Unusual Happenings in Early American Colonies

There are many backstories as to why some things happened and what life for the early American Colonists was like.

Starting with the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachuettes. It was the summer of 1620 were moved to Massachusetts because they ran out of beer. It began on August 5th, 1620, when they departed Plymouth, England, for a journey across the Atlantic to the newly established Virginia Colony. In other words, when they set out, the Pilgrims’ destination had not been Massachusetts, but a point significantly further south. The vagaries of weather, the hardships of crossing an ocean in a seventeenth-century sailship, coupled with low levels of beer, made them change their minds about where to settle. Beer was important, really their main source of liquid since the water available on the ship after a long voyage was not clean enough. So the Mayflower‘s Pilgrims relied on beer as a source of hydration that would not spoil.

Being off course, further north than Virginia Colony, caused the Pilgrims land due to the lack of enough beer led the Pilgrims to explore the coastline of Cape Cod and the mainland nearby, until they finally decided upon a site. On Christmas Day, December 25th, 1620, the Pilgrims founded Plymouth Plantation as their new colonial settlement, and as the site where they would brew up a fresh batch of beer.

Until well into the nineteenth century, Britain routinely got rid of convicted criminals via penal transportation – a system whereby undesirables were shipped to far away colonies. An alternative sentence for felonies, transportation was usually imposed for offenses for which the death penalty was deemed too severe. Upon arrival at their destination, the convicts were sold into indentured servitude for a fixed term. The prisoners were free once their sentence term was over, but in practice, lack of funds usually meant that they were stuck where they had been transported, unable to return to Britain. In the 1700s, Britain’s American Colonies and the West Indies were the most popular dumping grounds for such undesirables. One such person was Sarah Wilson (1754 –1865) arrived in colonial Baltimore in 1771. Sarah had exhibited a knack for the con from early on. As a teenager, she had roamed England and took advantage of the credulity and compassion of people.

Sarah Wilson had a gift for impersonation. Although born into the lowest class, she was able to act as if she was a member of upper society. Sarah Wilson got herself a job in Buckingham Palace as a maid to one of Queen Charlotte’s ladies in waiting. She had light fingers, however, and was fired after she stole some of the queen’s jewels and gowns. She was also arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to hang – theft was one of the hundreds of crimes punishable by death in Britain back then. Luckily, her sentence was commuted to penal transportation to colonial America. Upon arrival in Baltimore, Sarah was taken off the convict ship and sold as an indentured servant, but escaped within a few days.

She had managed to hang on to some of Her Majesty’s belongings, and clad in the queen’s dress, she claimed to be Queen Charlotte’s sister, “Princess Susana Caroline Matilda of Mecklenberg-Sterlitz”. To explain her presence in the American Colonies, she invented a royal family quarrel and a scandal that required her to temporarily leave Britain until things calmed down. During her time as a maid in Buckingham Palace, Sarah had observed royal mannerisms and aristocratic etiquette. She managed to convince many colonial Americans that she really was a princess, and parlayed that into a life of luxury.

She also took out numerous loans and bought many luxury items on credit from merchants and shopkeepers eager for royal patronage and the custom of a princess. The scam ended when her master finally caught her and took her back to Baltimore. In 1775, she escaped again, and made her way northwards, where she met and married a British Army officer during the American Revolution. After the war, the couple stayed in the newly independent United States, after which Sarah vanishes from the historic record.

Photo: The Pilgrims landing at Plymouth.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

The American Colonies

Colonial Indentured Servants

New England

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