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Mayflower, Day by Day - Thursday, 17 December 1620

17 Dec 2020 3:14 AM | Soule (Administrator)

Third death: death of first woman passenger

Dorothy May Bradford, wife of William Bradford, who was away with the exploring party to the westward, fell over board and was drowned.  Sue Allan has done substantial work on Dorothy’s English origins, and has connected her to the White family -- so that it appears probable that Susannah White, wife of William White and mother of newborn Peregrine White, was Dorothy’s aunt.  Dorothy was born in 1597 and came from Wisbech in Cambridgeshire: for further information, the result of old-fashioned traditional research, see Sue Allan, In the Shadow of Men: The Lives of Separatist Women (Burgess Hill: Domtom Publishing, 2020), 59-69.  In 1869, Jane Goodwin Austin’s short story, “William Bradford’s Love Life” in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine suggested that Dorothy Bradford had jumped overboard as a suicide because of unrequited love for Captain Christopher Jones.  Although this is clearly fiction, this is the first time (two hundred and fifty years after the fact) that suicide while of unsound mind had been given as the cause of death.  It has since, unaccountably, been taken as established fact by a number of writers.  Given the fact that the Mayflower’s decks were slippery and coated with ice and snow, Dorothy was undoubtedly wearing (several layers of) heavy woollen garments and her shoes had flat, smooth leather soles, and that once she hit the freezing sea water death would have happened in minutes, there is no reason to conclude that this was necessarily suicide.  While it is not impossible, there is nothing to suggest this in the facts of this case.

Meanwhile, back on shore:

The exploration party looked for a possible place for permanent settlement around present day Wellfleet: some took the shallop and went down the coast, while others struck inland.  Those on land found plenty of graves, more numerous than before, but when they determined that they were Indian graves, they left them alone.  They also found abandoned Indian houses, with some of them appearing to have been recently abandoned; here again, they left them alone.  Neither the shallop nor the shore party found any place for a settlement or for an anchorage.  When the two parties were reunited at dusk at what is now called Herring River, a small tidal creek, they gathered tree trunks and branches into a circular barricade, stationed guards at the small opening in the makeshift palisade, and tried to get some sleep.

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