Babes in the woods
We have already seen the trouble Billingtons could get into: Francis Billington almost blew up the Mayflower before it even got to Plymouth, and climbed a tree to discover a large body of water that is known as Billington’s Sea even now; John Billington, his father, was subject to the first criminal action in the colony (for insubordination against Myles Standish), and, as we have already discovered, came to no good end within a decade.
His sixteen year old son, John Billington [junior], at just about this time, wandered off to the south of Plymouth and got horribly, horribly lost. For five days he wandered aimlessly about, living on roots, berries, nuts and anything else that was even remotely edible.
Although Bradford in his journal records that the party sent to retrieve John Billington left at the end of July, Mourt’s Relation states that they left on 11 June (o.s., or 21 June in the Gregorian calendar we use). We learn from the earlier narrative that he had been held by the natives for some time before the Pilgrims were informed of his whereabouts, and that he had wandered around south of Plymouth for at least five days before he stumbled across the Indian settlement at Manomet. It would thus appear that John’s disappearance happened just about now, and this fits into the timeline more easily at the beginning of June rather than the end of July, when Edward Winslow and Stephen Hopkins were going back and forth on their diplomatic trips to various local Indian tribes. It seems unlikely that the Pilgrims would have attempted any contact with tribes (and certainly not out to the Nauset, the natives of the “first encounter”) while these two were away or otherwise occupied.