With as many as 35 million people worldwide descended from the Mayflower Pilgrims, it’s little wonder that group includes celebrities, royalty, American presidents, statesmen and women, and famous writers.
The General Society of Mayflower Descendants, was set up in 1897 and is committed to research the lineal descent of the Pilgrims and provides education about those who travelled on the Mayflower in 1620.
The society, which has its headquarters in Plymouth, Massachusetts, aims to provide an understanding of why the Pilgrims were important, how they shaped western civilisation and the impact their epic transatlantic voyage had on the world today.
They have identified numerous celebrities whose ancestry can be traced back to passengers on the Mayflower. Here are a few you'll recognise!
American actor, filmmaker, musician and politician Clint Eastwood descends from the Mayflower passenger William Bradford. Eastwood started acting in the 1950s and is known for achieving success in the Western TV series Rawhide. He rose to international fame with his role as the Man with No Name, in the Dollars trilogy of spaghetti Westerns during the 1960s, and as cop Harry Callahan in the five Dirty Harry films throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Eastwood won Academy Awards for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, both of which he acted in and directed.
Eastwood descended from Pilgrim William Bradford and is the 12th generation of his family born in North America.
William Bradford was born in 1589 in Austerfield, South Yorkshire, and was orphaned by the age of seven. He was brought up by an uncle and as a teenager was drawn to the local Separatist Church - when they faced prosecution Bradford attended secret meetings held at William Brewster’s house. He joined the Separatists in Amsterdam when he was 18 in 1608.
He worked there as a silk weaver until he moved with the congregation to Leiden. He married Dorothy May who was originally from Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, in 1613 in Amsterdam, and they went onto have a son John in 1617.
Bradford was a leading member of the group planning to move to America and was active in searching for a settlement in the New World.
The couple left their son, who was about three, in Leiden when they sailed on the Mayflower - but in December 1620, whilst the ship was anchored in Provincetown Harbour, Dorothy fell overboard and drowned.
In 1623 Bradford married widow Alice Southworth and became the colony’s second governor after the death of John Carver. He oversaw its finance, justice and historic record, and went on to be re-elected 31 times before his death, missing only five years. He began writing his history of Plymouth Plantation in 1630 and finished it in 1651. He died in 1657 leaving a library of over 100 books. His son John did eventually travel to America and settled in Duxbury, just outside the original colony.
The American actor, best known for playing Superman, also descended from William Bradford. Born in 1952 in New York City, Reeve played the DC comic book superhero in the Superman movie series - a role he was tall enough for but was too skinny. He refused to wear fake muscles under the suit so instead went through a two month training regime and diet that a former British weightlifting champion devised for him, eventually adding 30 lbs of muscle to his frame for the role.
Reeve appeared in other critically acclaimed films such as The Bostonians in 1984, Street Smart in 1987, and The Remains of the Day in 1993. In 1998 he received a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Golden Globe Award nomination for his role in the television remake of Rear Window. He was left quadriplegic after being thrown from a horse during an equestrian competition in May, 1995 and for the rest of his life used a wheelchair and portable ventilator to breathe. He lobbied on behalf of others with spinal cord injuries and for human embryonic stem cell research, founding the Christopher Reeve Foundation and co-founding the Reeve-Irvine Research Center. He died at the age of 52, in October 2004 after going into a coma following a cardiac arrest. His wife and doctor believe an adverse reaction to a drug used to treat an infected pressure ulcer caused his death.
American magazine publisher and founder of Playboy magazine Hugh Hefner is also descended from William Bradford. He was editor-in-chief of the magazine that featured revealing photos and articles, which was first published in 1953 featuring a nude calendar shot of Marilyn Monroe. It sold over 50,000 copies. The Playboy brand was extended into a worldwide network of Playboy Clubs by Hefner. He also lived in luxury mansions where Playboy ‘playmates’ shared his wild partying life - attracting huge interest from the media. He was an advocate of ‘sexual liberation’ and ‘freedom of expression’, and became known for moving an ever-changing circle of young women into the Playboy Mansion.
He was well-known for his sex life and party lifestyle, but lesser known for being a political activist in the Democratic Party, and for the causes of First Amendment rights, animal rescue and the restoration of the famous Hollywood Sign.
He died at his home in Los Angeles in September 2017, at the age of 91 from sepsis brought on by an E.coli infection. He is buried at a memorial park in Los Angeles next to Marilyn Monroe.
Descendants of the Mayflower passengers even include royalty. Marie-Chantal, Crown Princess of Greece is also descended from John Alden. She is the wife of Pavlos, Crown Prince of Greece who is the son of the last King of Greece King Constantine II - the monarchy was abolished in 1973. She is also a Danish princess by marriage as her husband is a male-line descendant of Christian IX of Denmark.
Marie-Chantal is also the founder and creative director of designer children’s clothing brand Marie-Chantal, which was started in 2000.
American actor and singer Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby was one of the world’s first multimedia stars, leading in record sales, radio ratings and movie grosses from 1931 to 1954. His hit “White Christmas” remains the best selling single of all time, topping the charts in three different years in the 1940s. He was among the most popular and successful musical acts of the 20th century, and a survey based on movie tickets sold in 2000 found that Crosby was the third most popular actor of all time behind Clark Gable and John Wayne. He was born on May 3, 1903 and died on October 14, 1977.
Bing Crosby descended from Pilgrim William Brewster.
Brewster and his wife Mary travelled on the Mayflower with their two youngest sons Love, aged 13 and Wrestling, aged 9. The rest of his children - Jonathan, Patience and Fear - were left behind but travelled to the New World later.
He was born in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire in 1566, and served as a postmaster there, like his father. He went to Cambridge University in 1580 but didn’t graduate. Brewster was instrumental in establishing the Separatist church with Richard Clyfton, using the Scrooby Manor for meetings. He and the members of the congregation faced prosecution so escaped to Amsterdam in 1608 and then to Leiden in 1609.
He became the church’s Elder and began publishing religious books and pamphlets with Edward Winslow and Thomas Brewer which were illegally sent back to England. He led the congregation on the Speedwell ship from Leiden, then on the Mayflower. Mary his wife died in 1627 but he never remarried. He died in 1644 at the age of 80, leaving nearly 400 books in his library including over 60 in Latin.
The American actress who was a Hollywood leading lady for more than 60 years also descended from William Brewster. Known for her fierce independence and spirited personality, Hepburn appeared in a range of genres from screwball comedy to literary drama and received a record four Academy Awards for Best Actress. She was named the ‘greatest female star of Classic Hollywood Cinema’ by the American Film Institute in 1999.
Hepburn started acting whilst at college and spent four years in the theatre before breaking into Hollywood. She won an Academy Award for her third movie Morning Glory in 1933, but a series of commercial failures followed, until in the 1940s she was contracted to Metro Goldwyn Mayer and a screen partnership with Spencer Tracy began. It spanned 25 years, and produced nine movies - it was only after Tracy’s death in 1983, that Hepburn spoke openly about having had a private relationship with him all those years.
Hepburn won three more Oscars in the latter half of her life for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968) and On Golden Pond (1981). She remained active into old age, appearing in television films - her final screen appearance in 1994 at the age of 87. She died in 2003 at the age of 96.
Hollywood heart throb Richard Gere is also a descendant of William Brewster. Gere began appearing in films in the 1970s but became famous after his role in American Gigolo in 1980. He is most well-known as a leading man and sex symbol for his roles in An Officer and a Gentleman in 1982, Pretty Woman with Julia Roberts in 1990 and tear-jerker Sommersby in 1993. He won a Golden Globe for playing Billy Flynn in the Academy-award winning musical Chicago in 2002.
As well as William Brewster, Richard Gere is also descended from John and Eleanor (Ellen) Billington. The family came from Cowbit in Lincolnshire and had two sons, John and Francis, all of whom travelled on the Mayflower.
John Billington Junior was about 16 when the family left on the Mayflower. His brother Francis, who was about 14, shot his father’s musket too close to gunpowder inside the ship while it was anchored in Plymouth harbour and died. Then John Billington Senior got lost and was held by Native Indians after arriving in the New World but was returned unharmed. Records show he was alive in 1627 when cattle was allocated, but he was not listed on his father’s will in 1630. He was hanged for the murder of John Newcomen in September 1630. His wife Ellen or Eleanor was one of only four women to survive the first year at the colony. In 1636 she was sentenced to sit in stocks and be whipped.
The American statesman and political leader descended from Mayflower passengers Isaac Allerton, Francis Cooke and John Howland. Roosevelt - often referred to by initials FDR - was the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 to his death in 1945. He was a member of the Democratic Party and won a record four presidential elections, subsequently becoming a central figure in world events during the first half of the 20th century. He was in charge during most of the Great Depression, and his third and fourth terms were dominated by World War II. He is rated by scholars as one of the three greatest US presidents, alongside George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Roosevelt descended from Isaac Allerton, Francis Cooke and John Howland.
Allerton was born in 1586 in Ipswich, Suffolk, and was a tailor who became a businessman and politician. He married Mary Norris from Newbury, Berkshire in Leiden in 1611. They travelled on the Mayflower with their children Bartholomew who was seven or eight, five year old Remember, and Mary who was about four. Mary was pregnant on board the Mayflower and gave birth to a still-born child while the ship was at anchor in Plymouth harbour in 1620. She died two months later.
Allerton served as William Bradford’s assistant in the 1620s and 30s and was sent to England to manage discussions with original investors. He became a merchant, trading with the new colonies along the American east coast, and died in 1659 in New Haven.
Francis Cooke was born in 1583 in Norwich. He was a wool-comber and was in Leiden in 1603 where he married French Protestant Hester le Mahieu in. He joined the Separatist Church in 1611 and moved back to the UK for a while before returning to Leiden. He and Hester had six children. Cooke took his eldest son John onboard the Mayflower to America in 1620, leaving his wife and other children behind. They came out in 1623 and the family were reunited in the colony. He died in Plymouth in 1663 and Hester died three years later.
John Howland was born in 1592 and came from Fenstanton, Huntingdonshire. He was a manservant to John Carver when the Mayflower sailed. He fell overboard during a storm but managed to hold onto parts of the topsails, so the crew could save him with a boat-hook. He married fellow Mayflower passenger Elizabeth Tilley and they had 10 children who all survived into adulthood. In 1626 he had enough money to help buy out the original joint-stock funders along with Bradford, Brewster, Standish, Alden and Allerton. He was elected assistant to the Governor in 1633-1635. He was over 80 when he died in 1672.
George H. W Bush - and his son George W. Bush descended from Mayflower passengers John Howland, Francis Cooke and John Tilley.
George Bush Senior was the 41st president of the United States from 1989 to 1993. He was usually known as George Bush until his son became the 43rd president in 2001. He was a member of the Republican Party and also served in the US House of Representatives, as US Ambassador to the United Nations and as Director of Central Intelligence. Bush ran for president in 1980 but was defeated in the Republican primary round by Ronald Reagan. He was then elected vice president in 1980 and 1984 as Reagan’s right hand man. In 1988 he defeated Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis, becoming the first incumbent vice president to be elected president in 152 years. He lost the 1992 presidential election to Democrat Bill Clinton, but often worked alongside his former opponent in humanitarian activities. At the time of his death he was the longest-lived president in US history.
Both George Bush senior and junior descended from John Howland, Francis Cooke and John Tilley.
John Tilley was born in Henlow, Bedfordshire in 1571, and married his wife Joan in 1596. The couple both died during the first winter in the colony. They were on board the Mayflower with their daughter Elizabeth, who was 13 when they sailed. She survived and at the age of 17 married Mayflower passenger John Howland in 1624. They had 10 children who all lived and married, so as a result she has a large number of descendants.
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