The First Thanksgiving
With Thanksgiving nearly upon us it seems appropriate to remember the Pilgrims who were among the first to come to America in search of religious freedom. Although theirs was not the first harvest celebration or “day of thanksgiving” in America, the struggles and triumphs of the early colonists embody the American ideals. As a result, it is the Pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony that we associate with our modern-day Thanksgiving feast. Many people in the United States have Mayflower Ancestors.
In fact, sources estimate that more than 35 million Americans are descended from the Mayflower passengers that arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. After nearly 400 years it is not too surprising that so much of their DNA is wandering around this great nation of ours!
I am privileged to have several Mayflower ancestors. In fact, RelativeFinder tells me I am related to no fewer than 9 Mayflower passengers. If you are not familiar with RelativeFinder you can try it out for free at RelativeFinder.org (login with your FamilySearch account) or read a brief review here. It shows the following relations:
Relation to Mayflower Passengers
Keep in mind that these conclusions are derived from the data in the FamilySearch Family Tree. For events prior to 1800 very little of what is in the tree has been adequately documented. So please be cautious in trusting this information. In fact, in my own case, I have not vetted any of these results yet. However, I am confident that I am a direct descendant of Samuel Fuller, the nephew of the Samuel Fuller shown above. (I am not sure why RelativeFinder does not show Samuel Fuller or his father, Edward Fuller in the results.)
The Mayflower Society
If you think you may have Mayflower ancestors, I recommend you check out the Mayflower Society website at themayflowersociety.org. They have some wonderful resources to help you. The site also includes instructions for applying for membership. Membership requires adequate documentation (“proof”) that you are indeed descended from Mayflower passengers. The Society has largely completed professional work for all descendants for 5 generations from the original passengers. This means if you can connect to someone who has already been proven to be a documented descendant you don’t need to do original research all the way back to a Mayflower passenger.
Samuel Fuller (1608-1683)
The Mayflower ancestors I know the most about are Samuel Fuller and Edward Fuller. Samuel was about 12 years old at the time of the voyage. He came across with his father, Edward Fuller, his mother, and his uncle Samuel Fuller. Because of the brutal conditions of that first winter both of young Samuel’s parents died along with nearly half of the other passengers. Only 53 people lived to see the Spring of 1621. After the death of his parents, he was raised by his Uncle Samuel. He later married Jane Lathrop, the daughter of Reverend John Lathrop. (For an interesting treatment and history of John Lathrop, see this article by Joanne Dickinson).
Below is my lineage back to Edward Fuller:
- David Taylor (me)
- Alma Reeves Taylor, III (living)
- Alma Reeves Taylor, Jr. (b. 1925)
- Florabel Tiffany (b. 1907)
- Ellen Celeste Earl (b. 1884)
- Zilpha Diadema Fuller (b. 1856)
- Elijah Knapp Fuller (b. 1811)
- Cornelius Fuller (b. 1770)
- John Fuller (b. 1730)
- Cornelius Fuller (b. 1710)
- Matthew Fuller (b. 1663)
- Samuel Fuller (b. 1637)
- Samuel Fuller* (b. 1608)
- Edward Fuller* (b. 1575)
Brief History of the Mayflower Company
NOTE: Most of this section is abridged from the account given on MayflowerHistory.com.
A group of pilgrims (separatists and nonconformists) left England in 1609 fleeing religious persecution. They moved to Holland where they lived for a number of years and prospered. After a few years their children were speaking Dutch and had become accustomed to the Dutch way of life. This worried some of the Pilgrims and so they decided to sail to the New World. Some of the group returned to England to make preparations for the voyage. The main body, however, was sill living in Leiden, Netherlands.
The Mayflower was hired in London, and sailed from London to Southampton in July 1620. There it began loading food and supplies for the voyage. The Pilgrims in the Netherlands hired a ship called the Speedwell to take them from Delfthaven, the Netherlands, to Southampton, England, to meet up with the Mayflower. Both ships planned to sail together to Northern Virginia (modern-day New York state). The Speedwell departed Delfshaven on July 22, and arrived at Southampton, where they found the Mayflower waiting for them. The Speedwell had been leaking on her voyage from the Netherlands to England, however. Their departure was delayed for a week or more while repairs were made, and other problems with their travel were worked out.
Onward to America
On August 5, the two ships finally set sail for America. But the Speedwell began leaking again. Frustrated with the amount of time lost, they returned to Plymouth, England, and made the decision to leave the Speedwell behind. Then, the cargo on the Speedwell was transferred over to the Mayflower. At this point some of the Separatists decided to stay behind. About a dozen others crammed aboard the very crowded Mayflower. Many of those that stayed behind came a year later aboard the Fortune.
When the Mayflower departed Plymouth, England, she was carrying 102 passengers, including three pregnant women. During the voyage, one baby was born, Oceanus Hopkins, making a total of 103 passengers. Three days before land was sighted, one passenger, William Button, died, so that the Mayflower arrived with 102 passengers.
On the early morning of November 9, 1620, the Mayflower‘s crew spotted land. It was the first land they had seen in more than two months, and signified to the Pilgrims that they were near the end of their long voyage. What a relief, and what excitement it must have been! The crew determined that the land they were seeing was Cape Cod, somewhat to the north of the Hudson River in New York where the Pilgrims intended to plant their colony.
So the Mayflower turned south to head for Northern Virginia. But on the way, the Mayflower encountered some very treacherous seas, and nearly shipwrecked. The passengers and crew were very shaken up by the near disaster at sea. So they decided to head back to Cape Cod, instead of trying to make another attempt to head south.
They entered Cape Cod in the early morning of November 11, and anchored in what is now Provincetown Harbor, waiting for sunrise. After the sun was up and the tide was high, they sent ashore a small group of men to collect juniper wood. This they intended to burn to improve the smell onboard. Over the next month and a half, the Pilgrims sent out multiple exploring parties, seeking out a suitable place to build their colony. On Christmas Day 1620 they finally decided on Plymouth and began constructing their first buildings.
Early Life in Plymouth Colony
It was late in the season when they arrived, and the conditions were harsh. Nearly half of the 102 passengers that arrived died during the first winter. Among the casualties were young Samuel Fuller’s parents.
As mentioned, the Pilgrims started constructing their living houses and storehouses in late December 1620. Unfortunately, they only managed to get a couple built during the first winter. Their efforts were hindered further by occasional fires, usually caused by a spark or ember from the fire making it onto the roof, which was constructed of dried thatch.
On 28 December 1620, the Pilgrims assigned out house-plots to the 19 family groups–each family was responsible for building their own house, as well as supplying labor to build community storehouses, a defensive fort, and sheds. But without the time, good weather, and enough manpower to quickly build a house, many of the Pilgrims continued to live on board the Mayflower throughout the winter.
The settlers must have been immensely grateful for Spring to arrive. Once the Pilgrims had settled themselves in Plymouth, they slowly began to learn about other food sources. The bay was full of fish. There were clams, mussels, and other shellfish that could be gathered, and the bay was also full of lobster. Waterfowl such as ducks and geese were hunted, as were wild turkeys and other birds, and even the occasional deer. The Pilgrims had also brought seeds with them, to plant English vegetable and herb gardens, as well as larger crops such as barley, peas, and wheat. And while exploring Cape Cod, they managed to “borrow” large baskets full of Indian corn they had found buried in the ground on a hill they named Corn Hill.
You may recall that our Mayflower ancestors made contact with their native american Wampanoag neighbors. Then through the assistance of “Squanto” (Tisquantum), the Pilgrims learned the Indian techniques for planting and growing corn or maize (which involved manuring the ground with shad caught in Town Brooke). In addition, they learned how to catch eel in the muddy riverbeds.
The harvest of 1621 was bountiful and the 53 remaining colonists invited their Native American friends to join them for a great harvest feast. This has become the basis of our modern-day Thanksgiving holiday. Particularly after their grueling ordeal in the Atlantic crossing and the cruel winter with inadequate shelter and food supplies, they must have been extremely grateful indeed for the abundance of food. They now had better shelters and a bright hope for the future.
Four Hundred Year Celebration
In 2020, we will celebrate the 400-year anniversary of the arrival of the so-called Pilgrims of the Plymouth Bay Colony. A great commemorative celebration is being planned. Much like the Jamestown 2007 commemoration of the last decade. The festivities, grouped under the organization, Plymouth 400, will formally begin in November 2019 – one year prior to the official quadricentennial.
Whether you have Mayflower ancestors or not in your family tree, you might consider planning a trip to celebrate. The organization expects that millions of people will visit and participate in one of their many, many activities and special exhibits.
My Fuller ancestors lived in the Cape Cod area (Plymouth and Barnstable) for several generations. Then Edward Fuller’s great-great-grandson, Cornelius Fuller (1710-1790) moved to Connecticut and to New York. The Fuller’s then established themselves in New York for a time.
Cornelius’ great-grandson, Elijah Knapp Fuller (1811-1897) was born in upstate New York south of Syracuse. He and his wife Ellen Celeste Woodward joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in about 1842 or 1843. They left their family behind and headed west. With their new religion, they too, sought a new country where they could be free from religious persecution.
This Thanksgiving I invite you to share a story of trial and triumph with your family. You could choose to share stories of Mayflower ancestors or someone much closer.
Where to Learn More
There are many wonderful and reliable sources about the early Plymouth colonists and Mayflower genealogy. Here are just a few.
MayflowerHistory.com – website containing easy-to-read history of the Mayflower and her passengers.
The Mayflower Society – website of General Society of Mayflower Descendants. Learn history, or apply for membership.
New England Historical Genealogical Society portal – Collection of physical and digital records of New England history, including the Mayflower.
Featured Image Credit: “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe