Children of the Mayflower

It is thought that there were around 30 children on board the Mayflower during the epic voyage to America, but little is known about many of them. 

They were children of passengers, some travelled with other adults and some were servants - but it was important to the survival of the Plymouth Colony to have young people among the settlers. 

It's believed that when the colonists faced that first cruel winter of illness and deaths in a new land, it was the children who would help the adults, tending the sick, helping to prepare food, and fetching firewood and water.

While nearly half of the ship’s passengers did not survive the winter of 1620/1621, it is believed there were fewer deaths among the children, which meant the struggling colony had more chance of flourishing.

Here we look at a few of the children who travelled on the Mayflower, where they came from and what they went onto do in New England. 

Richard More

Richard More was one of the four More children from Shipton in Shropshire - Ellen, Jasper, Richard and Mary - who were on board the Mayflower and whose tragic story has become a famous one linked with the epic voyage. 

The siblings' presence on the Mayflower was a result of a failed arranged marriage between their mother Katherine More and ‘father’ Samuel More. Historians believe Katherine had a longstanding affair with neighbour Jacob Blakeway and that her four children were his. Her husband Samuel became suspicious when the children resembled Blakeway, and the couple separated. 

Samuel ended up with custody of Ellen, Jasper, Richard and Mary and paid for their passage on the Mayflower to ship them off to America and get rid of them. Historians believe he paid for a double share and £20 per child so they would each have 50 acres after seven years. 

They were aged four to eight at the time and were placed within the households of prominent Pilgrims. Jasper travelled with Governor John Carver, Ellen was placed with Edward Winslow, whilst Richard and Mary travelled with Elder William Brewster. 

As with so many of the Mayflower passengers, the tough journey, disease and the harsh winter, meant they did not all survive.

Only Richard, who was six during the voyage, lived through that first winter in America. Jasper died in December while the Pilgrims were trying to find a place to settle, and Ellen and Mary died some time between January and March 1621. 

Six years later, Richard was still living with the Brewster family. In 1636 he married Christian Hunter in Plymouth, and a year later sold all his property and moved to Salem where he joined the local church. The couple went onto have seven children. Richard More was a seaman and ship’s captain, travelling a lot to various colonies to deliver supplies and fighting in various early naval sea battles.

According to historians, Richard married Elizabeth Woolno in 1645 - but Christian was still alive, not dying until 1676, making Richard a bigamist. Two years after Christian died, Richard married again, this time to widow Jane Crumpton in 1678. Richard died some time between 1693 and 1696 and was buried in Salem. 

Peregrine White

Peregrine White was born to parents Susanna and William White while the Mayflower was anchored in Cape Cod in late November 1620. He became known as the ‘first born child of New England’ and went onto become a prominent farmer and military captain.  

Peregrine’s mother Susanna was one of 18 adult women who boarded the Mayflower at Plymouth, and one of only three who were at least six months pregnant. 

When the ship arrived in Cape Cod the men went ashore and spent two months finding somewhere to settle, and the women stayed on board the Mayflower to look after the sick and young. This was in damp, dirty and crowded conditions so many of them died before they stepped foot on land. Only five of the 18 survived that first, harsh winter. 

Peregrine was the second baby born on the Mayflower’s historic voyage - after Elizabeth Hopkins gave birth to Oceanus whilst the ship was actually sailing across the Atlantic. Tragically Oceanus died at the age of two. 

Peregrine was also the first known English child born to the Pilgrims in America. His five year old brother, Resolved, also travelled on the Mayflower with his parents. 

Peregrine went on in later life to become active in the military from the age of 16, going on to serve as a lieutenant and later a captain. He was also a farmer and later became involved in government affairs within the Plymouth Colony serving the community as a representative to the General Court.

Peregrine married Sarah Bassett in 1648/49 and they had seven children. Historians say they were fined for fornication before marriage though, because records showed their first child Daniel was born in 1649, meaning they married after becoming pregnant. 

Peregrine died on July 20, 1704 in Marshfield, Massachusetts at the age of 83. 

Priscilla Mullins

Priscilla Mullins is one of the most famous women linked to the Mayflower but she was only a child at the time, aged 17 or 18 during the voyage. 

She was born in Dorking, Surrey in 1602, and went aboard the Mayflower with her parents William and Alice, and brother Joseph - two other siblings stayed in England. But she was the only member of her family to survive that first winter in America, leaving her to start the new life they’d dreamt of, as an orphan.

Shortly after in 1622 or 1623 she married John Alden, who was the ship’s cooper. He had been hired to take care of the barrels during the voyage, but decided to stay in America when the Mayflower returned to England. Their marriage was thought to be the third in the Plymouth Colony and the couple went on to have 10 or 11 children. Most of these lived to adulthood and were married, meaning Priscilla and John have a huge number of descendants living today.

They lived in Plymouth until the late 1630s, across from the Governor’s house. John Alden served in various roles in the government of the Colony, and Priscilla was a leading figure too. They later moved north to help establish the town of Duxbury. 

Priscilla is likely to be best known from the poem The Courtship of Miles Standish by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. According to the poem, Standish asked his good friend John Alden to propose to Priscilla on his behalf, only to have Priscilla ask, “Why don't you speak for yourself, John?”

She is last found in the records in 1650 but historians believe she died only a few years before her husband in 1680 in Duxbury.

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