The Pilgrims

A Story Often Told and Part of Our Family Story because of Richard Warren, A Mayflower passenger.

I feel some what perplexed about reviewing information that is widely known. Every school child in America probably remembers dressing up as a Pilgrim for a school re-enactment of that first Thanksgiving. The story is, although vastly simplified and sanitized, part of American culture. I have no problem with this, however it is also incumbent on parents and the public to gently strip away some of the glossing over of historical reality. This doesn’t mean that we are trying denigrate the accomplishments and sacrifices of these brave folks. Indeed, their story is far more interesting and inspiring without the “Disney” approach to reality. What follows is my attempt to relate what happened in an accurate but simplified manner.

I have in my possession sufficient evidence to qualify for and belong to the various “Mayflower” descendent societies. Perhaps if I lived in Massachusetts I would be more inclined to participate, but I have more of a personal interest in telling my family story instead of digging into non-relevant documents. I did enough of that as a grad student. Besides, because of the prolific breeding of these early settlers, the Mayflower dependents probably amount to every 20th American. It is not an exclusive club. So much for the introduction.

Our family has now lived in the land known as  the United States for four centuries. This is the story of our early arrivals in Colonial times. Actually, the story begins before “colonies” and began in the time of “plantations”. These early settlements were usually commercial ventures funded by merchants and investors who hoped to make money by the efforts of what we call today pioneers. Our earliest ancestor to arrive was a member of the group known today as Pilgrims. They were funded to establish a plantation in the area known as Virginia. They got a bit off track and started their plantation near Cape Cod in modern Massachusetts.

The story of the Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock and the first Thanksgiving are a well known part of American iconography. What is frequently overlooked is the back story behind their leaving England.  The Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth I died in 1603 after ruling England for a tumultuous half century. Much of her reign and policies were determined by religious issues that were intricately involved with politics. There was no separation of church and state. The monarch and the church were one. Elizabeth was the premier politician of her day and managed to straddle the line between the religious demands of her citizens and the needs of the state. 

Elizabeth’s Dad, Henry VIII walked England away from the control exerted by the Roman Catholic Church over England with his desire for a male heir. The Dissolution of the Monasteries and seizure of other church assets was also a major driver for the cash strapped ruler. He was also able with substantial gifts to powerful noble supporters to cement his family firmly in power. He became the head of the Anglican or English Catholic Church. As a result, England became a pariah to the powerful Spanish monarchs and he would provoke almost continuous conflict with Spain over the next century culminating in the failed attempted invasion of England in 1588 during Elizabeth’s reign. For modern readers, the idea that Spain could have been an existential threat to merry old England might seem far fetched. But Spain was the Super Power of 16th Century Europe. It was a world wide empire with an economy fueled by the gold and silver from the Americas. England was because of religious division, a deeply divide country of 3 million. Elizabeth managed to intimidate the more radical or “puritan” Protestants in her kingdom while keeping the Catholics under control. Her compromise theology created a church similar to Protestant Lutheran teachings with herself remaining the head of the church and retaining a Catholic type hierarchy. This did not satisfy many of the Puritans, but they put up with Elizabeth who usually looked the other way to their practices.

 With Elizabeth’s childless death in 1603, England was ripe for conflict. James I, the son of very Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, managed to allow Catholics to have some ability to practice their religion as long as they kept their observances under wraps. His Anglican church took on more Catholic practices and Puritans began to argue for removal of Catholic practices such as confirmation, wedding rings and the title of “Priest”. His Scottish subjects were even more aggressive in pushing the Scottish church to a more fundamental form of Christianity inspired by John Calvin. Essentially, the Puritans sought to create a church that was governed by the congregation and not subject to any church hierarchy. James or any other king like him who subscribed to the belief in “Divine Right Monarchy” could not accept this form of dissent.

Among the many initiatives of James I were the creation of the King James Bible and the plantation known as Jamestown in 1607 in Virginia. A lesser known but important effort by James was the creation of the Ulster Plantation in Ireland. While pioneered under Elizabeth, this importation of large numbers of poor Scots into northern Ireland would have an important impact on the Bryson side of our family. Puritans, of whom the Pilgrims were a member, could either be classified as either “non-separating Puritans” who sought to continue the reformation of the Church of England from within or as Separatists who left the church. The established Anglican church harassed and persecuted the non-conforming Separatists like the Pilgrims with fines and jail time. The Pilgrims under the leadership of William Brewster moved to a more tolerant Netherlands by 1607. The Dutch had fought the Catholic Spanish Empire of which they were a part, to achieve their own political and religious independence. Most of the English Pilgrims found Holland as a difficult environment because of language and their concerns over liberal Dutch attitudes. By 1617, the Leiden congregation was actively exploring options for relocation. 

Consideration was given to Dutch colonies in Guiana in South America as well as near the established but struggling Jamestown. Negotiations started with the London Company for Royal patent to settle in Virginia or along the Hudson River. A patent was necessary to remain within the laws and not become outlaws which was too much for even these religious non-conformists. But any royal charter or patent would constrain their ability to promote their religious beliefs. However, a couple thousand mile of Atlantic Ocean would make any royal policing difficult. Finally, in 1620 they received a land grant to settle land that was north of the existing Virginia colony. The Plymouth Council for New England would be outside of the control of Virginia and it was anticipated that the colonists could make a living on the rich fishing grounds.

102 passengers were loaded on the Speedwell and Mayflower and and departed England on September 6, 1620. Ancestor Richard Warren was evidently one of the Leiden Pilgrims who made this initial journey across the Atlantic although he did not go with them to the Netherlands. Only 60 (28 adults) of the total passengers on the two boats were members of the pilgrim congregation. The others were hired by the sponsoring company to assist in the settlement. The crossing took two months and they landed in mid-November just in time for a New England winter.

The charter for their patent was incomplete when they sailed and they were arguably outside the law and their contract with their investors was invalid. They were on their own after landing well north of the Hudson River and without a legal patent. The solution was the creation of what has become known as the Mayflower Compact. They decided that they would be governed by a civil body politic with decisions being made by voting. 41 adult male Pilgrims signed the document including Richard Warren. There were 102 passengers (73 males and 29 females) which included 19 male and three female servants along with some sailors and craftsmen hired by the investors.

Richard Warren was born in England in 1578 and married Elizabeth Walker in the English county of Hertfordshire in 1610. Richard was a merchant by profession. Richard was the father of five daughters. He wisely decided to have them stay in England until the conditions in the new world and the settlement were stabilized. While he was certainly fearless himself, he was cautious with respect to his wife and children. Still on board the Mayflower, Richard is the 12th signer of the Mayflower Compact on November 11, 1620.

In ye name of God Amen· We whose names are vnderwriten, 
the loyall subjects of our dread soueraigne Lord King James 
by ye grace of God, of great Britaine, franc, & Ireland king, 
defender of ye faith, &c

Haueing vndertaken, for ye glorie of God, and aduancemente 
of ye christian ^faith and honour of our king & countrie, a voyage to 
plant ye first colonie in ye Northerne parts of Virginia· doe 
by these presents solemnly & mutualy in ye presence of God, and 
one of another, couenant, & combine our selues togeather into a 
ciuill body politick; for ye our better ordering, & preseruation & fur=
therance of ye ends aforesaid; and by vertue hearof, to enacte, 
constitute, and frame shuch just & equall lawes, ordinances, 
Acts, constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought 
most meete & conuenient for ye generall good of ye colonie:  vnto 
which we promise all due submission and obedience.  In witnes 
wherof we haue herevnder subscribed our names at Cap=
Codd ye ·11· of Nouember, in ye year of ye raigne of our soueraigne 
Lord king James of England, france, & Ireland ye eighteenth 
and of Scotland ye fiftie fourth. Ano: Dom ·1620·|


John Carver
William Bradford
Edward Winslow
William Brewster
Isaac Allerton
Myles Standish
John Alden
Samuel Fuller
Christopher Martin
William Mullins
William White
Richard Warren
John Howland
Stephen Hopkins

On December 6, Richard joined a second exploratory expedition launched from the Mayflower along with around 10 others.  It was on this reconnaissance that the Pilgrims had their first encounter with Native Americans. They quickly found out that their slow loading muskets were no match for rapidly fired arrows. Fortunately for the Pilgrims,  the area explored that would become Plymouth Plantation was already cleared for planting and abandoned by the pestilence that killed most of the Wampanoag residents the year before. 

Construction of houses and shelters began immediately and by mid-January the 20 ft square common house was complete. Each family was given a plot of 8 feet by 48 feet for their house. The buildings were completed by early February. The first house completed became the first hospital. By the end of February 31 Pilgrims were dead. By March there were only 47 survivors of the original 102. A peace treaty was signed with the local Indians and the long awaited Royal patent arrived. 

Richard Warren sent for his family and they arrived on the Anne in 1623. The colony land began distribution in 1623. Warren received two parcels totaling seven acres. The family grew with two sons in 1624 and 26. In 1626, Warren was part of a group called Undertakers who bought control of the original joint-stock company. Richard died as the purchase was being finalized and his widow Elizabeth’s name was substituted. Although Richard held the title of Mr., he was not one of the wealthy members of the group. He is not mentioned in Bradford’s famous history of the colony. Nonetheless, he left seven healthy children and his widow will not succumb until 1673 at the age of 90. Each of the children will have large families with numerous descendants including us. Both Elizabeth and Richard are buried together on White Horse Cemetery in Plymouth. The family linen napkin is on exhibit in the Pilgrim Museum in Plymouth.

Widow Elizabeth Warren will make history in her own way. The fact that Elizabeth completed Richard’s role as one of the Purchasers is startling enough. This was in a time before women could hold property in their own name. She may have been the first English colonist to achieve this distinction. She later deeded property to her sons-in-laws that were challenged in court. The court found that she was indeed entitled to dispose of her property as she chose. The arbitration panel included William Bradford and Miles Standish who concluded “ cease all other and further claims. suits, questions, or any other molestations or disturbance at any time hereafter concerning the premises, but that his said mother and all her children, or any other to whom she has in any way disposed any lands or shall hereafter do the same, but they may quietly and peaceably possess and enjoy the same.(1637)” Elizabeth started a family tradition of feminine stubbornness and willingness to fight for her rights.

Mary Warren arrived in Plymouth with mother Elizabeth and four other sisters on July 10,1623. She was 13 at the time. A fellow passenger Robert Bartlett and she would marry in 1627. He was 24 and she 17 at the time. Robert received an acre of land in 1633 with the First Division but missed out on the Division of Cattle in 1627 because he was not married at the time. Robert’s birthplace in England is unclear but he probably apprenticed as a cooper or barrel maker as that is what he will refer to himself as in colonial documents. He was mowing land with his mother-in-law Elizabeth in 1633. His marriage to Mary Warren will result in eight children with our ancestor Mary’s birth in 1633 and his securing a piece of the Warren farm holdings as a probable dowry. He was recognized to own a large farm that ran from the Eel River (next to present day Plimoth Plantation) to Pine Hills by the time of his death in 1676. In addition to being declared a Freeman by 1633. He will serve as surveyor of highways and a juryman. He managed to get hauled into court in 1660 to “answer for speaking contemptuously of the ordinance of singing psalms”. He evidently was successful in his farming as he was able to order a custom iron fireplace door that today resides in the Pilgrim Museum in Plymouth. 

Mary will have eight children before passing in 1686 at the age of 81. In 1673, Mary receives her inheritance of land from her mother’s estate. Upon the death of husband Robert, she will sells her estate to son Joseph.

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