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Mayflower, Day by Day - Sunday, 3 January [1620]/21

3 Jan 2021 2:43 AM | Soule (Administrator)

At anchor, Plymouth harbour 

Second Sunday here.  “Our people on shore heard a cry of some savages (as they thought) which caused an alarm, and to stand on their guard, expecting an assault, but all was quiet.”

This day Solomon Prower died, son of Mary and step-son of Christopher Martin.  Solomon’s death was the sixth this month, and the second in this harbour: the passengers are now well below one hundred.  A burying-party went ashore with Prower’s body, despite it being the Sabbath.

Caleb Johnson notes (Mayflower Descendants, 199) that Solomon did not sign the Mayflower Compact, and concluded that he was not yet 21 (putting his birth somewhere between 1600 and 1606, when his widowed mother married Christopher Martin).  Solomon, like his stepfather, was charged with ecclesiastical offenses while in Great Burstead, Essex: he was presented to the Archdeacon’s Court for “refusing to answer me at all unless I would ask him some question in some other catechism” (i.e., in some catechism other than the Book of Common Prayer, which the Puritans rejected).  Johnson, however, later placed his birth in 1597, as the son of Edward and Mary Prower, since “Solomon Prower, singleman,” was on night watch duty in Billericay on 15 September 1619, and must therefore have been at least 21 at the time (Mayflower Quarterly 76 [2010]:242-246).  If this is correct, then Solomon is a tenth adult male who did not sign the Mayflower Compact, bringing the non-signers to 20% of the adult male passengers. 

Caleb Johnson notes in “Mary (Prower) Martin: A new Mayflower ancestor” that since Mary Prower (her maiden name is unknown) was a Mayflower passenger, all of her children by her first marriage (five are known) would be Mayflower descendants.  Edward, the eldest, was born around 1594, and was probably named for his father; Solomon, the second son, was born around 1596.  Two of the children died in infancy, and Solomon died (unmarried) in Plymouth Harbour, so if there are any descendants of Mary Prower living today, they would be descendants of either Edward Prower or Mary Prower (baptised 21 June 1601, and presumably named after her mother -- nothing further is known about her).

“News of Solomon Prower’s death in America,” Johnson continues, “would have returned to the families in England with the Mayflower, which arrived back in May 1621.  Three months later, Edward Prower and his wife Dorothy registered the baptism of their first child at Great Burstead, naming him Solomon Prower.  There seems little doubt that Edward named his son after his recently deceased brother Solomon.  The young infant Solomon Prower did not survive very long … So important was the family name that Edward and Dorothy named their next child Solomon as well, baptised 22 November 1622.”  Why was the name Solomon so important to this family?  Is this a clue for some other relative’s name who has not been previously identified?  Edward and Dorothy Prower (Solomon’s older brother and sister-in-law) also had a daughter (Martha Prower), and there is no burial record in the parish for either Solomon or Martha, so it is entirely possible that they survived to adulthood, married, and left behind descendants.  Caleb Johnson, in the same article, has also turned up a son of Mary (Prower) and Christopher Martin named Nathaniel, who was in trouble with ecclesiastical authorities in March 1619 for “answering [the vicar] crosslie,” perhaps during catechism instruction.  So if there are any descendants of Nathaniel Martin, they, too, would be Mayflower descendants.

* * * * *

The issue about answering questions that was brought to the Archdeacon’s court has to do with the catechism of the Book of Common Prayer.  In the “Instruction to be learned of every person before he be brought to be Confirmed by the Bishop,” the first two questions are: Q: “What is your name?” Answer: N. or N.N.  Q: “Who gave you this name?”  Answer: My Godfathers and Godmothers in my Baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.  Solomon Prower (and probably Nathaniel Martin), following their parents, refused to answer these questions because they were associated with baptismal ceremonies that were not contained in Scripture, and were part of the preparation for Confirmation, a sacrament rejected by the Puritans.  Actually, smart-mouthed Solomon Prower is recorded (11 April 1620) to have answered “Mr. Pease the vicar when he asked him who gave him his name: he answered him he did not knowe because his father was dead and he did not knowe his godfathers” (MQ 76 [2010]: 243, from the Essex Record Office, Archdeaconry Records D/AEA 31 folio 279d).  I have often been amused by the difference in the opening questions of various catechisms: the Baltimore Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church starts out: “Who made you?”; the Westminster Catechism of the Reformed tradition starts out “What is the chief end of man?”  The Book of Common Prayer catechism (Anglican) sets the bar much lower with “What is your name?”

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