When the colonists came over to the new world, they really didn’t know how they were going to make a living. They were most likely planning to raise their own crops, along with hunting and fishing, but the reality is that those things were only going to take them so far. They were going to need other things. In 1620, Plymouth Colony was founded in present-day Massachusetts. The settlers there had planned to make a living with cod fishing, but that wasn’t going very well. So, within a few years of their first fur export, the Plymouth colonists began concentrating entirely on the fur trade. They developed an economic system in which their chief crop, Indian corn, was traded with Native Americans to the north for highly valued beaver skins, which were then sold in England to pay the Plymouth Colony’s debts and buy necessary supplies.
In November 9, 1621, Robert Cushman a deacon and captain of the Fortune arrived with 35 new settlers for Plymouth Colony…the first new colonists since the settlement was founded over a year earlier. The plan was to drop off the settlers, and then a month later, head back to England with a cargo of furs to pay for supplies and to pay debts the colony owed to England. On December 13, 1621, Robert Cushman and the Fortune set sail back to England, but theirs was not to be a good voyage. During Cushman’s return to England, the Fortune was captured by the French, and its valuable cargo of furs was taken. Cushman was detained on the Ile d’Dieu before being returned to England. The capture was due to a navigation error. About January 19, 1622, Fortune was overtaken and seized by a French warship, with those on board being held under guard in France for about a month and with its cargo taken. Fortune finally arrived back in the Thames on February 17, 1622.
The Fortune was 1/3 the size of the Mayflower, displacing 55 tons. The arrival of the vessel sent by the English investors, who had funded the Mayflower colonists, should have been a cause for celebration. But for the Pilgrims, Fortune was poorly named. The ship brought 35 new settlers, but none of the expected supplies. With new mouths to feed, rations were reduced by half. Worse, the investors demanded that the ship return immediately to England, stocked with trade goods. The Pilgrims complied by loading Fortune with “good clapboard as full as she could stow” and two hogsheads of beaver and otter skins, only to have them lost to the French, which the English investors did not seem to care about.
After the Mayflower brought the Plymouth settlers, they struggled under the demands of their English investors for seven years. The investors also sent a letter criticizing the settlers because the Mayflower arrived back in England with an empty hold, and demanding that the Fortune return immediately filled with valuable goods. The colonists complied. For the next six years, they sent sizable shipments, especially of furs, back to England. But the goods yielded far less profit than the investors expected, and as the seven year mark approached, the colonists were still in debt. Finally, 27 of them pooled their personal resources and paid off the debt. Once free of the requirement to live communally and hold all property in common, the original settlers divided the land into private lots, and the era of the “Old Comers” was over.
As I have been working through some of the hints on my Ancestry tree, I am amazed by the number of family members from varying sides of my family and my husbands family, who started their life in America, or moved early in their life in America, to the same places. I don’t know if they knew each other, or even if they were there at the same time, but the roots are there nevertheless. They may not have lived in the same town even, but sometimes it was close. One state that I just keep coming up with is Massachusetts. Who would have ever thought some of my roots would have come from Massachusetts?
Recently I started talking to a relative from my dad’s side of the family that was traced to me through DNA matching. We have been unable to connect our two trees yet, because of limited information back through the generations, but DNA doesn’t lie, and we both have Fuller relatives in our background…and both sides come from…you guessed it, Massachusetts. I have also been looking at the Shaw side of my mother’s family because of another recent connection in Ancestry, that I’m not yet sure is related or not. Nevertheless, once again, I have run into Massachusetts as their point of origin to the United States. In the Shaw family, we also find that we have a Mayflower connection, in the form of one Lieutenant John Shaw, who arrived in America on that ship.
Now, switch to my husband’s family, and you will find that the Noyes family, another connection I made recently, also hail from Massachusetts. I have known for some time now, that my husband, Bob Schulenberg, and I are cousins of varying degrees, depending on the side of the family you look at, and now I think I can understand how some of this might have come about. I think much of it can be traced back to Massachusetts. The connections don’t all trace there, but there are enough of them that it made me very curious about all those people who lived in Massachusetts way back then. Then I came across John Spencer, who is my 8th great grand uncle, and the Reverend James Noyes, who is Bob’s 7th great grandfather, both came over on a ship called the Mary and John, and were among the first settlers of Newberry, Massachusetts, so my suspicions are confirmed. That also brings in yet another side of my family…the Spencer side.
This will be a developing story, of course, because as I trace things further, and discuss more of the family history with these new found cousins, more information will come to light. Whenever I find these new connections, I get very excited, because you just never know where they are going to lead you. I had always through that most of my roots were in the Wisconsin/Minnesota area, but of course, that could not have been, because when our ancestors came to this country, they didn’t arrive in Wisconsin or Minnesota, but rather along the east coast, because that was the area of the nation that had been developed at that time. So in reality, I knew we came from the east coast, but Massachusetts…seriously!! I never would have guessed it.
Thanksgiving Day is behind us for this year, of course, but today is a day that ties into Thanksgiving in a big way. On September 16, 1620, the Mayflower left Plymouth, England on its way to the New World. I can’t begin to imagine how so many of our ancestors must have felt at that time. It was going to be a long voyage, and some of them might not make it to the end of the trip, but going was worth the risk. There were 102 passengers on the 90 foot ship. The ship was bound for Virginia, where the colonists half of whom were religious dissenters and half of whom were entrepreneurs, and all of whom had been authorized to settle in the New World by the British crown. The trip was difficult, with rough seas and storms that blew the ship 500 miles off course. When they landed, it was in Massachusetts and not Virginia that the colonists found themselves, and I guess they were not bound by the exact location, because no one was there to tell them that they had to move. So they settled there.
I did not recognize anyone on the passenger list that I specifically knew to be related to me, but there were numerous sir names that I have seen in my own family history. In researching the genealogy of the people from the Mayflower however, I find that we are related to some of them because, some of the people that we know that we are related to are related to some of them. An expedition of men was sent out to scout the land, and the ship remained anchored at the tip of Cape Cod in what is now Provincetown harbor in present day Provincetown, Massachusetts. While the men were out scouting for a suitable place to build a town, Susanna White, a passenger on the ship, gave birth to her second child, a son named Peregrine. He was the first English child born in New England.
The expedition found a suitable place to settle, with cleared fields and plentiful water. They returned to the ship and the ship was moved to what is now Plymouth Harbor, arriving on December 21st. Two days later, on December 23, 1620, construction began on the settlement that was to be named Plymouth…this day 394 years ago. The first year was really difficult, with half of the people dying of disease. It was a difficult time for the colonists. It wasn’t until 1621 that the health of the people improved…as did the economic condition, with a great harvest.
To celebrate, the governor, William Bradford invited neighboring Indians to Plymouth to celebrate the bounty of the year’s harvest, in what would become the first Thanksgiving Day celebration. The people secured peace treaties with the Indians, and soon more people were attracted to the settlement of Plymouth. By the 1640s the population was over 3,000, but was nevertheless, overshadowed by the larger population of the Massachusetts Bay Colony that was started by Puritans in 1629.
Nevertheless, it would be the Plymouth colony who would have the honor of hosting the first Thanksgiving, and the honor of being know as the first Pilgrims. The name pilgrim did not come into being until the early 19th century and it was from a manuscript written by Govern Bradford in which he spoke of the “saints” who traveled to the New World as “pilgrimes” in 1620. Orator Daniel Webster spoke of the “Pilgrim Fathers” at a bicentennial celebration of Plymouths founding. The name pilgrim stuck and they have been know as such in history ever since. So, while Thanksgiving is past, believe it or not, its beginning actually happened on December 23, 1620, almost a year before the actual event took place.