Probably the worst trial of the Mayflower’s voyage was the terrifying break in a main beam during a storm which threatened the Mayflower with foundering. The crew dragged a spare beam up from the ship’s hold and placed it under the broken beam but could not keep it in place.
In his History William Bradford says only that “for the buckling of the main beam, there was a great iron screw that the passengers brought out of Holland, which would raise the bream into his place.” Historians assumed that the screw was part of their printing press. Yet lately they suggest it was a housebuilding tool which the colonists would use to build their village in the New World.
Perhaps Bradford did not mention the “great iron screw” as part of a printing press because the activities of William Brewster, his fellow pilgrim and renegade printer in Holland, had put Brewster in jeopardy with King James. The King’s men searched for Brewster in Holland while he hid in England until the Mayflower’s departure from Southampton in 1620.
Living in poverty, the Pilgrims had to be practical. The wilderness offered unlimited building materials to anyone willing to start from scratch. If the screw was part of their printing press it might have served two purposes: one, as it had been in Holland, a means of advancing their biblical Christianity to the world, and two, in the wilderness, a tool for building houses.
One thing is for sure. Without the screw, in all likelihood, the Mayflower may never have been heard from again, lost at sea, and with it the crew and passengers. No Mayflower Compact. No Plimoth Plantation. Throughout the endless ordeals of the Pilgrims, the Hand of Providence always seemed to intervene and get them through, if even by the skin of their teeth. [Edited Nov. 22, 2021]