Eleanor Billington

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.”

In 1624, John Billington senior was implicated in the Oldham-Lyford scandal, in which blasphemous letters were secretly being sent to England trying to undermine the Plymouth Colony. Billington claimed he was only a scapegoat and there was not enough evidence to charge him, so the matter was dropped.

In 1630, John Billington, the elder, shot and killed John Newcomen, a recent settler. He was found guilty of murder by a grand and a petty jury. William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony, wasn’t sure what Billington’s punishment should be. He consulted his new neighbor, Governor John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, founded in 1629.

Governor Bradford was more than likely being overly cautious. The Billingtons had been so much trouble over the years, and he didn’t want to appear too vengeful. The Bay Colony advised that Billington ought to die for his crime, and he was hanged in September 1630, becoming the first Englishman to be hanged in New England.

Eleanor wasn’t much better. She was sentenced to sit in the stocks and be whipped for slandering John Doane in 1636. Two years later, she married Gregory Armstrong, but had no additional children. Eleanor Billington died at Plymouth in March, 1643.

Pilgrim Hall Museum
Mrs. Eleanor Billington

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