About our Mayflower Ancestors and Early Plymouth Happenings, Myths, and Thanksgiving

Our Mayflower connections are through Grandpa William A. Winslow's great grandmother- Beulah Keene- and what a connection! These family lines include the likes of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, many times Plymouth Governor William Bradford, Church Elder William Brewster, Love Brewster, Richard Warren, Thomas Rogers, all of whom came on the 1620 Mayflower, and other influential Colonial ancestors that came over during the next 10 years including Kenelm Winslow, and Thomas Prence- one of the most influential Plymouth Colony citizens who came after the Mayflower landing. Their stories are interesting and what follows are just some excerpts I've included to whet your appetite about the Pilgrims life and some of our Mayflower ancestors.

(Much of the following material is adapted from Caleb Johnson's Mayflower Web-Site and the Plimouth-on-Web)


The people we know as the Pilgrims have become so surrounded with legends that we tend to forget that they were real people. Against great odds, they courageously made the famous 1620 voyage and founded the first New England colony, but they were still ordinary English men and women, not super heroes. If we really want to understand them, we must try to look behind the legends and see them as they saw themselves.

They were English people who sought to escape the religious controversies and economic problems of their time by immigrating to America. Many of the Pilgrims were members of a Puritan sect know as Separatists. They believed that membership in the Church of England violated the biblical precepts for true Christians, and that they had to break away and form independent congregations which were truer to divine requirements. At a time when Church and State were one, such an act was treasonous and the Separatists had to flee their mother country. Other Pilgrims remained loyal to the national Church but came because of economic opportunity and sympathy with Puritanism as well. They all shared a fervent and pervasive Protestant faith that touched all areas in their life.

As English people, the Pilgrims also shared a vital secular culture, both learned and traditional. They lived in a time, which accepted fairies and witches, herbal remedies and astrological virtues, seasonal festivals and folklore as real parts of their lives. They looked at the world they lived in not as we do today, through the eyes of Einstein and Freud, but through the folklore of the countryside and academic traditions that stretched back to antiquity. They were both the thorough Protestants of the recent Reformation and the inheritors of the medieval world picture that infused the imaginations of Shakespeare and Jonson.

They were not people just like ourselves dressed in funny clothes, or a primitive folk deprived of our technology, but a vital and courageous people who embodied the best elements of their exciting society. They brought their own culture to the New World and attempted to establish a citadel of English society on the edge of the alien continent. They were not pioneers self-consciously blazing a trail through the trackless wilderness to the future. They were English men and women doing their best to continue the lives they knew back home in spite of the unfamiliar surroundings.

They brought with them familiar customs, among which were an autumn secular harvest celebration and a Puritan religious Thanksgiving holy day. As we shall see, these two events were totally separate and independent in their minds. It is we, today, who have blurred the differences and merged the two events into one. A secular celebration such as a harvest was an annual event that would of course include the giving of religious thanks to God; acknowledgement of God's Providence was part of most days of their lives. A true Day of Thanksgiving was a completely separate observance.

When the Puritans rejected the old Medieval ecclesiastical calendar of Christmas, Ester and Saint's days, they submitted three allowable holy days: The Sabbath, the Day of Humiliation and Fasting, and the Day of Thanksgiving and Praise. The latter two were never held on a regular basis but only in direct response to God's Providence. When things went well, signaling God's pleasure with the community, then it was proper to declare a Day of Thanksgiving in His praise. But when God's displeasure was evident and events were unfortunate, it was an indication that the community should repent and declare a Day of Fasting and Humiliation. Each of these days were held on weekdays and meant an extra day of church services and devotion in addition to the Sabbath. The Day of Thanksgiving was often concluded with a feast, while the fast days saw voluntary privation.

The harvest celebration of autumn, 1621, was quite plainly neither a fast day nor a Thanksgiving Day in the eyes of the Pilgrims. Rather it was a secular celebration, which included games, recreations, three days of feasting and Indian guests. It would have been unthinkable to have these things as part of a religious Thanksgiving. The actual first declared Thanksgiving occurred in 1623, after a providential rain shower saved the colony's crops. It was only in the later 19th-Century, when looking back for a precedent for the modern, more secular Thanksgiving of family feasts and football games which had evolved after the decline of Puritanism, that people discovered this first harvest celebration and dubbed it the "First Thanksgiving." They were not interested in what that famous festival meant to the Pilgrims; they were concerned with what it could mean to Victorians like themselves.

Ever since, the Pilgrims have been the symbolic originators of our familiar November holiday. Legends about the feast have turned it into a mythic event worthy of our emulation. It is a good story, and an important part of our cultural tradition. It helps us remember those hardy English men and women who braved dangers far greater than we have to face today to follow their own consciences and give glory to God. But if we really want to understand them, we must go beyond the legend, important as it is, and try to see the real Pilgrims and the celebration they enjoyed so many years ago. What follows are some brief backgrounds of our direct ancestors:

John Alden: William Bradford wrote, in his history Of Plymouth Plantation: "John Alden was hired for a cooper [barrel maker] at Southampton where the ship [Mayflower] victualed, and being a hopeful young man was much desired but left to his own liking to go or stay when he came here; but he stayed and married here." and later wrote "John Alden married Priscilla, William Mullin's daughter, and had issue by her as is before related."

John Alden was an assistant for the Plymouth colony for many years, and was deputy governor for two years. His marriage to Priscilla Mullins was the subject of the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, "The Courtship of Myles Standish", which although a classic has little factual basis. John and Priscilla were among the founders of the town of Duxbury.

In his later years, John Alden was on many juries, including even a witch trial--though in Plymouth's case, the jury found the accuser guilty of libel and the alleged witch was allowed to go free. Plymouth Colony only had two witch trials during its history, and in both cases the accuser was found guilty and punished. John and Priscilla Alden probably have the largest number of descendants of any Mayflower passenger, but with stiff competition from Richard Warren and John Howland. They are ancestors to Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Vice President Dan Quayle.

William Mullins: William Mullins was a fairly well-to-do shoe and boot dealer from Dorking, Surrey, England. He purchased a number of shares in the Pilgrims joint-stock company, becoming one of the Merchant Adventurers. He brought his wife Alice, daughter Priscilla and son Joseph to America on the Mayflower. Only Priscilla would survive the first winter, however. William Mullins made out his death-bed will on 21 February 1620/1, in which he mentions his wife Alice, daughter Priscilla, son Joseph, and married children William and Sarah who were still in Dorking. He also mentions a "Goodman Woodes" who remains unidentified, and a "Master Williamson" which was likely a Dutch pseudonym for William Brewster who was a fugitive at the time (for printing illegal religious pamphlets in Leyden).

William Bradford: William Bradford came on the Mayflower with his wife Dorothy (May), leaving son John behind in Holland. Dorothy fell off the Mayflower and drowned on 7 December 1620, when it was anchored in Provincetown Harbor. This was an accidental drowning. The story of the suicide, affair with Captain Christopher Jones, etc. comes from a fictional "soap opera" story published in a national women's magazine in 1869--a story published as truth by the author, based on "family stories", but which the author later admitted was an invention of her own imagination. After the death of John Carver in April 1621, Bradford was elected governor of the Plymouth Colony, and continued in that capacity nearly all his life. In 1623 he married Alice (Carpenter) Southworth, widow of Edward Southworth. A description of the marriage is found in a letter written by a visitor to Plymouth Colony, Emmanuel Altham, in 1623:

Upon the occasion of the Governor's marriage, since I came, Massasoit was sent for to the wedding, where came with him his wife, the queen, although he hath five wives. With him came four other kings and about six score men with their bows and arrows--where, when they came to our town, we saluted them with the shooting off of many muskets and training our men. And so all the bows and arrows was brought into the Governor's house, and he brought the Governor three or four bucks and a turkey. And so we had very good pastime in seeing them dance, which is in such manner, with such a noise that you would wonder. . . . And now to say somewhat of the great cheer we had at the Governor's marriage. We had about twelve pasty venisons, besides others, pieces of roasted venison and other such good cheer in such quantity that I could wish you some of our share. For here we have the best grapes that ever you say--and the biggest, and divers sorts of plums and nuts which our business will not suffer us to look for.

William Bradford died in 1657(67 years old), having been governor of the Plymouth Colony for almost the entire period since 1621. William Bradford wrote of Plymouth Plantation, chronicling the history of the Plymouth Colony, and the events that led up to their leaving England for Holland, and later to New England. William Bradford also wrote part of Mourt's Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, and he recorded some of the important letters he wrote and received in a letterbook which still partially exists.

William Brewster: William Brewster was the Reverend Elder of the Pilgrim's church at Plymouth, since their pastor John Robinson remained behind in Leyden, Holland with the majority of the congregation which planned to come to America at a later time. Brewster was a fugitive from the King of England, because he had published a number of religious pamphlets while in Leyden which were critical or opposed the tenets of the Church of England. He had been a member of the Separatist church movement from its very beginning, and was the oldest Mayflower passenger to have participated at the First Thanksgiving, in his early fifties. William Brewster's wife Mary and son Love are also direct Mayflower descendents. William Bradford wrote a lot about William Brewster in Of Plymouth Plantation.

Thomas Rogers: Thomas Rogers became a citizen of Leyden on 25 June 1618 with sponsors William Jepson and Roger Wilson, and is called a Camlet-merchant. And just two years later, on 1 April 1620, he sold his house in Leyden before coming to America on the Mayflower. Thomas Rogers brought his son Joseph on the Mayflower. He died the first winter, but his son Joseph survived. William Bradford in his Of Plymouth Plantation writes of Thomas Rogers: "the rest of Thomas Rogers' [children] came over and are married and have many children."

In the 1622 poll tax for Leyden are listed his wife Elsgen (Alice), and daughters Lysbeth (Elizabeth) and Grietgen (Margaret), and son John. John Rogers is known to have come to America and married, but unfortunately the whereabouts of Elizabeth and Margaret remain unknown, though Bradford seems to suggest they came to America and married.

Richard Warren: Richard Warren appears to have been a merchant, who resided in London, and became associated with the Pilgrims and the Mayflower through the Merchant Adventurers. Richard Warren participated in several of the early explorations made by the Pilgrims in 1620, while looking for a place to settle. He appears by land records to have been fairly well-to-do. When he came over on the Mayflower, he left behind his wife and five daughters, planning to have them sent over after things were more settled in the Colony. His wife and daughters arrived in America in 1623, on the ship Anne.

Nathaniel Morton wrote in his book New England's Memorial, first published in 1669, the following about Richard Warren: This year [1628] died Mr. Richard Warren, who was an useful instrument and during his life bare a deep share in the difficulties and troubles of the first settlement of the Plantation of New Plymouth.

Richard Warren is an ancestor to many famous Americans. Among them are Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Franklin D. Roosevelt; and Alan B. Shepard, Jr., the first American in space and fifth man to walk on the moon. A published lineage showing Winston Churchill as a descendant of Richard Warren has a questionable generation and is most likely in error. However, Winston Churchill does appear to be a descendant of Mayflower passenger John Howland's brother Arthur Howland.

Edward Winslow( brother of Kenelm Winslow): Edward Winslow was the son of Edward Winslow, a wealthy owner of a salt boilery,and Magdalene Oliver. Edward Winslow was baptized at Droitwich, Worcester, England on 20 October 1595. Winslow soon joined with the Separatists, and moved to Leyden where he became a printer along with William Brewster, publishing illegal religious pamphlets. His first wife, Elizabeth Barker, was from Chattisham, Suffolk, England. His second wife was the widow of William White of the Mayflower.

The ancestry of Edward Winslow is as follows:

(1) Kenelm Winslow of Kempsey

(2) Edward Winslow, m. Magdalene Oliver

(3) Edward Winslow of the Mayflower : Edward Winslow had four other siblings which came to America, namely Gilbert Winslow (Mayflower, 1620), John Winslow (Fortune, 1621), Josias Winslow (White Angel, 1631), and Kenelm Winslow, who married Eleanor (Newton) Adams, who came in the Anne, 1623. Edward Winslow also had several sisters, including Magdalen who married Rev. William Wake on 25 April 1627, in Wareham, Dorset, England.

Edward Winslow of the Mayflower was a printer, and assisted William Brewster in running the printing press at Leyden which published illegal pamphlets of a religious nature which were distributed in England. He was one of the more prominent and influential men in the Plymouth Colony, and was the colony's third governor. In the early years of Plymouth, Edward played a prominent role in Indian-Pilgrim relations, and made many diplomatic visits to the Wampanoag sachem Massasoit. One one occasion in 1622 he even managed to "cure" Massasoit of a dreadful sickness--an event which greatly helped Indian-Pilgrim relations. Edward Winslow authored several books. He wrote Good News From New England first published in 1624. He authored a good portion of Mourt's Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth first published in 1622. Winslow also made trips to England in the early years of the Colony to conduct business agreements and make legal arrangements, including trips in 1623-4, 1630, and 1635. In 1646 he returned to live in England and served in the English army under Oliver Cromwell . In 1655 he died of a fever on a military expedition to capture the island of Hispaniola.

. The Pilgrims' 1621 Thanksgiving

The tradition of the Pilgrims' first Thanksgiving is steeped in myth and legend. Few people realize that the Pilgrims did not celebrate Thanksgiving the next year, or any year thereafter, though some of their descendants later made a "Forefather's Day" that usually occurred on December 21 or 22. Several Presidents, including George Washington, made one-time Thanksgiving holidays. Abraham Lincoln finally made it a national holiday with his 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation.

Today, our Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday of November. This was set by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939, who changed it from Abraham Lincoln's designation as the last Thursday in November (which could occasionally end up being the fifth Thursday and hence too close to Christmas for businesses). But the Pilgrims' first Thanksgiving began at some unknown date between September 21 and November 9, most likely in very early October. The date of Thanksgiving was probably set by Lincoln to somewhat correlate with the anchoring of the Mayflower at Cape Cod, which occurred on November 21, 1620 (by our modern Gregorian calendar--it was November 11 to the Pilgrims who used the Julian calendar).

There are only two contemporary accounts of the 1621 Thanksgiving:

(1) First is Edward Winslow's account, which he wrote in a letter dated December 12, 1621. The complete letter was first published in 1622, and is chapter 6 of Mourt's Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. Our corn [i.e. wheat] did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown. They came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom. Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

(2) The second description was written about twenty years after the fact by William Bradford in his History of Plymouth Plantation. Bradford's History was rediscovered in 1854 after having been taken by British looters during the Revolutionary War. Its discovery prompted a greater American interest in the history of the Pilgrims, which eventually led to Lincoln's decision to make Thanksgiving a holiday. It is also in this account that the Thanksgiving turkey tradition is founded. They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercising in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.

Pilgrim Myths and Realities (by James W. Baker, Plimoth Plantation)

Plimoth Plantation's founder, Harry Hornblower II, once observed that "the difficulty of the Pilgrim Story is that there are really two stories true historical one and a romantic one." Plimoth Plantation is dedicated to the genuine history of Plymouth Colony, but the cultural importance of the romance of "The Pilgrim Fathers" must be acknowledged as well. Without the Pilgrims, our Thanksgiving holiday would be unrecognizable, and there would be no Plimoth Plantation at all. Stories of the Landing on Plymouth Rock, the Five Kernals of Parched Corn, the romantic triangle of John Alden, Priscilla Mullins and Myles Standish, or the First Thanksgiving have had too strong an influence on our national culture to be ignored. These famous myths or fictions, while based on real traditions and actual events, do not reflect what actually happened in the past.

They are instead expressions of the national values and shared experiences that have defined American society over the past two centuries. New national myths and traditions are evolving even now, but we need to appreciate the role of the heroic Pilgrim Story in order to better understand the society we live in today.

The Pilgrims are unarguably one of America's great national symbols. Each November, their universally recognizable images can be seen throughout the nation incarnate of that particularly American holiday, Thanksgiving. Generations of American schoolchildren have been introduced to these images each fall as cut-outs and illustrations, while the familiar steeple-hatted, dark-cloaked and generously be-buckled figures appear on cards, table decorations and seasonal advertising for everyone else. Each year, the old legends are repeated and recalled to mind: of courage in the face of adversity; of the Mayflower's dramatic voyage and the terrible first winter; and finally of the glorious triumph of survival, celebrated by the Pilgrims with their supportive Indian allies at the "First Thanksgiving".

The mythic legacy of the Pilgrims emerged at the end of the eighteenth century. It developed into a powerful and pervasive popular tradition -- into a distinctive genre in American folklore --called here "The Pilgrim Story" to differentiate it from the prosaic historical reality out of which it grew. By the mid 20th century, "The Pilgrim Story" was so well established in popular culture that most Americans felt they already knew what these men and women looked like, what the events in their lives meant, and how they would have lived. Through these well known narratives, the Pilgrims play a far larger role in our contemporary national mythology than they did in our actual history.

The real Plymouth colonists were ordinary people who played a small but virtuous part in history and left few tangible remains behind them. It is not their accomplishments alone that have had so potent and persistent an effect on subsequent generations. It is their legends that bring the past forward into the present. It is in this sense that their story has meaning for everyone who is trying to understand what this country is all about. The Pilgrim image was first invoked as a symbol of the establishment of the American nation, an invented tradition to provide meaning and legitimacy to the new enterprise. The Pilgrims became the "spiritual ancestors of all Americans" until the old hegemony began to break down in the late 19th century. They were then evoked to sustain the "us-ness" of the past against the otherness of the future. They became the basis of children's stories as well as holiday symbols for Thanksgiving, a particularly American celebration, and took their place beside George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Uncle Sam as images of America for all the world to see. History may or may not always reveal the past to the extent we would like, but it can and should provide meaning to our lives.

"Any man has had countless myriads of ancestors and among them any number of rich men and beggars, kings and slaves, Greeks and barbarians" --Plato, Theaetetus