Mayflower Descendants: Who’s Who, Part IV

Introduction: In this article, Melissa Davenport Berry continues her series profiling descendants of the Mayflower settlers, focusing on the Plimpton family line. Melissa is a genealogist who has a blog, AnceStory Archives, and a Facebook group, New England Family Genealogy and History.

With this article, I continue with my series “Who’s Who” of Mayflower descendants and profile a Plimpton family line, known for Yankee ingenuity, that descends from Mayflower passenger William Brewster.

James Leonard Plimpton (1828-1911), born to Leonard and Sarah Turner (Lane) Plimpton, invented a magic patent to make roller skates, in 1863.

Illustration: James Leonard Plimpton, inventor of roller skates. Courtesy of the Society of Plimpton Descendants.
Illustration: James Leonard Plimpton, inventor of roller skates. Courtesy of the Society of Plimpton Descendants.

I found the story related by his granddaughter, Elizabeth Wright Plimpton, in the Evening Star.

An article about James Leonard Plimpton, Evening Star newspaper article 12 March 1963
Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 12 March 1963, page 25

In the article, Elizabeth shared a scrapbook – I’d love to locate that! Here is the skinny on the skates:

“My grandfather [James L. Plimpton] was born on a farm near Medfield – that’s south of Boston – in 1828. He was mechanically inclined… There was a severe open winter, with day after day of skating, which he enjoyed. When the ice broke, he wanted to keep on skating. He made a pair of roller skates, each with four rollers, made of Turkish boxwood.

“He found that he could go straight, but he could not turn or skate in curves… He put a rubber spring in the skates to make them ‘guidable.’”

Next, Elizabeth took out the Encyclopedia Britannica and showed an entry under Roller Skating, which read:

“Until the invention of the now-common cushioned truck for roller skates by James L. Plimpton of Medfield, Mass., in 1863, roller skating was not widely popular; the sport was simply too difficult to master. Plimpton patented his rocking skate that year, and the first great roller-skating craze swept the United States and Western Europe.”

Next Elizabeth produced the scrapbook.

An article about James Leonard Plimpton's skating rink, Evening Star newspaper article 12 March 1963
Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 12 March 1963, page 25

In her scrapbook was a letter from General W. T. Sherman “saying how much he enjoyed the skating.”

She further explained:

“In 1874 my grandfather took my father, Henry R. Plimpton, and my Aunts Frances Amelia, Mary Elizabeth and Sarah Katharine Plimpton to England… My father and aunts skated for Queen Victoria. Soon there were skating rinks in Brighton and Huddersfield.”

According to sources James also offered training classes and medals for the best skaters, popularizing the new sport of “roller polo.”

Photo: the Atlantic House, Plimpton’s skating rink in Newport, Rhode Island
Photo: the Atlantic House, Plimpton’s skating rink in Newport, Rhode Island. Photo taken by John P. Soule, also a Mayflower descendant. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

James’ children mentioned above were all members of the Mayflower Society. Henry Richardson Plimpton (1868-1960), father of Elizabeth Wright Plimpton, joined the Mayflower Society in 1899. His membership was announced in the Boston Herald.

An article about Mayflower descendants, Boston Herald newspaper article 9 March 1899
Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 9 March 1899, page 8

Francis Amelia was featured in “Life Visits the Mayflower Descendants,” Life magazine, 1948.

Mary Elizabeth never married.

Sarah Katherine married Charles Franklin Pierce, noted painter of landscapes and animals.

Photo: Henry Richardson Plimpton. Courtesy of the Society of Plimpton Descendants.
Photo: Henry Richardson Plimpton. Courtesy of the Society of Plimpton Descendants.

Henry Richardson married Edith Alden Hall, also a descendant of William Brewster and Mayflower passengers John Howland, Stephen Hopkins, William Mullins, John Alden, and John Tilley. She was born to Robert Beals and Sarah Delia (Lord) Hall. She too had membership in the Mayflower Society.

Their son, Colonel John Alden Plimpton, was a driving force behind the Society of Plimpton Descendants family gatherings. More on that and other Mayflower family lines coming!

Note: Just as an online collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, helped tell the stories of the Plimpton family line, they can tell you stories about your ancestors that can’t be found anywhere else. Come look today and see what you can discover!

Additional Note on the header image: James Leonard Plimpton and his wife Harriet Amelia Adams. Courtesy of the Society of Plimpton Descendants.

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2 thoughts on “Mayflower Descendants: Who’s Who, Part IV

  1. Great article Melissa! I really enjoyed your article. It’s fascinating to read about Mayflower descendants and their accomplishments. Fun to read!

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