Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Women of Plymouth Colony

The Women of Early Plymouth (Mayflower Compact signed 21 November 1620)


Although forty-one men signed the first governing document of the Plymouth Colony, the "compact," on 21 November 1620, no women did. But that doesn't mean that women weren't among the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower.

Part of Governor William Bradford's
list of Mayflower passengers
The Mayflower left England on 6 September 1620 with 102 passengers aboard. Among that number were eighteen adult women, three of them in the last months of pregnancy:
  • Mary Norris Allerton, who gave birth to a stillborn son in Plymouth Harbor; 
  • Eleanor Billington;
  • Dorothy May Bradford; 
  • Mary Brewster; 
  • Katherine White Leggett Carver; 
  • the wife of James Chilton, whose name is not recorded; 
  • Sarah Eaton, traveling with a nursing infant; 
  • the wife of Edward Fuller, whose name is not recorded;
  • Elizabeth Fisher Hopkins, who bore a son, Oceanus, at sea on board the Mayflower;
  • Mary Prower Martin; 
  • Alice Mullins;
  • Alice Rigsdale;
  • Rose Standish;
  • Agnes Cooper Tilley;
  • Joan Hurst Tilley;
  • the wife of Thomas Tinker, whose name is not recorded;
  • Susannah White, who gave birth to a son, Peregrine, while the Mayflower was anchored off Cape Cod; 
  • and Elizabeth Barker Winslow. 
    The signature of
    Dorothy May,
    later Dorothy Bradford
There were also eleven girls between the ages of one and seventeen who made the voyage, and one young female servant: 
  • four-year-old Mary and six-year-old Remember Allerton; 
  • thirteen-year-old Mary Chilton; 
  • Humility Cooper, an infant traveling in the custody of the Tilleys, her uncle and aunt, and who, after their deaths during the first winter at Plymouth, was returned to England; 
  • Constance (age fourteen) and Damaris (age two) Hopkins; 
  • Ellen (age eight) and Mary (age four) More, two of four children shipped off to Plymouth by their father, who divorced their mother and claimed the children were not his (both girls died the first winter at Plymouth); 
  • Desire Minter (probably a teenager), traveling with the Carver household, who returned to England by 1623; 
  • Priscilla Mullins (age seventeen), whose father, mother, and brother died the first winter at Plymouth; 
  • thirteen-year-old Elizabeth Tilley, whose parents, uncle, and aunt all died the first winter at Plymouth; 
  • and Dorothy, the servant of John Carver (who was probably a teenager at the time of the voyage).
None of the women died during their rigorous sea voyage, but their mortality rate was high once they arrived in Plymouth. Over all, half of the 102 passengers/settlers died during the first winter, but that number included thirteen of the eighteen women. Most of their dates of death are not recorded. The mortality rate for women was the highest among all those who traveled on the Mayflower, at 75%, but the rate of death for girls was the lowest--only two girls died during the first the first winter at Plymouth, a mortality rate of 18%. (About fifty percent of the grown men died, and thirty percent of the boys.)

Constance Hopkins, aged fourteen when the Mayflower
set sail, married Nicholas Snow, who arrived in
Plymouth in 1623; William Bradford would later
report they had twelve children. She died in 1677.
One of the five women who survived that first winter, Katherine Carver, died the following May.

When the 1621 harvest was celebrated, the so-called first Thanksgiving, just four adult women were still living: Eleanor Billington, Mary Brewster, Elizabeth Hopkins, and Susanna White, whose husband had died (she had remarried, becoming the wife of Edward Winslow, whose wife Elizabeth had also died).