My grandma emailed me today (she is one of those cool old people who knows how to communicate electronically). She has been doing a lot of genealogy work lately, and she just learned that one of her ancestors (Richard Warren) came over on the Mayflower. She was thrilled.
I decided to try to share her excitement and look into this Richard Warren, which meant brushing up on my Pilgrim history. I never learned much about the Pilgrims growing up in Africa. I generally thought of them as boring dudes with funny hats who ran away from the evil Anglicans and claimed land in a new world that was not really so new or unexplored or free for the claiming. And, apparently, they had this big harvest party called Thanksgiving. Here is what I learned.
Richard Warren was described by one who knew him as a “useful instrument [who] during his life bore a deep share in the difficulties and troubles of the first settlement of the Plantation of New Plymouth.”
He boarded the Mayflower at Southampton, as one of the “strangers,” not one of the separatists. He left his wife, Elizabeth, and five young daughters (Mary, Ann, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Abigail) in England to sell the family shop and join him when the colony had been established.
He was a co-signer of the Mayflower Compact, and one of the company that initially went ashore to scout, hunt, fall trees, and build shelters. He survived the first encounter with the Nauset indians, when arrows flew thick and musket balls rained back. He endured the bitter winter of 1620, when almost half of his fellow pilgrims come on the Mayflower perished.
Tisuqantum taught him to plant corn and squash. He learned to fish like the Wampanoag and to discern between the good berries and the bad. Unlike half of his company, he lived to see the first harvest, when the corn was plentiful. He spent three fall days feasting, praising God, and rejoicing with the settlement and their Wampanoag neighbors. As Edward Winslow wrote in a letter a few months after the feast, which we now call the first Thanksgiving,
Our corn [i.e. wheat] did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn… Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
Richard lived to see Tisquantum’s treachery and death in 1622, and learned to trust Hobomok, the plantation’s faithful translator and representative to the Wampanoag. He ached with loneliness for his family, longing to see their faces and hold them again in his arms.
In 1623, he was reunited with his darling Elizabeth and his five precious daughters. Having taken care of the housekeeping details in London, they followed him to Plymouth on the Anne, nearly three years after the Mayflower layed anchor in Cape Cod. After being reunited as a family, Richard and Elizabeth had two sons, Joseph and Nathaniel, in the new world.
He and his family witnessed the rescue of the Sparrow-Hawk company, desperately ship-wrecked off of the coast of Cape Cod in 1626. He may have aided in rescuing or housing the victims of the battered ship during the nine months that the castaways remained at New Plymouth.
He received his own land and cattle in 1927. He died in 1928, in his early forties, having built a strong foundation for his family in a vast and unpredictable land. He left his wife of 18 years and seven children, all of whom lived to adulthood, married, and had large families.
I descended from one of those children, and here I am today, 386 years and 362 days after the Mayflower arrived, Great Grandpa Richard signed the Compact, and my family began living the “American dream.”
So I am really tied to all of this history after all.
Maybe Richard Warren’s story sounds daring, courageous, and All-American, but if his treatment of the Wampanoag was anything like the treatment some historians ascribe the early settlers, or even the treatment given by the next generation descended from the Pilgrims, I wish not to claim him.
Why couldn’t I have descended from a woman like Zevriah Mitchell?
But I know now. This history is in my blood. I descend from a line of oppressors… and Grandma is excited.
John Wesley would understand my sadness. He was appalled at treatment given the Native Americans by the English colonists. Read these condemning lines from his sermon entitled “A Caution Against Bigotry“:
Even in cruelty and bloodshed, how little have the Christians come behind them! And not the Spaniards or the Portuguese alone, butchering thousands in South America; not the Dutch only in the East Indies, or the French in North America, following the Spaniards step by step: our own countrymen, too, have wantoned in blood, and exterminated whole nations; plainly proving thereby what spirit it is that dwells and works in the children of disobedience.
My own little slice of ancestral injustice.
EDIT: In the years since I wrote this post, I’ve learned that although I am not descended from Richard Warren (Grandma got a bit muddled in her genealogy), I still have descended from early British colonists.