My son Peter gave me a book for Christmas that I really enjoyed – They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty.  It’s a new history of Plymouth Colony by John G. Turner, a professor of religion at George Mason University.  It was published last year in commemoration of the 400-year anniversary of the Mayflower landing.  I thought it was excellent.  I had previously read William Bradford’s Of Plimouth Plantation as well as other histories, but Turner’s book was the most readable and intimate account.  I came away with a much deeper understanding of the personalities, lifestyles, and religious concerns of our Plymouth forefathers.

John G. Turner, They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020)

In a nutshell, Plymouth Colony was established after the Mayflower landed in Cape Cod Bay in December 1620.  When the ship left England, 102 souls were aboard, but nearly half died in the first three months of arrival – a time of unspeakable hardship and suffering.  (In addition, there was a ship’s crew of 30 led by Mayflower captain Christopher Jones.)  The Pilgrims were Protestant Separatists, considered radicals by the Church of England, and had been living as refugees in Leiden, Netherlands for over a decade under the leadership of pastor John Robinson (1576-1625).  Due to the fragility of their charter, which was never properly addressed, Plymouth failed to secure a new charter from the King of England, and was absorbed by Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.

The key leaders of the colony for the first few decades were William Bradford (1589-1657), governor for 31 years, William Brewster (1566-1644), spiritual leader, Myles Standish (1584-1656), military leader, and Edward Winslow (1595-1655), assistant governor in most years and envoy to London investors and the royal government.  John Robinson, unfortunately, died in 1625 in Leiden and never made it to America.  Significantly, none of the Mayflower passengers were aristocrats.

I noticed that several ancestors were mentioned in Turner’s book, including John Howland and Obadiah Holmes.  That prompted me to go back and review my Plymouth roots.  I’ve been so focused the past several years on more recent genealogical puzzles that I’ve neglected these earlier immigrants in my tree.

My Father’s earliest American ancestry emanates primarily from West Jersey and Connecticut; my Mother’s primarily goes back to New Amsterdam, northern New Jersey, and Massachusetts, especially western Massachusetts.  But both have Plymouth ancestors, 20 in total – seven on my Father’s side and 13 on my Mother’s.  Four were on the Mayflower.  The 20 are either 8GG or 9GG to me on my father’s side or 10GG or 11GG on my mother’s.[1]I have not submitted any of these to the Mayflower Society for lineage authentication.  I believe they are genuine ancestors, but there is always a chance an error has been made.  I am leaving out … Continue reading

It may surprise the reader but Plymouth research remains an active field today.  You would think that what we know or don’t know about these individuals from four centuries ago had been settled, but efforts to deconflict and analyze sources continue.  In particular, the Great Migration Study Project, led by Robert Charles Anderson, has been working since 1988 to document all of the 20,000 or so immigrants to New England between 1620 and 1640.  (See their link here.)

To repeat, the list focuses only on those Plymouth Colony ancestors who were immigrants, not their offspring born in the New World.  For each of the 20, I assign the Plymouth township in which they resided.

Plymouth Colony Map (Source: Wikipedia Commons user Kmusser)

It’s important to distinguish what type of settler each immigrant was.  While many were escaping religious persecution, others arrived for more secular reasons.  The Mayflower pilgrims themselves labeled the two groups, the Saints and the Strangers.  Of the original 102 settlers, for example, only 41 were actually Separatists affiliated with the Robinson congregation.  The majority were there because they had a useful skill or were indentured servants or merchants.

Also, legal standing among the men was divided between those who had achieved Freeman status or not.  A Freeman was a voting citizen of his township.  Social standing was divided between those who were addressed as mister or goodman.  Leading officials, clergy, magistrates, militia officers, etc. were allowed to be called Mister Smith as opposed to Goodman Smith, for instance.

Let’s start with my Mom’s side since she has the Mayflower connection.  All 13 of her Plymouth immigrant ancestors may be found in one small twig of my Mead family (Vermilyea ancestry).  3GG Fanny Mead (1821-1897) had a set of great-grandparents named Caleb Hazen (1720-1777) and Sarah Hamblin (1720-1814).  Most of the Hazen genealogy goes back to Massachusetts Bay Colony.  The Hamblin genealogy, on the other hand, goes back almost exclusively to Plymouth Colony.[2]Caleb Hazen and Sarah Hamblin have been authenticated as 5th-generation Mayflower descendants.

Plymouth Colony ancestors in Beverly Bonn (1932-2019) tree:

  • John Tilley (1571-1621), Plymouth Town. Arrived 1620 on Mayflower with wife Joan Hurst and youngest child Elizabeth.  Died the first winter.
  • Joan Hurst (1567-1621), Plymouth Town.  Arrived 1620 on Mayflower.  Died the first winter.
  • Elizabeth Tilley (1607-1689), Plymouth Town.  Arrived on Mayflower as a teenager.  Her parents soon died, so she was taken in by the Carvers.  She married John Howland, probably in 1624 or 1625.  They had 10 children, over 80 grandchildren, and millions who call them ancestors today.  We are descended from their son Joseph Howland (1640-1704).
  • John Howland (1593-1673), Plymouth Town.  Arrived on Mayflower as a manservant to Gov. John Carver.  Because of his education, he may have served Carter as a personal secretary.  He was washed overboard during the voyage and miraculously saved because he grabbed a line trailing in the sea.  Became a Freeman in 1621.  Headed Plymouth’s trading post at Kennebec, Maine in 1634.  A prominent Plymouth leader, he held many offices in his life.  A Mister.
  • Alice Carpenter (1590-1670), Plymouth Town.  She and husband Edward Southworth had hoped to come to America but did not join the Mayflower party, probably because of fears about the voyage.  He died in 1621.  Plymouth Governor William Bradford courted Alice a decade earlier in Leiden, Holland, but lost out to Edward.  Hearing that Edward had died and having lost his own wife, who fell overboard in Cape Cod Bay, Bradford wrote to Alice proposing marriage.  She arrived in July 1623 on the Anne and their wedding feast was a major social event in early Plymouth.
  • Thomas Southworth (1616-1669), Plymouth Town.  Born in Leiden, Holland.  Arrived in 1628 with his brother Constant, about five years after their mother.  As the son-in-law of William Bradford, he became a prominent citizen: Commissioner of the United Colonies and Captain of Plymouth’s military company in 1659.  A Mister.
  • Elizabeth Reynor (1618-1708), Plymouth Town.  Arrived about 1635 and married Thomas Southworth in 1641.  Her origins are unclear.  She may be the daughter of John Reyner, who served as pastor of Plymouth Church for 18 years, 1636-1654.  We are descended from their daughter Elizabeth Southworth (1645-1717).
  • James Hamblen (1606-1690), Barnstable.  Arrived about 1638 with wife Ann Scott and at least one young child.  One of the founders of Barnstable Township.  He was not much in public life but was honest and hard-working.  A Goodman.
  • Ann Scott (1608-1682), Barnstable.  Married James Hamblen in London in 1632.  They had several more children after arrival in the New World.  Both lived to an old age.  We are descended from their son Eleazer Hamblen (1649-1698).
  • John Jenkins (1609-1684), Eastham, then Barnstable.  Arrived on the Defence in 1635.  Made Freeman in 1637.  Served in various offices, including constable.  Married Mary Wallen in 1652, born in Plymouth in 1628, a daughter of Ralph Wallen.  We are descended from their daughter Mehitabel Jenkins (1654-1684).
  • Ralph Wallen (1595-1643), Plymouth Town.  Arrived on the Anne in 1623 with his wife, the third ship to bring settlers.  His wife’s name was Joyce, maiden name unknown.  He was a Freeman by 1633, but died before 1643, so little is known.
  • Richard Sears (1595-1676), Yarmouth.  Arrived before 1633 and married Dorothy Jones about 1636.  One of the founders of Yarmouth in 1639.  He made Freeman in 1652 and constable in 1660.  A Goodman.
  • Dorothy Jones (1603-1678), Yarmouth.  Arrived before 1636 when she married Richard Sears.  Her father George died in Somerset, England in 1626 and her mother likely died not long after, so she may have come with some other relative.  She and Richard had three known children.  We are descended from their son, Lt. Silas Sears (1637-1698).

My father’s Plymouth immigrant ancestors may be found in three branches of his tree.  The first four may be found in the ancestry of 3GG Anson Smith (1795-1891).  It was my father who actually discovered Nehemiah Smith during his research.  Obadiah Holmes is an ancestor of 4GG Lydia Harden (1786-1860) – Lukemire ancestry.  Eglin Hatherly and her son Thomas Handford are ancestors of 4GG Sgt. William Brown (1761-1804) – Matthews ancestry.

Plymouth Colony ancestors in Nelson Jonnes (1926-2011) tree:

  • Nehemiah Smith (1605-1686), Marshfield – Arrived about 1637 and applied for Freeman status in Plymouth in 1638.  Married Ann Bourne in 1639.  He was a shepherd and religious teacher in Marshfield, but migrated to Connecticut by 1644, and lived in Stratford, New Haven, and Norwich in that order.  A Goodman.
  • Anne Bourne (1615-1684), Marshfield – Probably arrived in 1636 with her parents.  Married Nehemiah Smith in 1639.  We are descended from Nehemiah Smith, Jr. (1646-1727), who married Lydia Winchester.
  • Thomas Bourne (1581-1664), Marshfield – Probably arrived in 1636 with his family.  His wife Elizabeth’s maiden name is unknown.  Made Freeman in 1637.  A draper by trade, he was granted 100 acres in Greenes Harbor in 1637, later incorporated as Marshfield.  A town leader in Marshfield for over 20 years.  A Mister.
  • Alexander Winchester (1610-1647), Rehoboth – Arrived October 1635 as an assistant to Massachusetts Gov. Henry Vane.  Initially settled in Boston but moved to Braintree in 1639.  Left Massachusetts for Plymouth after 1641 when he became one of the founders of Rehoboth.  Became Freeman in 1645.   He and his wife who is unknown died early, possibly because of a contagion.  A Mister.  We are descended from their daughter, Lydia Winchester (1647-1723).
  • Rev. Obadiah Holmes (1607-1682), Rehoboth – Arrived 1638 and settled in Salem, Massachusetts.  A divisive figure because of his views on baptism, he was excommunicated by the Salem church in 1640, forced out of Rehoboth in 1650, and whipped in public in Boston in 1651, a famous incident.  He lived in Rehoboth, Plymouth only about 4 or 5 years, and removed to Rhode Island, where he led the Newport Church for 30 years.[3]Obadiah Holmes is also an ancestor of Abraham Lincoln, who as a result is my 6th cousin 4 times removed.
  • Eglin Hatherly (1588-1653), Scituate – The widow of Jeffrey Handford, she arrived on the Planter in 1635 with teenage daughters, Margaret and Elizabeth.  She followed her brother, Timothy Hatherly, who arrived in 1623 and had founded Scituate.  (Timothy was one of the investors who helped finance the Mayflower.)
  • Rev. Thomas Handford (1621-1693), Scituate – Arrived by 1643 and lived for a time with his mother, or at least near her, studying under Rev. Charles Chauncey.  Made Freeman in 1650, but migrated to Norwalk, Connecticut in 1652.  He was a founding settler of Norwalk and their first minister, serving 41 years.  We are descended from his son Thomas Hanford, Jr. (1668-1743).  A Mister.

As more of my ancestry is filled in, I am sure additional Plymouth ancestors will be discovered.


1 I have not submitted any of these to the Mayflower Society for lineage authentication.  I believe they are genuine ancestors, but there is always a chance an error has been made.  I am leaving out other Plymouth ancestors whose lineages are questionable.
2 Caleb Hazen and Sarah Hamblin have been authenticated as 5th-generation Mayflower descendants.
3 Obadiah Holmes is also an ancestor of Abraham Lincoln, who as a result is my 6th cousin 4 times removed.