Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!


Growing up, Thanksgiving was always one of my favorite holidays. The comforting fragrances of turkey and gravy, cornbread stuffing, cranberries, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin would fill the house, and the rich, deep colors of autumn warmed our dining room and built our excitement.

Miniature paper Pilgrims and Indians ate their feast on the piano in sight of our own Thanksgivng meal, and my parents were faithful to teach us about the Separatists who came to the New World seeking religious freedom.  It was all very real to us since we lived in Massachusetts during my early childhood.  We were within an easy driving distance of Plimoth Plantation where “historical interpreters” spoke to us in first person about the journey across the Atlantic Ocean and early life in Plymouth.

Each Thanksgiving, our parents reminded us that, just like the Pilgrims, we had a lot to thank God for.  Often, we would go around the table and take turns naming something we were thankful for that year.

The story about the Pilgrims and the Mayflower voyage has always been part of my spiritual and national heritage, but there is added depth to my celebration this year.  Thanks to some genealogy research during the past year, it is all much more personal to me now.  The Pilgrim’s journey on the Mayflower and their harsh first winter, successful harvest, and feast of thanksgiving to God may now be recognized as part of my family’s history.  The Pilgrims are my forefathers in more ways than one!

I don’t have all the records lined up yet, but my research strongly suggests that William and Alice Mullins, John and Priscilla Alden, and Myles Standish can all be counted among my ancestors.  I am descended from five Mayflower passengers!

William Mullins was a shoemaker who traveled on the Mayflower with his wife Alice, children Joseph and Priscilla, and servant Robert Carter.  The Mayflower was comprised of two different kinds of settlers: the separatists who had just recently lived in Holland (Saints) and those who had been recruited by the separatists’ sponsors (Strangers).  From what I can tell, William Mullins and his family do not fit cleanly into either category.

According to one researcher, he had some legal trouble a few years before his Mayflower journey that “was most probably associated with the religious controversies of that time.” Neither his marriage or his children’s baptisms were recorded in the parish registers where he was from, so it is very likely he was a Dissenter.  The researcher continued, “William purchased a number of shares in the Pilgrims joint-stock company, becoming one of the Merchant Adventurers. However due to his previous religious values, I have to wonder if he was both a ‘saint’ and a ‘stranger’. William was also a signer of the Mayflower Compact.”

Unfortunately, William, his wife, son, and servant all died that first winter in the New World.  Only his daughter Priscilla survived, and she later married fellow Mayflower passenger John Alden.  John was a cooper (barrel maker) who was hired to maintain the barrels aboard the Mayflower.  He may have intended to return to England with the ship, but he did not.  Instead, he became one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact and lived to be a prominent member of the new colony.  It is thought by many that he was the first of the Mayflower passengers to step ashore their new land.  Regardless, he outlived all of the Compact signers and all but one of the passengers.

John and Priscilla’s daughter Sarah married the son of another famous Mayflower passenger, Myles Standish.  According to Wikipedia, Myles Standish “was an English military officer hired by the Pilgrims as military advisor for Plymouth Colony. One of the Mayflower passengers, Standish played a leading role in the administration and defense of Plymouth Colony from its inception. On February 17, 1621, the Plymouth Colony militia elected him as its first commander and continued to re-elect him to that position for the remainder of his life. Standish served as an agent of Plymouth Colony in England, as assistant governor, and as treasurer of Plymouth Colony.”  He was also a signer of the Mayflower Compact.

I am currently taking steps to verify my lineage to the Pilgrims with solid primary sources, but that could take a while.  My research thus far leads me to believe that Myles Standish and John Alden are my 11th great grandfathers on the Beem side of my family, so if you are descended from Arthur and Irene Beem of Hornick, Iowa, this is your heritage too!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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