The Arbella, or the Arabella, was the flagship of the Winthrop fleet that traveled from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony (MBC) in the New World from April 8th - June 12th, 1630. The future colonists arrived in Salem, MA, carrying the Charter of the MBC. The ship is famous because of its renowned passengers, including poet Anne Bradstreet and John Winthrop, the future governor of the colony. Winthrop gave his famous “City upon a Hill” speech on the deck of the Arabella. The ship was originally called the Eagle, but the name was changed to honor a member of the company, Lady Arabella Johnson, the daughter of Thomas Clinton, 3rd Earl of Lincoln.
The ship sailed for the New World during what was later deemed the Year of the Great Migration. The Puritans that immigrated to the colonies during this time were doing so for religious reasons; they disagreed with the Church of England’s regulations and were wary of the growing political dissension over religion, which culminated in the dissolution of Parliament in March 1629. A group of these disillusioned Puritans obtained a charter for the Massachusetts Bay Colony and prepared to depart from Mother England for good.
The mostly wealthy British individuals sent about 300 colonists to the New World five months prior to the departure of the Winthrop Fleet. However, the colony leaders, including Winthrop, who had already been elected Governor of the Fleet and the Colony, remained in England over the winter in order to recruit more families for the journey. They particularly focused on bringing skilled workers to the New World.
The Winthrop voyage departed from Yarmouth, the Isle of Wight, on April 8th, 1630. Seven hundred men, women, and children traveled aboard three ships. John Winthrop’s journal recounts a rather peaceful and uneventful trip, although he does describe the frigid weather and the boredom of the children onboard.
One historical article describes the grand ship Arabella thusly:
The stunning new vessel, reinforced with ship’s knees, iron rods and wood tree-nails or trunnels, was the mighty three-masted English ship Eagle. She also became known to history as the Arbella. She was a large vessel for those times, rated at between 350- and 400-ton cargo carrying capacity. She had an eagle figurehead, three masts and carried more than 20 cannon. Her crew consisted of 50 to 100 able-bodied seamen, needed in those days to hoist anchor, haul lines and, in cases of armed conflict, man the deafening guns. She was likely more than 100 feet long and about 30 feet wide.
When the ships arrived in the New World, Winthrop assumed governorship of the colony, even though John Endicott's voyage three years earlier was technically the first settlement in the MBC.
“A Model of Christian Charity” explains Winthrop's perception that the Puritans' noble mission was to act as a shining example of Christianity for the rest of the world, as he outlines in his famous "City Upon A Hill" Speech. Winthrop understood that the colonists' endeavor was being closely observed by the world and exhorted his fellow passengers to act virtuously and righteously. The most famous passage from Winthrop's speech is the following:
For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God's sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.
The voyage of the Arbella was thus one of the most significant events of colonial times, and the Englishmen and women who sailed across the ocean would be instrumental in shaping the course of American history.