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Soule Kindred In America

Mayflower, Day by Day - Monday, 12 October 1620

12 Oct 2020 2:45 AM | Soule (Administrator)

Teenaged Boys

As mentioned earlier, the most numerous age group of passengers were teenaged boys (perhaps 24 boys between 10 and 18, out of 102 passengers).  This, as you might expect, caused some problems both on board and on shore.  Francis Billington nearly caused a disaster onboard the Mayflower shortly after arrival in Plymouth Harbour, when he shot off his father's gun inside a cabin, sending sparks towards an open barrel of gunpowder.  After he came ashore, he climbed up a tree and claimed to have spotted a "great sea" in the distance: a small pond that still carries the name "Billington's Sea" even today. The affidavit of Francis Billington (Plymouth County Deeds, v. 1, 81), dated 1674, in which he declared himself sixty-eight years old, would indicate that he was born in 1606, and hence must have been about fourteen years of age when he (almost) blew up the Mayflower.  John Billington, who was perhaps two years older than his brother Francis, was lost in the wood and, “living on berries and what he could find” for several days, was returned to Plymouth from Nauset (Eastham) where he had been safeguarded by the Indians on Cape Cod.  I have seen comments online suggesting that the Billingtons were Roman Catholic recusants, but no documentation for this seems to be offered.  If this is true, it would explain quite a bit of the friction between the family and the rest of the community.  The Billingtons were the only household to come through the epidemic of the first winter unscathed, which rather mystified (and perhaps annoyed) the Saints.  Francis Billington’s descendants include President James A. Garfield and (perhaps appropriately) Taylor Swift and three of the Beach Boys. 

The early eighteenth century notes of Thomas Prince describe an incident of 18 June 1621 when the first duel (“upon a challenge at single combat with sword and dagger") was fought in New England between two servants of Stephen Hopkins, Edward Doty (probably in his early twenties) and Edward Leister (of a similar age): they were the last two men to sign the Mayflower Compact, which has led some to speculate they may have been originally unwilling to sign and required some, um, er, “persuasion.”  The duel ended with one being wounded in the hand and one in the thigh. Their punishment was to be tied head and feet together for twenty-four hours without meat or drink. But soon their master Stephen Hopkins, apparently taking pity on their "great pains", made a "humble request, upon promise of a better carriage" and they were released.  Leister eventually moved to Virginia, but Doty (spelled in a variety of ways) remained in Plymouth, married at least twice, and raised a numerous family.

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