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Mayflower, Day by Day - Sunday, 8 November 1620

8 Nov 2020 3:36 AM | Soule (Administrator)

Thomas Weston (1584-c.1647)

In response to a comment on the first of the posts on Captain Jones, perhaps something should be said about Thomas Weston, who was the villain (if any there was) of Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation.  In 1615 Weston, through his uncle, William Greene, "a man of much wealth," prevailed upon Edward Pickering, "then a shop keeper in Cheapside of mean estate," to become his agent in Holland. According to Weston's evidence, Pickering "professed himself to be so farre of the opinion with the Brownists such as that his conscience would not permit him to conf[orm to] the Church of England nor to allow of the Rites and Ceremonies thereby required and therein used, and that for his non Conformity to the same he was called in question and in danger and to undergoe the Censure of the Ch[urch] .... goe to Amsterdam in Holland where he might live in peace and enjoy the freedome of his Conscience, but for that the said Pickering had not acquaintance there nor meanes to get his liveing." Together Weston and Pickering began to import a variety of seditious (nonconformist) religious tracts into England. By 1619 he was implicated in a shady venture whereby one of his agents, Philemon Powell, imported 30 tons of alum and unloaded it secretly at night to avoid customs duties; he was observed and reported by a vigilant customs official. He and some of his associate Merchant Adventurers had been brought before the Privy Council and ordered to cease unlimited trade in the Netherlands.  Soon after, he left England and travelled to Leiden, where his agent Pickering had married a woman belonging to the Separatists.

What became the Plymouth colony was financed and begun under Thomas Weston’s direction, but he quit the enterprise in 1622.  As agent for the merchant adventurers' investment in the Mayflower voyage, Weston played a part in the transportation of the More children of Shropshire, who had been taken in 1616 in a dispute arising from their mother’s supposed adultery; the children had been held incommunicado in Shropshire for four years and were then taken to Weston and held at Weston’s home in Aldgate, London, for some weeks until the Mayflower was to sail. They were then given over (or indentured) to three Pilgrims for the voyage to the New World. Three of the four children died the first winter in Plymouth: only Richard More survived.

In early 1622, Thomas Weston began the colony of Wessagusset (Weymouth) which failed by March 1623; he left New England for Virginia, and by 1640, Maryland.  Phineas Pratt later wrote an account of the company's experience in Wessagusset.   Weston's activities in the Plymouth colony are detailed in Bradford's journal and Robert Cushman's letters. He was a Merchant Adventurer, promoter and capitalist, and a citizen and ironmonger of London. One derogatory comment recorded in records of the time summarises the rest: “He was eager to reap quick profits from the New World, and not very scrupulous about the means.” On 1 March 1622, Weston obtained an export license from the Privy Council to send cannon (thirty pieces of ordnance, the big guns weighing nearly two tons) to New England, intended for the use of the Plymouth Colony; the consignment came from the royal arsenal at the Tower of London, but it never reached America.  Weston sold it instead and pocketed the money: the ordnance was indeed taken aboard in England by Andrew Weston (Thomas’ brother), but "was sold abroad to Turkish pirates ... for extraordinary and excessive gain," or, as less hostile witnesses put it, "sold in some foreign part by Weston's direction, although the same was sold in a countrie both in peace and freindshippe to this Kingdome." The discovery of this capital offence, for which Thomas Weston appears never to have been pardoned, was his downfall. On 31 May 1622, the Council for New England ordered the immediate forfeiture of Weston's ships.  An inquisition was taken at the London Guildhall on 28 July 1622, and Weston’s assets, including Pickering's bond for £1500 and his own for £800 to the King, were ordered forfeit and Weston was declared an outlaw from the Crown. When he arrived in New England in 1622, Thomas Weston was penniless and wearing borrowed clothes, and he was soon expelled.  His activities and movements thereafter remain obscure, but by 1641 he was again visiting England and, so it would appear, still being sought by authority for his old misdemeanours. Thomas Weston's residence during his last years was the 1250 acre Westbury Manor on the east side of St. George's Creek in Saint Mary's County, Maryland, laid out for him on 10 January 1642/3.  According to Charles Andrews: "Weston, after squeezing all he could out of the Pilgrims, became a planter and burgess in Virginia, where he made trading and fishing voyages to the Maine coast. After being arrested more than once for breaking the Colony's laws, he went to Maryland, acquired new property, and returned to England;” he died in London or Bristol of the plague between 5 May 1647 and 29 November 1648. (The Colonial Period of American History [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press; 1934-38] 3:184).

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