This is the time of year when we Americans remember the brave people who left all they had behind them and set out for a new life in a new land. They faced unbelievable hardships including death from starvation and cold. But enough survived to celebrate the first harvest in their new home with a feast that lasted several days. Today we feast in memory of all they did for us, the children they never knew.
In my ancestry search I was surprised to find that I had ancestors who came to America on the Mayflower. I knew my family had New England roots, I just didn’t know how deep they went. The Pilgrims who set sail on the Mayflower had left England and settled in Leiden, the Netherlands out of protest against the Church of England. But, they felt their children were taking up the ways of the Dutch, and so they sought a place where they could follow what they considered the true teachings of the Bible without any interference. In 1620 they sailed to America and founded the Plymouth Colony. Here are the stories of my family.
On my father’s side of the family was Degory Priest. Degory came with his brother-in-law Isaac Allerton and his family (wife Mary and children Bartholomew (aged 7), Remember (aged 5) and Mary (aged 4)). On December 22, 1620 Mary Allerton gave birth to a stillborn son in Plymouth Harbor, and on February 25th, 1621, she passed away. Although he was married, Degory left his wife and children in the Netherlands, planning to bring them to America later after the colony was better established. Unfortunately, he did not live to see the first Thanksgiving; he, like Mary Allerton, died the first winter. Back in the Netherlands, his widow Sarah remarried to Godbert Godbertson on 13 November 1621, and they had a son Samuel together. Godbert, his wife Sarah, their son Samuel, and his step-children Mary and Sarah Priest all came on the ship Anne to Plymouth in 1623. I am descended from Mary, who was 10 at the time she arrived in Plymouth.
On my mother’s side, I am descended from the Tilley family — John, his wife Joan and their 13-year old daughter Elizabeth. John’s brother Edward, his wife Agnes, and Agnes’s infant niece Humility Cooper, and 17-year old nephew Henry Samson also came on the Mayflower. All of the adults in this family — John, Joan, Edward, and Agnes — perished the first winter. The baby, Humility Cooper, was returned to England where she lived until her death around 1650. I am descended from Elizabeth who later married fellow Mayflower passenger John Howland. Howland, who was born about 1599, came on the Mayflower in 1620 as a manservant of Governor John Carver. During a storm on the voyage over, Howland fell overboard , and was almost lost at sea — but he managed to grab hold of the topsail halyards, giving the crew enough time to rescue him with a boat-hook.
One can only imagine the hardships they endured that first awful year, and the joy the survivors felt at having a harvest to support them through the coming winter. I am thankful to all of them for having the courage to set sail on a tiny ship and face the unknown in a strange land.