Log in

Soule Kindred In America

Mayflower, Day by Day - Saturday, 17 October 1620

17 Oct 2020 2:41 AM | Soule (Administrator)

Who were the Strangers?

Willison’s dichotomy, mentioned yesterday, in which the Saints and Strangers were fairly evenly balanced, was forcefully challenged by Jeremy Bangs in Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners: Leiden and the Foundations of Plymouth Plantation (Plymouth, MA: GSMD, 2009).  Bangs pointed out not only Willison’s bias against “the original Leiden religious fanatics” (as Willison considered the “Saints”), as well as his characterisation of the whole group recruited in London as “Strangers.”  Willison understood the Saints to be mostly members of the Scrooby community, and assumed most of those who came from London, and almost all of the servants, would be either hostile to or indifferent to the separatists’ goals.  Bangs made his own calculations, and came up with a new estimate of the London contingent: “the total number of Mayflower passengers who can be identified as having joined from London is seventeen, plus the four Moore children and John Alden. … [This] leaves 80 of the 102 passengers who were either from Leiden or of uncertain origin but likely to have been from Leiden.”  Caleb Johnson in 2005 published an article (TAG 80 [2005] 94-99) analysing the structure of Bradford’s 1651 list of passengers, and argued that those who came from Leiden and those who did not were organised into different groupings.  This article has received a good deal of respect, although a growing consensus has removed Miles Standish from the category of “Leading ‘Strangers’,” noting Standish’s close relationship with John Robinson prior to 1620 and the possibility that he was actually living in Leiden before the voyage.  Robert Charles Anderson has also done research on the servants, and has noted that in most cases we know nothing about the English origins of many of them (John Howland being a significant exception), so we cannot tell where or when they became associated with the Leiden families.  Anderson, Johnson, Sue Allen and Simon Neal have all done extensive research about the English origins of the Mayflower passengers, both those from Leiden and those who came directly from England, providing a much fuller picture. 

Few of the passengers had absolutely no connection at all with the Leiden community, which would only make sense -- if they had no knowledge of it, how would they have found out about the proposed journey in the first place?  Nothing is known for sure of the religious inclinations of John Billington and his wife, but, as Anderson states, “the persistent antisocial behavior of this family once they arrived in New England suggests they did not share the religious beliefs of most of the other Mayflower passengers.”  Nothing is known about the English origins or religious beliefs of John Alden or seven other single men (Britteridge, Clarke, English, Ely, Gardiner, Margesson and Trevor).  The four More children (aged between four and eight) presumably did not have any firm religious convictions of their own at that time, but Samuel More’s father Richard More of Linley was a man of “firm, if not radical, puritan sympathies,” suggesting that “religious considerations influenced the Mores in choosing this particular way of disposing of the children,” (MD 44:113-116 -- “being the offspring of scandal and sin, [the children] were to be given the opportunity of a new life in a righteous community”).  Although Christopher Martin was frequently at loggerheads with the Leiden community, in 1612 and 1620 he was presented to church courts for activities that indicate he held puritan views.

Finally, to reiterate my comments of yesterday, the religious views of the passengers likely were on a spectrum, rather than a strict “either/or.”  Anderson concludes, “the boundary between puritan and separatist was quite porous.  A person who remained nominally within the Church of England but who also frequently attended private puritan meetings might differ little in practice and belief from another person who had made the decision to leave the Church of England.”  The picture that appears from Anderson’s Puritan Pedigrees: The Deep Roots of the Great Migration to New England (Boston: NEHGS, 2018) is that of a siren call amalgamating separatists and puritans and non-conformists from many corners of England, united by religion, family ties and acquaintanceship.  Identifying the "Strangers" is further complicated by the fact that while "Saints" can be classified using several beliefs held in common or traits that were in evidence, there is no one characteristic that makes a "Stranger."


  • 17 Oct 2020 3:00 AM | Soule (Administrator)
    In dozens of books, articles, and editorials written over the last year and referencing the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s voyage, writers (and native activists) have raged -- at length -- against the errors of “what everyone was taught at school.” Having read many of these, I can only conclude that no two of these people went to the same school, and none of them went to any school that I ever attended. The story presented when I was in grammar school (in the 1960s), accurate in part and erroneous in part, was that the passengers on the Mayflower were mostly in search of wealth, like Jamestown, except they had some religious fanatics on board; they were blown off course to New England, where most of them died until they were saved by the Indians, whom they invited to a three day Thanksgiving dinner. In a thoroughly unscientific survey I made of about a dozen young men and women who are currently in grammar school or high school in seven states, I discovered that only one had ever heard mention of the Pilgrims or the Mayflower in school. When another of them, a Mayflower descendant, went to the post office to get the new Mayflower stamps, the postmaster responded to him, “What’s the Mayflower?” For the most part, schools are not propagating errors. They are simply ignoring history.
    Link  •  Reply

Copyright 2019 - Soule Kindred In America is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization - Boston, MA 

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software