There are precious few records of the women who boarded the Mayflower, but their strength and role in the dramatic voyage and settling in a new land (including cooking the first Thanksgiving feast) cannot be underestimated.
Eighteen adult women boarded the Mayflower at Plymouth, with three of them at least six months pregnant.
They were Susanna White, Mary Allerton and Elizabeth Hopkins who braved the stormy Atlantic knowing that they would give birth either at sea in desperate conditions or in their hoped destination of America.
Women in 1620 had little rights and their history is patchy, given little thought was given to recording their endeavours.
When the ship arrived in Cape Cod, the men went to shore - spending two months trying to find a suitable place to settle before building storehouses and creating the beginnings of Plymouth. The women stayed on the Mayflower to care for the sick and the young - in damp, crowded and filthy conditions, which meant many would die before they were able to step foot on land.
Just five women would make it through that first, harsh winter.
Here, we take a closer look at some of the women who boarded the Mayflower, and their origins in England. You can explore more of the Mayflower Story here and explore all the passengers origins in our interactive guide.
Susanna gave birth to Peregrine while the ship was anchored in Cape Cod in late November 1620 (she also travelled with a fiver-year-old son called Resolved as well). Peregrine would become known as the ‘first born child of New England’ and become a prominent farmer and military captain. Susanna’s husband William would sadly die weeks months later in February 1621.
Susanna, now with a newborn son and a five-year-old to care for, was the only widow who survived that perishing first winter in the New World and one of five women to do so - the others being Elizabeth Hopkins, Mary Brewster, Eleanor Billington and Katherine Carver - who sadly died in May 1621.
These four women, together with young daughters and male and female servants, would go on to cook the first iconic Thanksgiving feast.
She would marry again, to widower Edward Winslow, and have five children - their’s would be the first marriage in the new Plymouth Colony on May 12, 1621. Susanna would certainly have been one of the more prominent figures in the new settlement, married to Edward, who was a leader in the community.
She is buried in Winslow Cemetery in Marshfield, Massachusetts, where today there is a large stone memorial bearing her name along with her children and second husband.
In recent years new evidence has surfaced that links Susanna to Nottinghamshire, where it believed she lived at Scrooby Manor.
Evidence uncovered by local historian and expert in English Separatists, Sue Allan, indicates that Susanna resided at Scrooby Manor in North Nottinghamshire before making the epic journey to New England in 1620.
“The origin of Susanna Winslow has long been a mystery as, until now, we’ve been unable to identify her maiden name and birthplace,” said Sue Allan.
“Identifying the origins of the female pilgrims is a real challenge as there is generally so little information recorded about them – women had very few rights at that time, but they are so significant when painting the picture of the Pilgrim history.”
Historian Sue Allan (third from left) with American descendants of Susanna White outside Scrooby Manor
But a poignant letter penned by her second husband Edward Winslow in 1623 provided an important link between Susanna and the Jackson family, including leaseholder of Scrooby Manor, Richard Jackson.
Sue continued: The letter we uncovered was the missing link we needed to conclude that Richard Jackson was in fact Susanna’s father and prove her Nottinghamshire origins. This is really exciting – Susanna was a very important figure; not only was she aboard the Mayflower ship, she was also pregnant during the voyage and gave birth to the first child to be born once the Mayflower reached the New World.
“After her first husband William White died that first winter, Susanna underwent the first marriage in New England – to Edward Winslow who became three times Governor of the Plymouth Colony.”
Elizabeth gave birth while at sea, to a boy she aptly named Oceanus - who would tragically die aged two after the Pilgrims had settled into a life of hardship in their new surroundings.
She survived the first winter to cook the first Thanksgiving feast but little is known of her origins or what would become of her.
She married Stephen Hopkins on 19 February 1617/8 at St Mary Matfellon Church in Whitechapel, and had a daughter Damaris born somewhere in England around 1618. They were part of a group of Pilgrims known as the ‘Strangers’ who were not part of the congregation of Separatists living in Leiden, Holland.
The Strangers made up more than half the Mayflower passengers are were merchants, craftsmen, skilled workers and indentured servants, and three young orphans. All were common people, and about one-third of them were children - and they were crucial to the colony’s success.
They would have initially boarded the Mayflower in Rotherhithe, before they met up with the leaking Speedwell in Southampton. They would stop again in Dartmouth and Plymouth before setting off for America.
Priscilla was not one of the 18 women recorded to have crossed the stormy Atlantic - she was just a child at the time, one that had a hard start to her new life.
Her father William Mullins died on February 21 while the ship was docked for four months. His wife and daughter (and Priscilla’s mother and brother) Alice and Joseph died in the first winter, meaning Priscilla started life in the New World as an orphan at the tender age of 18.
She was originally born in Dorking, Surrey, and went on to marry John Alden in what is thought to be the third marriage in the Plymouth colony. Priscilla was one of the surviving women, who became a family, and fought through the hardship to help the colony eventually thrive.
She is probably the best known from the poem The Courtship of Miles Standish by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. According to Longfellow’s legend, John Alden spoke to Priscilla Mullins on behalf of Miles Standish, who was interested in the lovely young woman. But she asked, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?”
By 1627 they were living in a house on the hillside, across from the Governor’s house and near the fort. John Alden served in various offices in the government of the Colony. He was elected as assistant to the governor and Plymouth Court as early as 1631, and was regularly re-elected throughout the 1630s. Priscilla would become a leading figure in the colony.
For more information about Sue Allan, historian and tour guide visit www.mayflowermaid.com
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