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Norfolk connections to 400-year-old Mayflower 

Exactly 400 years ago, a group of brave pilgrims sailed from England on a hazardous journey to North America on the Mayflower in search of a new life. The group included a dozen with Norfolk roots and the colonists’  influence on the future United States of America was profound. Keith Morris reports.

The Mayflower’s passengers were in search of a new life – many seeking religious freedom, others a fresh start in a different land. They would go on to be known as the Pilgrims and their story became a central theme in the history and culture of the United States.

More than 30 million people can trace their ancestry to the 102 passengers and approximately 30 crew aboard the Mayflower when it landed in Plymouth Bay, Massachusetts, in the harsh winter of 1620.

The Mayflower, leaving on?September 16, 1620, took 66 days to cross the Atlantic in severe winter storms. When the pilgrims made landfall in New England, they knew they had no right to settle in the land and decided to draw up a document that gave them some attempt at a legal standing.

The Mayflower Compact, signed by 41 men on board, was an agreement to co-operate for the general good of the colony and was the first written constitution in the New World and laid the foundations for the American Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Among the group of pilgrims who left England to sail on the Mayflower, no fewer than a dozen were believed to have Norfolk roots. However, many of them died in the first harsh winter.

There was also a significant thirteenth Norfolk connection to the Mayflower Pilgrims.

John Robinson was the Pastor to the Pilgrims but never joined the Mayflower. He led many of the Pilgrims first to the Dutch town of Leiden, then helped to plan the pioneering journey of the Mayflower. He was instrumental in a planning a second Pilgrim voyage but tragically died before being able to live out his dream.

John became a fellow at Cambridge University’s Corpus Christi College in 1599 and moved to Norfolk where he took charge of St Andrew’s Church in the centre of    Norwich.

His radical views on religion meant he was suspended from this role and instead, he preached to a small Separatist congregation before going to Leiden.

Norfolk pilgrims

The Fuller family – Edward Fuller was the son of a butcher from Redenhall in South Norfolk. He sailed with his wife and 12-year old son Samuel. Edward and his wife both died in the first winter of 1620/21.

The young Samuel survived the winter of 1620/21 and became a freeman in Plymouth in 1634. He married Jane Lothrop in 1635 and is recorded as having 9 children. He moved to Barnstable and died there in 1683.

Edward had a brother called Samuel, also born in Redenhall, who travelled with him.

Samuel became a deacon in the Leiden Separatists church and was part of the group who decided to relocate to America. He trained to be a doctor before sailing on the Mayflower. Samuel's wife Bridget sailed over in 1623 and they had two children born in Plymouth – Samuel and Mercy.

Samuel was among other senior members of the group who bought the joint-stock company in 1626.

In 1629 and 1630 Samuel was sent to assist the colonists of Salem and Charlestown as they were sick and also needed help in organising their local Church. In 1633 Samuel fell ill himself and died.

John Hooke, born in Great Yarmouth in 1607, moved with his family to Leiden. After his father died, John was apprenticed as a 12-year-old to Isaac Allerton as a tailor. John accompanied Isaac and his family on the Mayflower but died in the first winter, aged just 13.

Thomas Williams was also born in Great Yarmouth, in 1582 and had moved to join the Leiden congregation. All that is known of Thomas was from historian William Bradford, who noted that Thomas Williams had died soon after their arrival in the general sickness.

Thomas Tinker, his wife Jane and son, from Thurne in East Norfolk, were among the Pilgrims who had lived in Leiden for a while. Thomas was listed as a carpenter. The whole family died in the first sickness, according to Bradford.

Edmund Margesson, a free man aged 34, was believed to have been baptised in Swannington near Reepham in 1586. He did sign the Mayflower Compact but died soon after his arrival in Plymouth.

Francis Cooke, born in Norwich in 1583, had moved to Leiden where he married Hester Mahieu, a French Protestant, and they had six children. Francis and his eldest son John travelled on the Mayflower. His wife and the rest of the children came out in July 1623 to join them. He died in 1663.

Desire Minter was believed to have been born in or near Norwich and travelled with her family to Leiden. After her father died she became a maid servant to John Carver who then took her with him on the Mayflower. After John Carver’s death in 1621, Desire was one of the people who returned to England.

Much of the pilgrim details comes from contemporary historian William Bradford and more can be found on the www.mayflower400uk.org website from which some details for this article have come.

Pictured above is a replica of the Mayflower in Plymouth harbour, USA. Picture by wikimedia/GmaJoli.

Keith Morris, 16/09/2020

Keith Morris
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