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.
The Year: 1623
Bridget Fuller arrived at Plymouth Colony on the Anne in 1623. She was Dr. Samuel Fuller’s third wife, and they had two children together. Details of Bridget’s life aren’t readily available, but we can gain some insight into her life by following her husband’s history.
Samuel Fuller was one of the original members of the Separatist church who fled England for Holland in 1609. He became a physician, making him an important member of the congregation. He later became a deacon of the church at Plymouth Colony.
He sailed on the Mayflower in 1620. Upon arrival in the New World, Dr. Fuller signed the Mayflower Compact, along with the other adult males. He did what he could to alleviate the suffering of the colonists stricken with scurvy and disease, but nearly half of them died that first winter of 1620-1621.
The medical doctrine of the 17th century called for bloodletting to treat diseases. Bloodletting involved the withdrawal of often considerable quantities of blood from a patient, in the hope that this would cure a great many illnesses and diseases. I found no evidence that this happened at Plymouth Colony, but it’s entirely possible that it did.
The men and women who founded Plymouth Colony were not Puritans. The Puritans were a totally different sect—they wanted to reform the Church of England. They established the Massachusetts Bay Colony a decade later.
The people who sailed into Plymouth Harbor on the Mayflower in 1620 weren’t Pilgrims either. They were Separatists, because they wanted to make a complete break from the Church of England—they believed that it was too corrupt to be reformed.
They were persecuted for their beliefs by the English monarchy and to a lesser degree by the Puritans. In 1608, a few congregations fled to Holland. They were referred to as pilgrims because of their sojourns in search of religious freedom. At some point, the word was capitalized, and they have been known as Pilgrims throughout history.
Although they were able to worship freely in Holland, it was difficult for them to make a living. When they discovered that their children were slipping away from the Separatist faith and were becoming more Dutch than English, they began to make plans to travel to the New World.
The Year: 1621
Not much is known about Mayflower passenger Elizabeth Hopkins. She married Stephen Hopkins in either 1617 or 1618 at Whitechapel, England, and had a daughter Damaris born sometime around 1619. Elizabeth was Stephen Hopkins’ second wife. The name of his first doesn’t appear in any records.
In 1620, Stephen Hopkins brought his wife and their baby Damaris on the Mayflower—and his children from his first marriage, Constance and Giles. Elizabeth gave birth to a son, Oceanus, while they were at sea.
Stephen had been recruited by the Merchant Adventurers to provide leadership for the colony and to assist in the colony’s ventures. He was a member of a group the Pilgrims called “strangers,” which comprised more than half the passengers on the Mayflower.
These strangers signed on in London to help defray the cost of sending a ship to the New World and to further the chances of the colony’s survival. They included merchants, craftsmen, skilled workers and indentured servants, and three young orphans. All were common people, and about one-third of them were children.
The Year: 1621
Eleanor Billington ,wife of John Billington and mother of Francis and John Billington II, all Mayflower passengers, was born about 1582. Eleanor was one of only five adult women to survive the first winter, and one of only four who were still alive to partake in the harvest celebration in the autumn of 1621.
The Billingtons were not part of the Pilgrim Separatist community. Her family is regarded as being rather ill-behaved. Young Francis Billington shot off his father’s musket in the Mayflower’s cabin while it was anchored at Provincetown Harbor, showering sparks around open barrels of gunpowder.
A few months later, John Billington the younger wandered off into the woods, and was taken by the Nauset Indians to Cape Cod, where he lived for about a month before he was returned.
In March 1621, Eleanor’s husband was brought before the company for “contempt of the Captain’s (Miles Standish) lawful command with opprobrious speeches,” and was sentenced to have his neck and heels tied together, “but upon humbling himself and craving pardon, and it being the first offence, he is forgiven.”