A foolish boy

Last month I shared the story of my ancestor Francis Billington “discovering” the Billington Sea. This story is relayed in the 1622 publication known as Mourt’s Relation. The second story on Francis Billington from this work could have had very dire consequences for the new settlement. This event occurred on 5 December 1620, a few weeks before his “discovery” of the Billington Sea:

Had the ship actually exploded, our history would have been vastly different. Francis Billington largely flies under the radar after these two interesting anecdotes in the first months of the Pilgrims’ arrival. In 1634, he married Christian (Penn) Eaton, the widow of fellow Mayflower passenger Francis Eaton, who had died a few months earlier, leaving her with four young children. Christian herself came alone on the Anne in 1623. Francis and Christian (Penn) (Eaton) Billington had eight children together. In 1669, they moved to Middleborough, Massachusetts, where Francis was granted land as one of the “First Comers.”

Dorcas Billington, the second youngest child, married Edward May and was the subject of an article I wrote in 2013 in the Mayflower Descendant, sorting out which of Edward May’s children were by Dorcas and which were by an earlier wife.[1] My own ancestor is Francis and Christian’s eighth and youngest child together, Mercy Billington, born 25 February 1651/52; Mercy and her husband John Martin are also the ancestors of U.S. President James Abram Garfield (1831–1881).[2]

My final story about my Billington ancestors will be the story for which they are certainly the most well-known.


[1] C. C. Child, “The Maternity of the Children of Edward May of Plymouth, Husband of Hannah King and Dorcas3 Billington,” Mayflower Descendant 62 [2013]: 42-51.

[2] Gary Boyd Roberts, Ancestors of American Presidents, 607.

Christopher C. Child

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.View all posts by Christopher C. Child