford, who guessed that their arrival in New England was not accidental, tells Jones that they have decided to stay because it is less tied to England than the Virginia colony, and says that the colonists have far greater inner strength than Jones. Bradford then suggests a new compact to the other passengers, one that will unite them in the new world. Some of the men, led by Bradford, go ashore in the area they call New Plymouth. Before leaving the ship, Bradford tells Dorothy that everything that has happened on the ship will be forgotten, then reveals how much she means to him. Later, Dorothy goes to Jones's cabin to ask him to stay instead of taking the ship back to England as planned. He asks her to return with him, and they kiss, but she says that it is wrong to leave her husband. Jones counters that it is equally wrong to stay and think of another man, after which a troubled Dorothy goes on deck. Three days later, the men return, and Bradford is told by Brewster that Dorothy went over the side and drowned. After showing his contempt for Bradford, Jones goes to his cabin and sobs. When Coppin comes to the cabin to demand they sail back to England, Jones fights him and orders his crew to return to their posts. In early April, the fifty-six colonists who lived through the winter are thriving, with houses built and crops planted. Jones, who has become a trusted friend, is bid farewell by the grateful colonists, and he thanks them for teaching him about the human spirit. Prior to sailing, Jones admits to Bradford, with whom he has become close, that he loved Dorothy, but says that she never betrayed her husband. As the Mayflower sets sail, it fires a salute.