Tough First Winter for Our Mayflower Ancestors

Our Mayflower ancestors must have been a tough bunch, building the new Plymouth Colony during that first difficult winter of 1620-1621 when so many of them died due to illness and exposure.

Painting: “Pilgrims Going to Church” by George Henry Boughton, 1867

Painting: “Pilgrims Going to Church” by George Henry Boughton, 1867. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

It is recorded that 45 of the 102 original Mayflower passengers died during that first winter. The toll was especially hard on the women: of the 18 adult women who came over on the Mayflower, 13 died during that first winter (and another in May).

Despite the harsh winter conditions, they built seven homes – and four “common houses” – in Plymouth, left the shelter of the Mayflower, and settled into life in their new colony.

The extreme difficulty of that first winter was described in an article columnist John Chamberlain wrote for Thanksgiving in 1966.

article about the first winter the Mayflower Pilgrims spent in Plymouth Colony, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 24 November 1966

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 24 November 1966, page 6

It wasn’t easy – but they persevered.

Document your hearty ancestors of all generations by finding their records and stories in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

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Mayflower Hat Maker: Degory Priest

Are you a descendant of Mayflower passenger Degory Priest?
If you are, then please tell us your line.

Painting: “The Mayflower Compact, 1620,” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

Painting: “The Mayflower Compact, 1620,” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1899. Source: Library of Congress.

According to Wikipedia, Degory Priest:

was a hat maker from London who married Sarah, sister of Pilgrim Isaac Allerton in Leiden. He was a signatory to the Mayflower Compact in November 1620 and died less than two months later.

Searching in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, I can easily find hundreds of articles about descendants of other Mayflower Pilgrims such as Thomas Rogers, Stephen Hopkins or Dr. Samuel Fuller – but, articles about Degory Priest descendants – not so much.

I only found six persons who mentioned their descent from him in their obituaries, such as this one for Patricia Sayward.

obituary for Patricia Sayward, Amesbury News newspaper article 17 March 2009

Amesbury News (Amesbury, Massachusetts), 17 March 2009

Patricia A. (Woodward) Sayward’s (1929-2009) obituary tells us that “she was a descendant of Degory Priest” and that she had two ancestors who fought at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. She was active in both the Mayflower Society and the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Here are the other five individuals I found whose obituaries mentioned that they were descendants of Degory Priest:

If you are a descendant of Degory Priest – or any other Mayflower passenger – please tell us about it in the comments section.

Related Mayflower Genealogy Articles:

Did You Miss These Mayflower Stories?

GenealogyBank is an outstanding source for documenting your Mayflower family lines.

Painting: “Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor” by William Formby Halsall, 1882

Painting: “Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor” by William Formby Halsall, 1882. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

We have posted a number of blog articles about tracing your family history back to the Mayflower and its passengers. Take a moment and read these key articles for tips on researching your family history.

Mayflower Articles:

Days of Thanksgiving Celebrated by Our Ancestors

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary searches old newspapers to learn more about Days of Thanksgiving that have been proclaimed throughout American history.

While planning Thanksgiving celebrations, most of us dream of the bountiful feast set upon our tables: turkey, corn, mashed potatoes, pie and all of those other goodies made for the day.

We do this to commemorate the first successful harvest of the Mayflower passengers and the Wampanoag Indians at the Plymouth Plantation in 1621.

Painting: “The First Thanksgiving,” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

Painting: “The First Thanksgiving,” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, c. 1912-1915. Credit: U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

That first Thanksgiving celebration lasted three days. The Wampanoags brought five deer as gifts, which were consumed along with other food that has never been documented.

1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation

Much has been written about Thanksgiving, including President George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation on 3 October 1789, given in response to a request by Congress. Since few have ever read it, I searched GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to find the proclamation as it was printed in the newspapers of that time.

In three paragraphs, President Washington proclaimed “a day of public Thanksgiving and Prayer” to take place on November 26.

article about President George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper article 14 October 1789article about President George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper article 14 October 1789

article about President George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper article 14 October 1789

Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 14 October 1789, page 3

First Mention of Thanksgiving in a Newspaper?

I was curious about the first mention of Thanksgiving in a newspaper prior to Washington’s proclamation.

Would you be surprised to learn it occurred in the earliest newspaper to be published in our country: Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestik?

Richard Pierce of Boston had great hopes for this publication, but it was shut down by the authorities after the initial printing on 25 September 1690. Luckily the full copy of this first American newspaper can be found in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

The article reports:

The Christianized Indians in some parts of Plimouth, have newly appointed a day of Thanksgiving to God for his Mercy in supplying their extream and pinching Necessities under their late want of Corn, & for His giving them now a prospect of a very Comfortable Harvest. Their Example may be worth Mentioning.

article about Indians in Plymouth, Massachusetts, celebrating Thanksgiving, Public Occurrences newspaper article 25 September 1690

Public Occurrences (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 September 1690, page 1

Other Thanksgiving Proclamations

Ordinary subjects of Colonial America were not allowed to decide when to set aside a day of Thanksgiving. Magistrates and other leaders – such as Joseph Dudley, Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay – issued proclamations stating the reasons and guidelines for special days of Thanksgiving.

This 1704 Thanksgiving Proclamation was to celebrate “Victory over their Enemies in the Summer past,” referring to England’s victories in the War of the Spanish Succession. In his order declaring 23 November 1704 a “Day of General Thanksgiving throughout this Province,” the governor prohibited “all Servile Labour” on that special day, exhorting everyone:

to Celebrate the Praises of GOD, for all His Benefits and Blessings, And to devote themselves [to] a Thank-Offering to Him in a right Ordered Conversation.

an article about a proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 13 November 1704

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 November 1704, page 2

Day of Fasting and Prayer

One of the more intriguing early proclamations is this one, in part concerning captives taken from Deerfield, Massachusetts, in a 1704 raid by French and Native American forces. The attackers killed 44 Deerfield villagers and 12 of their militia defenders, and 112 settlers were taken as captives to Canada.

Since calling for a day of thanks would be inappropriate on this occasion, Governor Dudley called for “a day of Publick FASTING and PRAYER” to appease God in hopes of gaining “Remission of our great and manifold Sins that have justly displeased God” and caused the settlers’ misfortune.

In his proclamation, Governor Dudley expressed hope that the day of fasting and prayer would grant them their most fervent wishes:

The Designs of the barbarous Savages against us defeated; Our exposed Plantations preserved; And the poor Christian Captives in their hands, returned.

article about a proclamation for a Day of Fasting and Prayer, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 5 February 1705

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 February 1705, page 1

Day of Thanksgiving for the Captives’ Return

By the end of 1706, many of the captives had been “redeemed” (recovered by the English, either through paying ransom or via prisoner exchanges). This newspaper report of January 1707 notes:

The People of this County are fill’d with Joy, for the Arrival of the Captives…Wednesday the 8th Currant [i.e., this month] was a Day of Thanksgiving there [Deerfield], to Praise GOD for His great Goodness.

article about a proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 20 January 1707

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 20 January 1707, page 4

I am entirely grateful for the captives’ return, as among them were members of my Belden, Burt and Foote families. Click here to see a list of the Deerfield captives of 1704.

Other Days of Thanksgiving

While contemplating the meaning of Thanksgiving, take the time to explore early newspapers to learn more about the many days of Thanksgiving set aside for our ancestors. Here are two more examples I found.

On 20 September 1704, Governor Dudley once again celebrated English victories in the War of the Spanish Succession by announcing that October 18 would be a day of Thanksgiving because it had:

pleased Almighty God in his Great Goodness to preserve Her Majesties Sacred Person, and to prosper Her Arms in the Just War, wherein Her Majesty and Her Allies are Engaged for the preservation of the Liberties of Europe.

The Governor ordered:

That a General THANKSGIVING to Almighty God, for these His Mercies be Observed throughout this Province, within the several Towns and Districts thereof, on Thursday the Eighteenth Day of October next; and do strictly forbid all Servile Labour thereupon; Exhorting both Ministers and People to Solemnize the said Day after a Religious manner, and to offer up sincere and hearty Praises to GOD.

article about a proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 1 October 1705

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 1 October 1705, page 2

In this next example, Governor Dudley on 27 December 1705 called for yet another day of Thanksgiving to celebrate English victories in the War of the Spanish Succession, this one scheduled for January 24.

article about a proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 31 December 1705

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 31 December 1705, page 4

Why not take a little time during this Thanksgiving break to search the old newspapers in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to learn more about early Thanksgiving celebrations and enrich your understanding of this very special day of thanks?

Happy Thanksgiving and blessings to you and your families!

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Light a Candle for Thanksgiving

Plymouth, England, and Plymouth, Massachusetts, are already beginning celebrations (which will culminate in 2020) for the 400th anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflower, with special events on both sides of the Atlantic.

“As one small candle may light a thousand,
so the light here kindled has shown unto many
–Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford

photo of an "Illuminate and Thanksgiving" poster

Source: Mayflower400UK.com

Thousands are expected to parade through Plymouth, England, this year carrying candles and lanterns as they gather at the Mayflower steps there in the harbor where the original ship left for America in 1620.

photo of candles lit on a wharf

Source: Baylor University

Are you planning to light a candle and join in the Thanksgiving commemoration this year?

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Mayflower Genealogy: Finding Your Cousins Using Newspapers

Searching through GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives recently, I found this old newspaper announcement for Margaret (Rogers) Smith’s 81st birthday.

obituary for Margaret (Rogers) Smith, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 23 January 1938

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 23 January 1938, page 12

Margaret Anne (Rogers) Smith (1857-1943) didn’t come to America on the Mayflower ship – but according to this newspaper article her ancestor Thomas Rogers (c. 1572-Winter 1620/21) did.

Ding!
Hey – I am also descended from Mayflower Pilgrim Thomas Rogers.
That makes Margaret my cousin.
What more can I learn about her?

Could it be this easy to find my Mayflower cousins?
Yes – it is.

This historical newspaper article is packed with genealogical clues and information about Margaret, her siblings and children. That would make all of them my cousins too. Armed with these clues I then need to verify and prove each member of the family as I go back generation by generation to our common ancestor: Pilgrim Thomas Rogers.

For starters, the newspaper article gives me Margaret’s photo and tells me that she “celebrated her eighty-first birthday this week at her home at Prosper [Colin County, Texas].”

Wow – her photo. A great find. Nice smile.
So, she was 81 years old in January 1938 and living in Prosper, Colin County, Texas.
That should be easy to verify.

Here is a copy of her death certificate.

death certificate for Margaret (Rogers) Smith

Source: FamilySearch, “Texas, Deaths, 1890-1976,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1942-25246-83874-37?cc=1983324: accessed 3 September 2015), Death certificates > 1943 > Vol 073-079, certificates 036001-039400, Aug, Brazoria-Starr counties > image 314 of 3524; State Registrar Office, Austin.

Good, her death certificate shows that she was still living in Prosper, Texas, when she died, and it gives me her date of birth as 18 January 1857, in Colin County, Texas. Hmm… January 1857 – that was just 11 years after Texas became a state.

The old newspaper clipping also says her grandparents “were among the first settlers in this community.”

Another great genealogy clue.
So it looks like multiple generations of the family had moved from Tennessee to Texas.

The old newspaper article continues giving me the names of her surviving brothers, sisters and children. Perfect. Historical newspapers sure make it easy to research and fill in the entire family tree of my Mayflower ancestors.

My next step is to look at the records available in other newspapers in GenealogyBank, FamilySearch and other sources to verify each member of the family going back generation by generation.

Sometimes you actually can work your family tree from the top down – and in a case like this where the ancestral connection is in the surname line, you can work on your tree from the bottom up. As ever: Trust, but verify and confirm that she is in fact a descendant of Thomas Rogers of the Mayflower.

Genealogy Tip: Researching your Mayflower family lines? Use the old newspapers to find those who are self-identified as descendants of the same Pilgrim ancestors you are. Then link them back, generation by generation, to attach them to your extended Mayflower family tree.

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Full List of Mayflower Passengers in Gov. Bradford’s Newly-Restored Journal

Governor William Bradford’s (ca. 1590-1657) handwritten Of Plymouth Plantation is well known to genealogists as the earliest journal history of the Mayflower passengers, their voyage across the Atlantic, and the settlement in Plymouth Plantation.

According to the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC), the Bradford Manuscript contains 580 pages, is hand sewn, “and bound in a parchment-covered binding.” It is housed in the State Library of Massachusetts.

photo of the Bradford Manuscript being restored by the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC)

Photo: the Bradford Manuscript. Source: Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC).

Click here to read the State Library’s guide to the Bradford Manuscript.

The Northeast Document Conservation Center took on the task of conserving, repairing and restoring this historic manuscript. The NEDCC has now put a detailed article about the conservation process for this important document online.

Click here to read the NEDCC’s account of their work on the Bradford Manuscript.

screenshot of a page from the Northeast Document Conservation Center website describing the restoration of the Bradford Manuscript

Source: Northeast Document Conservation Center

The conservation work was done to prevent further deterioration of the historical journal, and to make it more accessible to the public by the creation of two facsimile volumes.

A digitized version of the Bradford Manuscript is available online.

Of special interest to genealogists, the Bradford Manuscript contains a multipage list of the passengers on the Mayflower.

photo of a page from the Bradford Manuscript showing the list of Mayflower passengers

Photo: Bradford Manuscript page showing the list of Mayflower passengers. Source: State Library of Massachusetts.

Having this invaluable historical Mayflower resource protected – and having a digital copy of the manuscript online – is a great benefit to genealogists.

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Are You a Descendant of Mayflower Pilgrim John Alden?

The Rev. Bailey Loring (1786-1860) was a descendant of John Alden, who was a crew member on the Mayflower and one of the original settlers of Plymouth Colony. Rev. Loring’s mother was Alethea (Alden) Loring (1744-1820), and her great-grandfather was John Alden, who married Priscilla Mullins.

Family stories and ancestral connections were reported in old newspapers, and GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives are essential for getting the stories of your family history. For example, here is Rev. Bailey Loring’s obituary, which states he is a direct descendant of John Alden.

obituary for Rev. Bailey Loring, Boston Recorder newspaper article 10 May 1860

Boston Recorder (Boston, Massachusetts), 10 May 1860, page 75

A “Shout Out” to the Alden Kindred of America, one of my all-time favorite genealogical organizations and websites: FYI—you’ll want to link this obituary and citation to your website. The “Alden Kindred” is a lineage society open to all descendants of John and Priscilla (Mullins) Alden and those interested in the work of the society.

Are you a descendant of John and Priscilla Alden? Tell us about your familial connection in the comments section.

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Man Overboard! Mayflower Pilgrim John Howland’s Story

Did you know that Mayflower Pilgrim John Howland almost didn’t make it to America?

article about Pilgrim John Howland being swept overboard from the Mayflower, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 21 May 1897

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 21 May 1897, page 10

This old newspaper article reports his narrow escape:

…with a roll of ye ship [John Howland was] throwne into the sea, but it pleased God that he caught hould of the topsail halliards, which hunge overboard and ran out of length; yet he held his hould (though he was sundry fathoms under water) till he was held up by the same rope to the brim of the water, and then with a boat hooke and other means got into the ship again and his life saved.

There is a painting by Mike Haywood – “Pilgrim Overboard” – that commemorates this event.

It is a good thing that John Howland was rescued from the sea—not only for his sake—but because he has more living descendants today than any other Mayflower passenger.

Wow – I didn’t know about his near-drowning.

There are so many of our old family stories that simply have not been passed down to us today. Rediscover your family’s stories in GenealogyBank’s more than three centuries of historical newspaper archives.

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Scary Mayflower Fact: Storm Cracked Ship’s Main Beam

I didn’t realize that the Mayflower had such a difficult time when the Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic in 1620.

article about the Mayflower, Boston Herald newspaper article 25 November 1970

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 November 1970, page 26

A long voyage—yes, I knew that.
The ship got off course—yes, I knew that too.

But multiple severe storms, including one that cracked and buckled the Mayflower’s main beam? No, I didn’t remember that part of the story.

Luckily the Pilgrims had brought along nails, screws and other items for building homes in the New World, and were able to use a “great iron scrue” to “force the beam back into place.”

Think of the main beam of a house. The main beam at the midpoint of a ship—“amidships” —is the key beam holding the ship together. This was serious ship damage.

That is a great true story.

You want to know about these ancestral stories—find them, save them and pass them down in the family. You’ll find them in the old, deep GenealogyBank Historical Newspaper Archives.

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