A ‘Blacksheep’ Pilgrim or the First American Individualist?

People generally have the notion that the Pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony in the 1620s were a very docile, proper group of people, just seeking a new homeland to worship as they saw fit.  Yet, that original group of 102 passengers on the tiny Mayflower ship of 1620 was quite diverse. The following is about one family who stood out from the rest at Plymouth.

The Billington family was from Lincolnshire County, England.  Traveling on this Mayflower voyage was John Billington who was born about 1580, his wife, Elinor and their two young sons; John Jr. born about 1604 and Francis, born about 1607 in England. Those did not follow the Pilgrim religious teachings were known as ’Strangers’. The Billington family may have actually been Roman Catholics, a religious group immensely disliked by the Pilgrims.

The family did have some wealth from land held in England and were able to have a private cabin on board the Mayflower.  Almost from the beginning of the trip there appeared to be tensions between the Pilgrims and the Billington family members, especially the father, John.

Out to sea there was an attempted mutiny at one point for which John Billington was said to have been involved. Once the ship reached the Cape Cod area and was anchored in Provincetown Harbor, the Mayflower passengers remained living on board the ship until suitable housing was construction on land.

It was during this time that young Francis Billington shot off his father’s gun near a half-filled gunpowder barrel that was opened. The muzzle flash of the shot could have very easily ignited the gunpowder causing the whole ship and its passengers having been blown to bits. Luckily, this course of events did not happen and no one was hurt by the young son’s actions.

The father, John, was part of the group of 41 men who signed on November 11, 1620 the ‘Mayflower Compact’, which would help establish the law in this new colony. They collectively agreed to follow the Compact’s rules and regulations for the sake of survival of all.

After settling into their new homes at Plymouth, young Francis Billington climbed to the top of a tree near a hilltop.  Once up high enough he noticed a very large body of water in the distance.  He let the men of the colony know of his discovery. Francis thought it might be the South Sea, part of the Pacific Ocean.  Instead it was found to be a 269-acre large lake. From then on that body of water has been known as “Billington Sea”.

Only 51 of the original 102 Mayflower passengers survived that first harsh winter of 1620 to 1621.  The sole adult women to survive were Elizabeth Hopkins, Elinor Billington, Susanna White, and Mary Brewster. With the assistance of a couple of the older girls, it was those four women who were in charge of the food preparation for the three-day harvest feast celebrated by the colonists in the fall of 1621. Added to the first Thanksgiving feast were Chief Massasoit and 90 Native Indian men, plus the newest child, Peregrine White, who was born the end of November in 1620.

The story is continued in the next day’s Genealogy Blog.

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