The Mayflower

the ship Mayflower anchored in the harbor after arriving at Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Women on the Mayflower

Image: The Ship Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor
By William Halsall

The passengers on the ship Mayflower were the earliest permanent European settlers in New England. They were referred to as the "First Comers" and they lived in perilous times. With their religion oppressed by the British government and the Church of England, the small party of Separatists who comprised almost half of the passengers on the ship sought a life where they could practice their religion freely.

Freedom We Seek
On September 6, 1620, the ship Mayflower set off from Plymouth, England on its journey to the New World. There were 102 passengers, which included 41 English Separatists (who would become known as the Pilgrims), who were seeking a new life of religious freedom in America. The Separatists had obtained a Patent from the London Company, which indentured them into service for the Company for seven years after they arrived.

The Pilgrims

bronze statue dedicated to the young Pilgrim women on the Mayflower

Pilgrim Women at Plymouth Colony

The Pilgrim Maiden Statue
Sculpted by Henry Hudson Kitson
Brewster Gardens, Plymouth, Massachusetts
Dedicated in 1924 to "those intrepid English women whose courage, fortitude and devotion brought a new nation into being."

In the first years of the 17th century, small numbers of English Puritans broke away from the Church of England and committed themselves to a life based on the Bible. Most of these Separatists were farmers, poorly educated and without social or political standing. The Separatists were persecuted in England, and many fled to Holland where their religious views were tolerated. They remained there for almost 12 years.


Abigail Adams Smith

daughter of John and Abigail Adams, Nabby died of breast cancer in 1813

Breast Cancer Awareness Month Biography

Daughter of Abigail Adams

October is recognized as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The primary purpose is to promote regular mammograms as the most effective way to save lives by detecting breast cancer at its early stages. Nabby Adams Smith (1765-1813), daughter of John and Abigail Adams, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 45. Of course, she had none of the advantages we now have to help her fight the disease.

Abigail Amelia Adams Smith
Nabby was shy and somewhat withdrawn, but a striking woman, with long red hair, a round face, deep-blue eyes and a porcelain complexion. She commanded respect simply because of the quality of her mind and her unfailing dignity.

Abigail Amelia Adams was born in Braintree, Massachusetts, on July 14, 1765, the firstborn of Abigail Adams, the most prominent woman in early American society, and John Adams, Founding Father and second President of the United States. They began calling her "Nabby" when she was still a baby. By age 10 Nabby was a mature girl and helped her mother with farm chores while her father and brother were away on diplomatic missions.

In 1785, while John Adams was the U.S. minister to Great Britain, he called for Abigail and Nabby to join him in London. Shortly afterward Nabby met William Stephens Smith, who was serving as her father's secretary. Born on Long Island, New York, in 1755, Smith had graduated from Princeton University in 1774.

William Smith had served in the Revolutionary War as an aide-de-camp and fought in several battles in New York and New Jersey: the Battles of Long Island, Harlem Heights, White Plains, Trenton and Monmouth. He was on the staff of General Lafayette in 1780 and 1781, then transferred to the staff of .

Though he was 10 years her senior, Nabby married William Smith at the American minister's residence in London on June 12, 1786. In the spring of 1787, Nabby's first son, William Steuben, was born. Three more children followed, all born in New York: John Adams, Thomas (who died at age one), and Caroline Amelia.

The Smiths returned to America in 1788. After settling in Jamaica, Long Island, Nabby expressed her disenchantment with the formalities of social interactions in New York City and complained of the wasted time and energy society spent at parties and dinners. She generally stayed at home on Long Island, where, she told her mother, "I have as much society as I wish in our own family."

Nabby did, however, become more involved in society after the arrival of her parents in New York City when John Adams became vice president to George Washington in 1789. That same year, President Washington appointed William Smith the first United States Marshal for the District of New York, which brought him into the company of high-ranking officials.

Accordingly, the Smiths dined with the Washingtons at least once a week, often sharing the company of Governor and Mrs. Clinton of New York and others. However, the socializing was short-lived; when the new government moved to Philadelphia in 1790, William and Nabby, with their three children, remained in New York.

While William Smith had seemed a suitable husband at first, he proved to be "wholly devoid of judgment," in Abigail's words. Abandoned on numerous occasions while her husband went "seeking his fortune", Nabby showed herself to be a true child of her parents, strong-willed, uncomplaining and able to keep herself and her children together under one roof, earning the unstinting respect of John and Abigail and of her brother John Quincy.

Smith became involved in a series of speculative ventures that led to constant financial difficulties for his family. Nabby's parents used their influence when possible to obtain government jobs for William, but this did not keep their daughter from poverty. Although William financial decisions were poor, to say the least, Nabby was devoted to him.


Susanna Farnham Clarke Copley

colonial woman

Wife of American Portrait Artist John Singleton Copley

Susannah Farnham Clarke was born on May 20, 1745, in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Richard Clarke and Elizabeth Winslow, both of whom were of high social position. Richard had graduated from Harvard College in 1729, and became one of the most prominent merchants in Boston, later under the name of Richard Clarke & Sons. Elizabeth Winslow's ancestry goes back to Mary Chilton, who came from England on the Mayflower in 1620.

John Singleton Copley was born July 26, 1738, son of humble Irish parents, Richard and Mary Singleton Copley, recent Irish immigrants, who lived in a very simple home and ran a tobacco shop on Long Wharf in Boston. Long Wharf was home to approximately 40% of colonial American shipping, and a center of trade, with exports such as lumber, beef, and furs, and imports such as textiles, glass, sugar, and rum.


Anna Green Winslow

colonial diary

Diarist and School Girl Before the Revolution

Anna Green Winslow was born November 29, 1759, at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Anna came from a long line of prestigious, upper-class British colonists. When the weary Pilgrims stopped at Cape Cod – before they made their memorable landing at Plymouth Rock – a young girl jumped on shore, and was the first Englishwoman to set foot on the soil of New England. Her name was Mary Chilton; she later married John Winslow. Anna Green Winslow was Mary Chilton's descendant in the sixth generation.

Anna's father, Joshua Winslow, was but eighteen years of age when he began his career as a soldier. In 1745, he was appointed Commissary-General of the British forces in Nova Scotia. Upon his return to New England, he married his cousin, Anna Green, on January 3, 1759. Their daughter, Anna Green Winslow, was born there, and they subsequently had two sons, neither of whom survived childhood.


Sally Cary Fairfax

George Washington's friend

George Washington's Friend

Sarah "Sally" Fairfax was born in 1730 into one of Virginia's oldest and wealthiest families. Her forefather, Miles Cary of Bristol, England, came to America in the mid-17th century and established himself as a Virginia nobleman. Sally's father, Wilson Cary was a member of the House of Burgesses and he inherited one of Virginia's largest fortunes and the family estate, Ceelys on the James.

The eldest of Wilson Cary's four daughters, Sally was the most sought-after and a grande belle in Virginia society. The Cary and Fairfax families were living remnants of European feudalism and English aristocracy. Although she had many suitors, George William Fairfax eventually won Sally's heart.


Rebecca Bryan Boone

wife of Daniel Boone

Frontierswoman and Wife of Daniel Boone

Rebecca Bryan was born in Virginia on January 9, 1738, to Joseph Bryan, Sr. and Alee Linville. When she was 10, Rebecca moved with her Quaker family to the Yadkin River valley in the western Piedmont region of North Carolina. Daniel Boone was born in Pennsylvania in 1734, and his family settled near the Bryans in 1750, when Daniel was 15.

Rebecca and Daniel began their courtship in 1753, and married three years later on August 14, 1756. Their marriage lasted fifty-six years, and they had ten children - six sons and four daughters. The new Mr. and Mrs. Boone didn't have their own cabin, so they stayed with his folks until they built their own cabin on Sugar Tree Creek. Shortly after they moved into their new home, their first child was born.


Ann Wager

school for slave children

Tutor and Mistress of the Bray School in Williamsburg

Ann Wager's origins are unknown, except that she was born by 1716. Ann was educated by her father, despite her mother's wishes – it wasn't considered 'proper' for a young woman to learn or support herself. Her mother discouraged her education, but her father persevered.

Ann married William Wager of Williamsburg, Virginia, and they had two children. Their son, also named William, was born by 1733; by 1760 he was a justice of the peace in Elizabeth City County, and by 1756 he represented that county in the House of Burgesses.


Jane Mecom

Ben Franklin's birthplace

Benjamin Franklin's Favorite Sister

Benjamin Franklin, the tenth of Josiah Franklin's sons, was six years old when Jane, the seventh daughter, was born on March 27, 1712. Known to historians as Benjamin Franklin's favorite sister, Jane was eleven when her restless brother ran away from Boston to begin his career in Philadelphia. After that, the two were together only seven times in their long lives, sometimes briefly, never more than a few months at a time.

On July 27, 1727, Jane was married at fifteen to Edward Mecom, a neighbor eight years her senior. It appears that her parents didn't ¬like the match, possibly because of her youth, because she was married not by one of the ministers of her family church, but by William Cooper of the Brattle Street Church, which her uncle had attended.


Milcah Martha Moore

revolutionary war literature

Quaker Writer and Poet

A commonplace book is a manuscript kept by an individual containing literary passages, quotations, recipes, poems, or passages from other sources that the individual thought worthy of recording.

Milcah Martha Moore (1740-1829) lived and flourished in the Philadelphia area during its peak, when it was the center of commerce, politics, social life, and culture in the young republic. A well-educated woman, Moore knew and corresponded with many of the leading intellectuals of her day. From her network of acquaintances, she created a commonplace book.


Cornelia Bradford

colonial woman printer

Female Colonial Printer

Cornelia Smith Bradford took over the Philadelphia print center of Andrew Bradford at his death in 1742. She took on a partner, and continued the business through the partnership of "Isaiah Warner & Cornelia Bradford" until October, 1744. Then Cornelia resumed the operation until at least 1751.

Andrew Bradford was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of William Bradford and Elizabeth Soules. His father probably came to America from Leicestershire, England, with William Penn and his company in 1682. William Bradford then moved his family to New York in 1693, and was there appointed Royal Printer. He established the New York Gazette in 1725, which was believed to be the first newspaper printed in the colonies.


Hannah Penn

founder of Pennsylvania
wife of William Penn

Wife of Pennsylvania Founder William Penn

On First Day (Sunday to non-Quakers), December 10, 1699, after eight difficult weeks at sea, Hannah Penn arrived in Philadelphia on board the Canterbury with her husband. While William Penn's trusted secretary, James Logan, instructed dockworkers and servants to gather up crates of their belongings, Penn escorted Hannah, as she carefully made her way down the gangplank into his bustling "green country town."

Hannah was pregnant and due to give birth to their first child in about a month. Twenty-six years old when she arrived in Philadelphia, Hannah was twenty-four years younger than her famous husband. Penn's first wife, Gulielma Maria Springett, had died on February 24, 1694, leaving two surviving children.


Abigail Franks

Colonial Jewish Matriarch

Jewish colonial woman
Abigail Levy Franks
Bilhah Abigail Levy was born in New York in 1696, the eldest of five children, one year after her parents, Moses and Rachel Levy, arrived there from London. Moses Levy became a successful New York merchant. A few years later, Abigail's mother died, leaving her eleven-year-old daughter, the only female, to care for her younger brothers until Moses wed again.

Jacob Franks also came from London, where he was a member of a large, thriving Jewish merchant family. Jacob lived as a boarder in the Levy household. Perhaps the tensions that erupted between the children of the first Levy marriage and their new stepmother propelled Abigail to marry Jacob Franks in 1712 at the age of sixteen, which was uncommonly young for colonial Jewish women.


Rebecca Rawson

Puritan Massachusetts woman

Puritan Massachusetts Woman

Rebecca Rawson was born on May 23, 1656, in Boston. A member of a typically large Puritan family, she was the ninth of twelve children, born to her father Edward and his wife, Rachel Perne. Four of Rebecca’s adult siblings moved from Massachusetts to England, while the rest, like Rebecca, remained in Massachusetts.

 Rebecca's life was influenced not only by the theocratic social system of the colony of Massachusetts, but also by her association in upper class English society in both England and America. Since many, if not most, Puritan women conformed to the expectations of their culture, it is important to examine the societal positions and careers of members of the Rawson family.


Mary Coffin Starbuck

Quaker Preacher of Nantucket Island

Mary Coffin Starbuck was born February 20, 1645 in Haverhill, Massachusetts, just two years after her parents' arrival from Devonshire, England. Ten men got together and planned the purchase Nantucket Island, off the Massachusetts shore. Mary's father, Tristram Coffin was the leader of the group -- along with Edward Starbuck, Thomas Macy, and Isaac Coleman – and the purchase took place in 1659. He took his family to the island in 1660, where he was Chief Magistrate in 1671 and Commissioner in 1675.

map of Nantucket Island

In 1662, Mary married Nathaniel Starbuck, a prosperous farmer, local official, and partner with her father in purchasing the area from the Indians. The son of Edward and Catherine (Reynolds) Starbuck, Nathaniel was born February 20, 1634 in Dover, New Hampshire. Mary was eighteen when her first child was born – the first white child born on the Island of Nantucket. From this family all of the Starbucks of America are descended.


Elizabeth Heard

Native American Friend

Elizabeth Hull, daughter of Reverend Joseph Hull, was born in 1626 in England, and married Captain John Heard at York, Maine in 1642. Soon after their marriage, they settled at Dover, New Hampshire. The leader of the colonists at Cochecho (near Dover) was Richard Waldron (Walderne), an Englishman who had emigrated in 1635. In 1642, Waldron owned a large tract of land at the Lower Falls of the Cochecho River where he built a sawmill. That spot became the foundation of the settlement known as Cochecho.

New Hampshire Colony Indian attack

In 1652, Captain John Heard had grants of land "under the Great Hill of Cocheco," and he and Elizabeth built their house on the brow of the Great Hill.


Elizabeth Murray

Boston woman merchant

Independent Colonial Woman

Born in Scotland in 1726 and orphaned by 1737, Elizabeth Murray immigrated to the American colonies at age 22 and settled on her own in Boston, Massachusetts, where she ran a successful dry goods shop during the 1750s. Shopkeeping was a typical business for many women of her era – there were very few jobs open to unmarried women who aspired to a middle-class standard of living. She also owned a boardinghouse and a sewing school.

Elizabeth launched her businesses with the help of her brother, James, who sold three slaves to get her started. He enlisted a London mercantile company and a buyer to purchase and supply goods to her. As a retailer and importer, Elizabeth made a living selling the goods colonial Americans wanted and needed.


Anne Geddy

Geddy family house

Colonial Virginia Woman

Image: James Geddy House

Located on the Palace Green across from Bruton Parish Church, the two-story James Geddy House is one of the original buildings in the Historic Area. The low-pitched roof and lack of dormers are unusual features, as are the door and balcony above the front porch. The beautiful home also housed the diverse business ventures of the Geddy family – from a foundry to a watch repair.

Anne Geddy was the wife of James Geddy Sr., who probably arrived in Virginia from Scotland sometime before 1733. Geddy was primarily a gunsmith, but he also worked in wrought iron and cast brass. By 1738, he had located his business on two lots on a site on the northeast corner of Palace Green and Duke of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg, Virginia. Anne and James had eight children, four boys and four girls.


Mary Alexander

woman merchant of New York

Colonial New York Woman

Image: Mary Alexander Burial Site
Trinity Churchyard, Manhattan

Mary Spratt Provoost Alexander (born 1694, New York) was a dry goods importer and real estate entrepreneur in New York City, who was descended from wealthy merchants on all sides. Mary’s mother and grandmother ran their husbands’ mercantile businesses after their deaths. Mary's grandmother, Cornelia DePeyster, who raised Mary from the age of seven, was a major merchant in her own right, and was rated one of the wealthiest people in New York in 1695.

Mary married the thriving Dutch merchant Samuel Provoost in 1711. The Spratts, de Peysters, and Provoosts were all prominent families of colonial New York. When Samuel died around 1720, he left his fortune to his widow absolutely. Mary assumed control of his business, adding considerably to the family fortune.


Eliza Lucas Pinckney

South Carolina indigo plant

Colonial South Carolina Woman

Eliza Lucas was born on the Caribbean island of Antigua in the West Indies in 1722, the daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel George Lucas of the British Army and his wife. She had two younger brothers and a younger sister. Eliza attended a finishing school in England where French, music, and other traditionally feminine subjects were stressed, but Eliza's favorite subject was botany.

In about 1738, the Lucas family migrated from Antigua to a farming area near Charleston, South Carolina, where Eliza's mother died soon thereafter. George Lucas bought several plantations, but he was soon recalled to Antigua, and Eliza was left to take care of her siblings and to manage his three plantations.