Surprising New Details about My Mayflower Pilgrim Ancestors

As I have mentioned in previous posts, like many of you I am descended from some of the original Mayflower Pilgrims. One of these Mayflower ancestors is Francis Eaton (1596-1633), a carpenter, who came to the New World with his family in 1620.

A montage of newspaper clippings about the Mayflower passengers
Source: GenealogyBank, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 27 November 1957, page 8

According to my notes, Francis is my many times great-grandfather. I already know quite a bit about him from history books and my own family history research, but I know much less about his wife who accompanied him aboard the Mayflower. In fact, all I know from my notes and other historical sources is that Francis’s wife’s name was Sarah (c. 1590-1621), and that she and Francis married in England around 1618 and had a son named Samuel before boarding the Mayflower, but very little else has been recorded about her.

To see if I could discover any new details about my Pilgrim ancestors, I decided to research them using GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. A lot has been written about Francis’s life in the colonies, but I was looking specifically for articles that included both Francis and Sarah. I assumed that any records that mentioned Sarah would also mention Francis, so I searched for Sarah’s first and last names and included the keyword “Mayflower” to narrow the search results down to just sources that mentioned the Mayflower Eaton’s.

A screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page showing a search for "Sarah Eaton" and "Mayflower"
Source: GenealogyBank

This search generated an interesting article from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about the original Mayflower Pilgrims.

An article about the Mayflower passengers, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel newspaper article 27 November 1957
Source: GenealogyBank, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 27 November 1957, page 8

This newspaper article explains that, although many people believe that the Pilgrims came to America for religious freedom, the reality is that fewer than half of them had religious motivations – the others were hired to settle the colony by the Merchant Adventurers, the company that sponsored the voyage. Those that came for religious reasons were called “saints,” while those who were hired were called “strangers.”

Notice in the article, Francis and Sarah are listed not among the religious pilgrims, but among the strangers who were paid to settle the colony – meaning they didn’t come for religious purposes after all, but were hired to settle here.

According to a notation in Francis’ FamilySearch records, he was the ship’s carpenter on board the Mayflower:

“Francis Eaton was a carpenter by trade and [historian Charles Edward Banks] believes that he was the Mayflower ship’s carpenter, being in the employ of the Merchant Adventurers, financial supporters of the Mayflower venture.”

Next, I tracked down Charles Edward Banks’s book to find the passage the notation above refers to. A quick search on Google Books returned the passage in question.

Source: Google Books, Banks, Charles Edward. The English Ancestry and Homes of the Pilgrim Fathers
Source: Google Books, Banks, Charles Edward. The English Ancestry and Homes of the Pilgrim Fathers, (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2005), p. 52.

Governor William Bradford listed Francis and Sarah Eaton, along with their son, toward the end of his Mayflower passenger list.

Photo: a page from William Bradford's journal showing the Mayflower passenger list
Source: Massachusetts State Archives, Bradford Passenger List, page 2

Notice that following this entry is a list of men traveling alone – and then the entry for John Alden who “was hired for a cooper, at South-Hampton, where the ship victuled.”

Based on these findings, I can assume that Francis and Sarah were, in fact, “strangers” in the colonies rather than religious pilgrims. However, we can also safely assume they had one thing in common with the rest of the passengers aboard the Mayflower: a hope for a fresh start and a new life in America that was better than the one they left behind.

Genealogy Tip: Even if you think you know a lot about your Mayflower Pilgrim ancestors, GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives can be a great resource for finding new details that your records may not already have, including information that may dispel preconceived ideas that you had about your early progenitors.

Related Articles:

14 thoughts on “Surprising New Details about My Mayflower Pilgrim Ancestors

  1. Francis Eaton is my 10th Great grandfather Thank you for the information
    Me Christina Eaton
    → Edwin Glenn Eaton
    your father → Irving Chandler Eaton
    his father → Abel Ellsworth Eaton
    his father → Adelaide “Addie Eaton
    his mother → Charles Clark Perry
    her father → Christianna Cushman
    his mother → Zebedee Cushman
    her father → Thomas Cushman
    his father → Sarah Cushman
    his mother → Benjamin Eaton, Jr.
    her father → Benjamin Edson Eaton
    his father → Francis Eaton, “Mayflower” Passenger
    his father

  2. Well, this certainly throws a monkey wrench into my research! I thought Damaris Hopkins was a woman who married Jacob Cook! AND I thought she was the second Damaris because the first one died.

  3. Toni – Damaris Hopkins (woman) did marry Jacob Cook (man).
    Together they had a lot of children – at least 7 by my count.
    Tell me again where the ‘monkey wrench’ is in your research?


    1. That’s terrific Emma.
      Are you documenting your family history online – on online family tree sites like FamilySearch or Ancestry?
      That is a valuable way to preserve and pass down your family history for the rest of the family.

      Tell us what you are doing to preserve your research.


  4. Thank you for sharing information. My great- great- etc-etc grandfather is Kenelm Winslow, brother to Edward and Gilbert. I believe Kenelm, who was an accomplished cabinet & furniture maker, came over last. In your records Gilbert is listed as a “Stranger” (hired) whereas Edward (on the original Mayflower) was very religious and therefore a “Saint.” I am guessing some of these colonists might have actually been both: “Saints” and “Strangers” — as in Kenelm’s case, he being a furniture craftsman who might have been hired.

    1. Are you related to Jean or Cathy Standish (both originally from New Jersey
      if my memory is correct ) ?

  5. Thank you for all the great information. I just (30 minutes ago) found out that I am a descendant of Francis Eaton. Always thought it was George Soule and William Brewster. Mr Brewster was incorrect but that led me to Francis Eaton. Looking forward to more discoveries!

    1. Nancy, I am also a descendant of Francis Eaton….AND George Soule…..down my line a descendant of one married the descendant of the other.

  6. Robert Scott! I am the 13th Cousin once removed to Henry Samson 1604-1684 and wife Ann Plummer 1615-1684. I live in the County of
    West Sussex, United Kingdom. I just love history! I notice a lot of U.S. sites do very little research on their birth background in the UK. I find it is all inclusive to know the background history where possible, otherwise one has only half of the facts. Kind Regards Bob Scott.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *