Category Archives: Mayflower 2020

‘If only you wouldn’t explain’

“I might understand if only you wouldn’t explain.”[1]

The contours of this year’s two hundredth anniversary of Maine’s statehood have been undeniably unexpected. Most anniversary celebrations here were cancelled or postponed, leaving most Mainers “celebrating” from the comfort of their homes. I began to think about the convergence of ancestral factors in my family history, Spanish Flu and Covid-19 aside.

My cousin Asa Williams, the builder of Our Old House, came to Maine about the same time and from a nearby Massachusetts town as my great-great-great-great-grandfather George Read, with their wives (who were third cousins and stepsisters), settling at the Fort Western Settlement, the area’s trading post, bank, and social venue, the center of the tiny community’s daily life. Continue reading ‘If only you wouldn’t explain’

‘Discredited descendants’

Recently a colleague was interviewed for a UK radio show concerning his Mayflower ancestor Governor William Bradford and noticed an entry on a Wikipedia page regarding William Bradford’s descendants. I have long been aware of Hugh Hefner’s Mayflower line, as this has been mentioned in most of his biographies, and he even named his youngest child Cooper Bradford Hefner. Gary Boyd Roberts included the line (see below) in his recent publication, The Mayflower 500. Looking at the line over the years, I have never seen anything wrong with it. Continue reading ‘Discredited descendants’

ICYMI: Four hundred years local

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 6 January 2020.]

Plymouth Harbor at dusk

For whatever reason, my grandmother’s ancestors stayed put. They ignored the call to go west (“young man!”) or to secure the nation’s manifest destiny. Maybe they had political objections and instead manifested disdain for American imperialism and conquest. Maybe they felt comfortable where they were, and bred wanderlust right out of the gene pool. Wasn’t it enough that many of their ancestors had traveled thousands of miles to get to Plymouth in the first place? Plympton is west; Marshfield and Kingston are north; and that is just about as far as they went.

And here is the humble brag: because my grandmother’s ancestors stayed put, and let’s face it, married their extended relatives (folding the family tree in on itself numerous times), I can prove descent from many Mayflower passengers, many times over. Continue reading ICYMI: Four hundred years local

Of Plimoth Plantation

Watching the videos of Mayflower II being escorted through the Cape Cod Canal brings weird thoughts to my mind. What if there had been a canal in 1620? Would “Plimoth Plantation” have been “Long Island Plantation”? Things would have been different, but since there was no canal, that stray thought is of no importance.

Of great importance, however, among the celebrations of the settlement of Plimoth Plantation is the new publication by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts and New England Historic Genealogical Society: Of Plimoth Plantation by William Bradford, The 400th Anniversary Edition.[1] I highly recommend that if you buy only one four hundredth anniversary souvenir, it should be this book, which will be a legacy for your descendants. Continue reading Of Plimoth Plantation

Family ties revealed

What drew me to genealogy was the idea that my family could have been part of a major historical event. When you learn about history in school, the different events – whether it be the Holocaust, the French Revolution, or the English Civil War – always seem to be so far removed from that moment. You never expect to learn that you might have personal ties to that event.

For example, I was fascinated by the sinking of the Titanic; I swear that had nothing to do with the massive crush my 13-year-old self had on Leonardo DiCaprio. Continue reading Family ties revealed

Mayflower myths 2020

Detail of Leiden map, ca. 1600, a hand-colored engraving created by Pieter Bast, showing the Pieterskerk and surrounding area. Note the clock tower that gave Clock Alley its name. The boats on the Rapenburg show where the Pilgrims boarded. Courtesy of Erfgoed Leiden en Omstreken (Heritage Leiden and Region)

There are many Mayflower myths already, but the Mayflower 400 year brings new ones. The very latest Mayflower myth is that the Pilgrims boarded the Speedwell in Leiden. The simple truth is that the Speedwell was never in Leiden. The Pilgrims took canal boats to Delfshaven, where the Speedwell was waiting for them, and set sail for Southampton. A widely shared blog post proposes an alternative myth: the Pilgrims travelled from Leiden to Delfshaven on foot, on horseback, and by carriage.

A myth that’s been repeated a lot the last year or so is that the Pilgrims boarded those canal boats at a spot marked by a statue. The text on the base of that statue reads “From here the Pilgrims left Leiden on their journey to the new world,” and that text is easily misunderstood. The statue is near the Vliet Bridge, and the text wouldn’t be misunderstood if the statue had been placed on that bridge instead of merely close to it.

Back in 1620, the bridge was part of the border wall of Leiden, and the Pilgrims left Leiden when they crossed under that bridge. They did not board at that spot. They boarded at the Rapenburg, not far from the Pieterskerk and John Robinson’s house. Continue reading Mayflower myths 2020

Undimmed luster

One of the features of this anniversary year – the four hundredth since the Mayflower’s landing at Plymouth as well as the 175th anniversary of the Society’s founding in 1845 – has been a focus on early members of the Society, people no one alive today can have known. As a historical society, we are familiar with old records, even ones biographical in nature, but there is still something uncanny about how some early members – even some of the Society’s founders – come to life in the stories of their own time. Continue reading Undimmed luster

ICYMI: Mayflower trolls

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 20 January 2020.]

Internet trolls are people who lurk on social media and generally cause trouble for everybody else. I recently found a list of the ten types of internet trolls, and suspect I probably qualify under No. 5, “The Show-Off, Know-it-All Or Blabbermouth Troll.” Or at least that is how I feel whenever I chime in on one of the Mayflower/Alden-related Facebook pages or the like. It becomes my job to deflate the balloons of some of these wonderful newly-found Mayflower descendants, who have, most unfortunately, inadvertently gathered and believed all the dross of Internet information about their ancestors. Continue reading ICYMI: Mayflower trolls

Mayflower hoaxes

Gustaf Ludvig Jungberg alias Gustave Anjou (1863-1942)

Jeff Record’s recent post on “A ‘Relative’ Hoax“ reminded me of a few genealogical hoaxes I have encountered. In our open houses to staff on Mayflower genealogy, one of the subjects I review is the various frauds that have occurred in the genealogical field over time.

Robert S. Wakefield (1925-2002) wrote a detailed list of many of these Mayflower fables in a 1993 article in the Mayflower Descendant.[1] These include a fictional ancestry for passenger Edward Doty that was created by the well-known genealogical fraud Gustave Anjou; the claim that “Constance Dudley” was the first wife of passenger Stephen Hopkins (now identified as Mary Kent alias Back); and the false claim the Peter Brown of Windsor, Connecticut, was the son of the Mayflower passenger of the same name. (Brown of the Mayflower only had daughters.)[2] Continue reading Mayflower hoaxes

Playing Pilgrims

For me and my friends growing up on Cape Cod, the story of the Mayflower voyage took on a mythical quality. It felt significant to us to be walking the land that the Pilgrims saw after that long and perilous voyage. Our frequent field trips to Plimoth Plantation and the Mayflower II provided fuel for our imaginations, and through the long New England winters we played Pilgrim in our houses. My mother let us empty out a large closet, and my friends and I would gather some blankets and toys and munch on stale bread in the dark, pretending we were in cramped quarters on the Mayflower with our children. In the summer we gathered wildflowers for our forest fort – our version of a Plimoth Plantation cottage. I had no ancestral connection to the Mayflower, but I was drawn to the idea of a seafaring adventure and of reinventing oneself in a new land. Continue reading Playing Pilgrims