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  • 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."

  • 16 Oct 2020 2:43 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Who were the Saints?

    George Willison (Saints and Strangers - Being the Lives of the Pilgrim Fathers & Their Families, with Their Friends & Foes: & and Account of Their Posthumous Wanderings in Limbo, Their Final Resurrection & Rise to Glory, & the Strange Pilgrimages of Plymouth Rock [London: William Heinemann, Ltd., 1945]) set the categories for discussion of the divisions of the Plymouth Colony for the next several generations.  His writing was vivid, but his purpose, to debunk the Pilgrims, or, in the words of a reviewer, “to rescue [the Pilgrims] from their friends who have praised them too highly” led him into far too many extreme positions and absurd conclusions.  Genealogists, in particular, have to use this work with care, because Willison overlooked many recent discoveries in the research which had not yet made their way into the general works in the field; the numerous works that have appeared in the seventy-five years that have passed since its first publication have laid bare scores of additional errors.  All of Willison’s pictures are black and white -- Saints or Strangers.  In his repeated stress on the “guile of the Saints” he gives an unjustifiably bad picture of them.  By dwelling at great length on the sexual irregularities among them he overemphasises that side of their lives.  These misinterpretations and most of the factual errors in the book arise from the unscholarly criteria which Willison chose to follow.  In his bibliography he places the three asterisks of highest approval only against secondary works which he describes as “altogether interesting and relevant”; that the books should be historically sound and based on modern scholarship he does not consider important.

    But Willison’s dichotomy between Saints and Strangers seems to have lasted, as numerous editorials published last month for the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s departure show -- it even gave a name to a recent National Geographic film.  The “standard” or “schoolbook” depiction of the Mayflower passengers (mostly merchant adventurers with a few religious zealots) owes quite a bit to Willison’s technique of implied slander.  I will address what I call “the numbers game” in a couple of days, but pause here to make some basic comments: Willison divides the 104 passengers on the Mayflower into 41 Saints, 40 Strangers, 5 hired hands, and 18 servants.  Some, indeed many, of these identifications have been revisited and rejected.  Willison’s bias against the Saints may very well have led him to underestimate that category.

    It is also important to realise that there is not a single litmus test to determine whether one is a Saint or a Stranger, although it is easy to determine that the Brewsters are firmly in the camp of the Saints, and the Billingtons are definitely Strangers.  While membership in the Leiden congregation is a good indication of religious affiliation, absence from that list does not necessarily mean that a passenger was not a Saint.  But even among the “Saints,” there is something of a spectrum, as there is in any congregation.  Trying to make too clean a split between Separatists and Puritans. Saints and Strangers, overlooks the fact that the religious issues changed over time, and people moved between groups.  It is also vital to pay attention to English origins and family connections -- work that has been done by Robert Charles Anderson and Sue Allan in recent years -- which can identify passengers who, even if they are not “hot Protestants” (in Michael Winship’s term) were definitely more than simply “fellow travellers.”  There was a certain homogeneity in the Plymouth Colony, which contributed to its failure: it is significant that the Colony was woefully unable to attract clergymen of their own stripe to minister to them -- Robinson stayed in Holland, and died without ever coming to the New World.  Almost all of the clergy who came to the colony were from Massachusetts, many were Harvard trained, and of a far more “establishment” mindset than the Pilgrims.

  • 15 Oct 2020 3:51 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Dating and Calendars

    Confusion about the dates is caused by the fact that the Pilgrims used the Julian calendar, while we use the Gregorian calendar. The principal, but not the only, difference between the two is when they have leap days.  Technically, the two calendars do “agree” for 1 March AD 200 through 28 February AD 300, but those dates really do not occur in Mayflower history.

    The Julian calendar has one leap day every four years.  Thus, the average length of a Julian year is 365¼ days.  The difference with the actual length of a tropical year is small and not immediately noticeable, but it does add up over the centuries, making the Julian calendar slowly drift relative to the seasons.  The Gregorian calendar fixes the drift issue, through a more complex leap day rule, to better match the actual length of a year. The leap year rule is this: years that are multiples of four are leap years, except that years that are multiples of 100 are not, and years that are multiples of 400 are leap years.  The Julian calendar is named after Julius Caesar, who introduced it as a reform of the Roman calendar. The Gregorian calendar was instituted by the papal bull Inter gravissimas (24 February 1582) of Pope Gregory XIII, after whom the calendar is named, because he noticed Easter shifting relative to the seasons.  At that time, the accumulated error of the Julian calendar was ten leap days. To correct for this drift, it was decided to simply skip ten calendar days; Thursday 4 October 1582 on the Julian calendar was followed by Friday 15 October 1582 on the Gregorian calendar.  Parts of the Low Countries (Brabant, Zeeland, the County of Holland, and the States General of the Netherlands) adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582, while other parts of the Low Countries (Frisia, Overjissel, Utrecht) switched in 1700; Great Britain and its colonies kept using the Julian calendar till 1751.  While living in Leiden, the Pilgrims must have used the Gregorian calendar, because others around them did so, but they certainly did not approve of what was seen as papal usurpation of a civil prerogative, namely, the determination of a calendar. William Bradford's journal, Of Plimoth Plantation uses the Julian calendar throughout.

    One year is 365.24219 days, so 400 years is 146,096.876 days. If you want to commemorate something 400 years after it happened, you should do so 146,097 days later. That number happens to be a multiple of seven, so you’ll actually end up on the same day of the week [!!], which is a nice bonus.  It does not matter in which calendar you add the 146,097 days; if you start with the same day in one calendar, you end up with the same day in that same calendar. Four hundred years after 5 October 1620 on the Julian calendar is 2 October 2020 on the Julian calendar (5 October 2020 minus three days: see below). Four hundred years after 15 October 1620 on the Gregorian calendar is 15 October 2020 on the Gregorian calendar. Back in 1620, the difference between the two calendars was ten days; it has since grown to thirteen days. The date 2 October 2020 [Julian calendar] and 15 October 2020 [Gregorian calendar] are the same day. But Thursday, 15 October 2020 is exactly 400 years since Thursday, 15 October1620.

    To make this slightly more confusing, the first date of the new year was 25 March each year, since this was the anniversary of the Incarnation of Christ.  Thus, although we start the new year on 1 January, for the Pilgrims, the new year did not begin for almost three months.  William Mullins died on 3 March 1621 (Gregorian calendar), but 21 February 1620 in the Julian calendar.  The Calendar (New Style) Act 1750 (24 Geo II c.23; also known as Chesterfield's Act after Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield), an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain, had two parts: first, it reformed the calendar of England and the British Dominions so that the new legal year began on 1 January, rather than 25 March (Lady Day); and, second, Great Britain and its Dominions adopted (in effect) the Gregorian calendar, as already used in most of western Europe.

  • 14 Oct 2020 3:27 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    “after many difficulties in boisterous storms”

    In 1603, James VI of Scotland was crowned James I of England. The Scots, in their pride that they had given a king to England, soon began to contend that the cross of St. Andrew should take precedence over the cross of St. George, that ships bearing the flag of the latter should salute that of St. Andrew.  To allay the contention, the King issued the following Order in Council on 12 April 1606, “By the King: Whereas, some differences hath arisen between Our subjects of South and North Britaine travelling by Seas, about the bearing of their Flagges: For the avoiding of all contentions hereafter. We have, with the advice of our Council, ordered: That from henceforth all our Subjects of this Isle and Kingdome of Great Britaine, and all our members thereof, shall beare in their main-toppe the Red Crosse, commonly called St. George’s Crosse, and the White Crosse, commonly called St. Andrew’s Crosse, joyned together according to the forme made by our heralds, and sent by Us to our Admerall to be published to our Subjects: and in their fore-toppe our Subjects of South Britaine shall weare the Red Crosse onely as they were wont, and our Subjects of North Britaine in their fore-toppe the White Crosse onely as they were accustomed,” and all vessels were forbidden to wear any other flag at their peril.  The new flag thus designed by the heralds and proclaimed by this order was called the “King’s Colours.” For a long period the red cross had been the flag of English navigators, as well as the badge of English soldiery.  No permanent English settlement in America was made until after the adoption of the “King’s Colours.”  Jamestown, Plymouth, Salem, and Boston were settled under the new flag.  The ships bringing over settlers, being English vessels, also carried the red cross as permitted.  The “King’s Colours” became the national flag, and not simply the naval ensign, after the Act of Union in 1707, until the union with Ireland in 1801, when the present national flag was adopted.

    [I attempted to put pictures of these flags on this blog, but I have not been successful.]

  • 13 Oct 2020 2:57 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Children on the Mayflower

    “Strong October gales” persist, and the Mayflower continues to be blown off course.   Caleb Johnson notes that most of the Pilgrim parents decided to leave the girls behind in England or Holland, and sent for them later once everything was built and more comfortable: William Brewster brought his sons Love and Wrestling, but left his daughters Patience and Fear behind; Thomas Rogers brought his son Joseph, but left his daughters Elizabeth and Margaret; Francis Cooke brought his son John, but left his daughters Jane and Hester; Richard Warren had five daughters, Mary, Ann, Sarah, Elizabeth and Abigail, ranging in ages from 2-10 years old, but he left them in England with his wife Elizabeth; Degory Priest left behind his daughters Mary and Sarah.

    Eleven girls, however, ranging in ages from 1 through 17, did make the voyage on the Mayflower with their families. And perhaps more surprisingly, young girls proved to have the strongest bodies of all: the first winter, 78% of the women died, 50% of the men died, 36% of the boys died, but only two girls (18%) died.  There were fewer deaths among the children than among the adults that first winter, which ultimately increased the chances of survival for the struggling colony.  Children on the Mayflower who left descendants, with their approximate ages:

        Priscilla Mullins (17)

        Joseph Rogers (17)

        Henry Sampson (16)

        Constance Hopkins (14)

        Francis Billington (14)

        Love Brewster (13)

        Mary Chilton (13)

        John Cooke (13)

        Elizabeth Tilley (13)

        Samuel Fuller (12), son of Edward Fuller

        Giles Hopkins (12)

        Bartholomew Allerton (7)

        Richard More (6)

        Remember Allerton (5)

        Resolved White (5)

        Mary Allerton (3), the last surviving passenger of the Mayflower, died in 1699

        Samuel Eaton (1)

        Peregrine White (born aboard)

  • 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.

  • 11 Oct 2020 2:38 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Women of the Mayflower

    Three significant resources on the women passengers of the Mayflower are Caleb Johnson’s The Mayflower and her Passengers (n.p.: Xlibris, 2006), on which I rely heavily, Robert Charles Anderson, The Mayflower Migration: Immigrants to Plymouth, 1620 (Boston: NEHGS, 2020), as well as his other works in the Great Migration Project (particularly The Pilgrim Migration, 2004, for which The Mayflower Migration is an updating), and Sue Allan, In the Shadow of Men: the Lives of Separatist Women (Burgess Hill: Domtom Publishing, Ltd., 2020), a well written collection of biographical sketches which fills in quite a bit of the English social, historical and religious background both for women who came and those who stayed in England.

    Prior to the Mayflower, very few English women had made the voyage across the ocean. Sir Walter Raleigh's Roanoke colony was founded in 1587, and among the 120 colonists there were 17 women: a baby girl, Virginia Dare, was born after arrival. When re-supply ships came from England, the colony had mysteriously disappeared and was never seen again. Jamestown was founded in 1607, but few women made that voyage until 1619.

    As the Mayflower left for America, there were 19 adult women on-board. Three of them, Elizabeth Hopkins, Susanna White, and Mary Allerton, were actually in their last trimester of pregnancy. All the adult women on the Mayflower were married, with the exception of Mrs. Carver’s maid, Dorothy (who became Francis Eaton’s second wife -- see Caleb Johnson’s careful and fascinating reconstruction of the record in Mayflower Passengers, 263-265); there were a few teenage girls nearing marriageable age.  While no women would die during the Mayflower's voyage, 78% of the women would die the first winter, a far higher percentage than for men or children. Dorothy Bradford was the first woman to die, in December: more about the debate over whether her death was suicide when the time comes. Most of the women's death dates were not recorded (nor were most of the men’s dates, for that matter), but we do know that Rose Standish died on January 29, Mary Allerton died on February 25, and Elizabeth Winslow died on March 24. Most women died in February and March.

    Only five women survived the first winter. Katherine Carver died in May of a "broken heart," her husband John having died of sunstroke a month earlier. By the time of the famous "Thanksgiving," there were only four women left to care for the Colony's fifty surviving men and children (and Massasoit with 90 native warriors as “guests”): Eleanor Billington, Elizabeth Hopkins, Mary Brewster, and Susanna (White) Winslow. Of the wives who had been left behind, four came on the Anne in 1623, had additional children, and raised their families at Plymouth.

  • 10 Oct 2020 2:50 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Passengers’ Ages and Occupations [Part Two]

    A full analysis of vocations (trades, etc.) represented by the Mayflower company is difficult. They were, since they intended to found a colony, of considerable variety, though it should be understood that the vocations given were the callings these individuals followed before boarding the ship. Several are known to have been engaged in other pursuits either before their residence in Holland or during their earlier years there. Bradford tells us that most of the Leyden congregation (or that portion of it which came from England in 1608) were agricultural people. These were mostly obliged to acquire other occupations. A few, e.g. Allerton, Brewster, Bradford, Carver, Cooke, and Winslow, possessed some means, while others had pursued occupations for which there was no demand in the Low Countries. Standish, bred to arms, apparently followed his profession nearly to the time of departure, and resumed it in the colony. Of the “arts, crafts or trades” of the colonists from London and neighbouring English localities, little has been gleaned. They were mostly people of some means, tradesmen rather than artisans, and at least two (Martin and Mullins) were evidently also of the Merchant Adventurers.  Their marital status has not been determined in every case; though it is of course possible that some were married, but there is no surviving record, especially among the seamen.  The passengers of the Mayflower on her departure from England appear to be grouped as follows:.

    Adult males (hired men and servants of age included)  


    Adult females


    Youths, male children, and male servants (minors)


    Young women, female children





    Married males


    Married females


    Single (adult) males (and young men)  


    Single (adult) female (Mrs Carver’s maid)   


    Allowing for the addition of Wilder and the two sailors, Trevor and Ely, who did not sign it, the number of those who signed the Compact tallies exactly with the adult males. Besides these occupations, it is known that several were skilled in other callings, and were at some time teachers, accountants, linguists, writers, etc., while some had formerly practised certain crafts; Dr. Fuller, e.g. having formerly been a “silk-worker,” Bradford (on the authority of Belknap) a “silk-dyer,” and others “fustian-workers.” Hopkins had apparently sometime before dropped his character of “lay-reader,” and was a pretty efficient man of affairs, but his vocation at the time of the exodus is not known.  The former occupations of fourteen of the adult colonists (Brown, Billington, Britteridge, Cooke, Chilton, Clarke, Crackstone, Goodman, Gardiner, Rogers, Rigdale, Turner, Warren, and Williams) are not certainly known. There is evidence suggesting that Brown was a mechanic; Billington and Cooke had been trained to husbandry; Chilton had been a small tradesman; Edward Tilley had been, like his brother, a silk-worker; Turner was a tradesman, and Warren a farmer; it is certain that Cooke, Rogers, and Warren had been men of some means.  The women of the Mayflower will be discussed tomorrow.

  • 9 Oct 2020 2:55 AM | Soule (Administrator)


    It is remarkable that, totally unused to any such conditions, wet, cold, poorly fed, overcrowded, storm-tossed, bruised and beaten, anxious, and with no homes to welcome them, exposed to new hardships and dangers on landing, worn and exhausted, any of the Mayflower’s company survived. It certainly cannot be accounted strange that infectious diseases, once started among them, should have run through their ranks like fire, taking both old and young. Nor is it strange that—though more inured to hardship and the conditions of sea life—with the extreme and unusual exposure of boat service on the New England coast in mid-winter, often wading in the icy water and living aboard ship in a highly infected atmosphere, the crew of seamen should have succumbed to disease in almost equal numbers with the colonists. Edward Thompson, Jasper More, and James Chilton died within a month of the arrival at Cape Cod (and while the ship lay in that harbour), and following the axiom of vital statistics that “for each death two are constantly sick,” there must have been some little (though not to say general) sickness on the Mayflower when she arrived at Cape Cod. It would, in view of the hardship of the voyage, have been very remarkable if this had not been the case. It would have been still more remarkable if the ill-conditioned, thin-blooded, town-bred “servants” and apprentices had not suffered first and most. It is significant that eight out of nine of the male servants died in the first four months. It was impossible that scurvy should not have been prevalent with both passengers and crew.

  • 8 Oct 2020 2:45 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Food (continued)

    “Equinoctial Distrubances” continued.  In the absence of cooking facilities, it became necessary to rely chiefly upon food that did not require to be prepared by heat, such as biscuit (hard bread), butter, cheese (“Holland cheese” was a chief staple with the Pilgrims), “haberdyne” (or dried salt codfish), smoked herring, smoked (“cured”) ham and bacon, “dried neat’s tongues,” preserved and “potted” meats (a very limited list in that day), fruits, etc. Mush, oatmeal, pease-puddings, pickled eggs, sausage meats, salt beef and pork, bacon, “spiced beef,” such few vegetables as they had (chiefly cabbages, turnips, and onions—there were no potatoes in that day), etc., could be cooked in quantity, when the weather permitted, and would then be eaten cold.  Except as dried or preserved fruits, vegetables (notably onions), limes, lemon juice, and the free use of vinegar counteracted (rather feebly), their food was a distinctive stimulant of scorbutic disease and tuberculosis, which constant exposure to cold and wet and the overcrowded state of the ship could but increase and aggravate.  More about diseases tomorrow.

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