Dani's Niche

Family history. A novel idea.

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400 years ago the Mayflower sailed from England

Painting: Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall, 1882.
Source: Wikipedia. Public Domain

If your ancestors were English, you may be one of ten million living Americans and around thirty-five million worldwide who claim descent from one or more of the 102 passengers and 30 crew of the Mayflower. (1) 

The Mayflower, financed by a London stock company, is called the Pilgrim ship because 37 passengers were “saints” or “separatists” (later referred to as pilgrims) who left England for religious reasons. Most of the passengers, 65 of them, were merchants, adventurers, and servants.

The Mayflower departed from Plymouth, England in September 1620. The three-masted ship, typical of English merchants ships of that time, was not well-suited against the prevailing winds of the Atlantic and the rough seas—which it faced due to the long delay in Southampton. The return voyage took half the time.

Beset with a meager food supply, buckets for sanitation, and a small living area—a low-ceilinged 1600 square foot space—the passengers endured two months of formidable conditions. The ship anchored at Cape Cod, north of their intended destination, on November 11th.

On arrival, those who survived the voyage found themselves ill-prepared for below-freezing temperatures. They relocated to Plymouth, Massachusetts where disease claimed about half the passengers and crew who had remained on the ship. Here, 41 passengers signed the Mayflower Compact, swearing allegiance to the English king and establishing self-government in the New World. This early attempt at democracy set the stage for future colonists seeking independence from the British. 

My Mayflower Ancestor

My sister and I grew up believing that our ancestors came from the British Isles. More recently, my sister’s DNA testing confirmed this and linked us to a distant relative who had corresponded with our mother years ago. To our surprise, he sent our genealogical line to prove descent from a Mayflower passenger who was a signer of the Mayflower Compact.

The passenger was Richard Warren, a merchant from London, recruited by Thomas Weston, of London Merchant Adventurers, London’s leading guild of overseas merchants. Born in Hereford, England in 1578, he married Elizabeth Walker in 1610. In 1620 he signed on for the voyage as a merchant to help establish Plymouth Colony in America.

Richard and Elizabeth and their five daughters ((Mary, Ann, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Abigail) probably meant to sail together to America on either the Mayflower or Speedwell. When the Speedwell became unseaworthy, Richard joined a smaller group on the Mayflower, leaving his family to come three years later on the ship “Anne.” (also financed by the Merchant Adventurers Two sons were born at Plymouth Colony in America.

An Independent Woman

After Richard’s early death in 1628, his widow Elizabeth legally assumed some of his government duties, unusual for a woman of that time. The family became one of the more prosperous in Plymouth Colony.

Elizabeth remained a widow for 45 years and lived to see at least 76 of her great grandchildren. All of Richard Warren’s children survived to adulthood, married, and had large families. So, although Richard Warren died eight years after his arrival in America, he seems to have more descendants that any other passenger. (2)

Richard received two acres in the Division of Land in 1623 as a passenger of the Mayflower and five acres as a passenger (his family) on the Anne and Division of Cattle in 1627.

“This year (1628) died Mr. Richard Warren, who was an useful instrument and during his life bare a deep share in the difficulties and troubles of the first settlement of the Plantation of New Plymouth.” (3)

Richard Warren was one of the original 1626 Purchasers, the 53 male citizens of Plymouth Colony who underwrote some of the colony’s debt. His name does not appear in the list of purchasers because he died in 1628, but Elizabeth’s name appears.

Elizabeth Warren (1583-1673) was not a Pilgrim, yet she is classed with the Pilgrim Mothers. “One Pilgrim woman, however, breaks through the patriarchal conventions of 17th century society. By the longevity of her widowhood and by the independence of her actions, Elizabeth Warren emerges from the collective category of “Pilgrim Mother” as a highly individual woman.” (4)

The Pilgrim women are known by their husbands and children. Elizabeth, however, was acknowledged for her own accomplishments. In 1635 she appears in the Records of Plymouth Colony in a new role. Having fulfilled the obligations of her deceased husband, Elizabeth now acts as an independent agent. Numerous activities were documented in the records. It is recorded she deeded land from the Warren holdings in Plymouth’s Eel River Valley to her sons-in-law. 

The Bartletts

Their oldest child was Mary Warren, born about 1610 and died 1683 in Plymouth. She married Robert Bartlett, a fellow passenger on the ship “Anne,” about 1629/30 and had eight children. He may have been a cooper. They are buried at White Horse Cemetery Plymouth, Mass.

My sister and I are descended from their son Joseph Bartlett and his second wife, Hannah Pope. An interesting tidbit—my grandmother, born on May 1st, was given a name appropriate for her birth date and heritage—May (or Mae) Flower.

Many famous people are descended from Richard Warren, but I am particularly interested to learn of any readers also descended from the line of Joseph Bartlett and Hannah Pope.

For further research

-General Society of Mayflower Descendants (Mayflower Society) 

bartlettsociety.org (also on Facebook)


-Caleb Johnson’s Mayflower History


(1) “Of the 102 passengers of the Mayflower, 24 males produced children to carry on their surnames. And although approximately half of the Mayflower passengers died at the plantation during the harsh winter of 1620-21 (one passenger had died at sea while another was born before landing), today, a staggering 35 million people claim an ancestral lineage that runs all the way back – sometimes through fifteen generations – to the original 24 males. That number represents 12 percent of the American population.”  from General Society of Mayflower Descendants website

(2)  Richard Warren’s descendants include Civil War general and President Ulysses S. Grant; President Franklin D. Roosevelt; and Alan B. Shepard, Jr. the first American in space and the fifth person to walk on the moon; and various well-known evangelists, actors, and authors.

(3) From Nathaniel Morton’s 1669 book, “New England’s Memorial”

(4) pilgrimhall.org