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Shaking Your Family Tree!

The Very Human Side of the Pilgrims


"We are always trying to make puritans of the Puritans . . . (but) the people of Plymouth Colony were very human, and they had very human appetites," says Eugene Aubrey Stratton, author of "Plymouth Colony, Its History & People, 1620-1691."

About 40 million Americans can trace their roots back to the Pilgrims and, of course, we know they had sex (otherwise how could we be their descendants?). But the sex lives of Pilgrims is not a topic discussed, even within genealogical circles.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, with its 366-year-old roots, most of us view the Pilgrims as celibate. Though some of our ancestors arrived in America even earlier than the Pilgrims (in Jamestown, Va.; Manhattan; Florida; and in the Southwest)--or were here to meet the Europeans--it is the Pilgrims who are intermeshed with Thanksgiving, America's unique holiday.

Stratton has written a book that lets us see these Puritan ancestors as human beings. Those Plymouth colonists were subject to all the desires of the flesh. However, they emphasized the avoidance of temptation through Bible study, sermons, laws and, when necessary, after-the-fact punishments.

But judging from the records, it is apparent that sex between single men and women was quite common and, in the majority of known cases, the discovery of pregnancy was followed by marriage.

If there was a previous contract of marriage between an accused couple, the penalty was often less. However, when the father was unknown, it was customary for midwives to get the mother in her weakness, at the time of childbirth, to disclose the name of the father. Efforts were made to get the father to marry the mother. This was not just because of morals, but because of economics--to prevent the mother and child from becoming public charges.

Punishment seems harsh, and there was a double standard and bigotry.

In 1639, Dorothy Temple, a servant of Stephen Hopkins, was sentenced to be whipped twice for "uncleanliness and bringing forth a male bastard." She fainted after the first whipping and the second one was canceled.

In 1686, Ruth Everett was convicted of "having a bastard child born of her body which by the complexion appears to have been begotten by an Indian and she will not confess who the father of it is." She was sentenced to be whipped 30 stripes unless she confessed.

Hannah Tubbs was fined 5 pounds or 30 stripes for agreeing with James Brown, an Indian, to commit adultery with him. Yet when Thomas Wild was charged with getting Hannah, an Indian servant of Joseph Waterman, with child, he was ordered only to pay Waterman 20 shillings "toward the charge occasioned thereby."

In December of 1620, there arrived at Plymouth, Mass., 99 passengers who are credited with being our Pilgrim ancestors. There were 102 who who actually sailed from England on the Mayflower. However, one died at sea (William Butten); four (Dorothy Bradford, James Chilton, Jasper More and Edward Thompson) died at Provincetown Harbor (Cape Cod) while the ship was anchored there in November, 1620; one was born at sea (Oceanus Hopkins); and one was born at Provincetown Harbor (Peregrine White).

In his new book, Stratton covers the first seven decades of the existence of the colony in a chronological presentation, with emphasis on the arrival of settlers, both from Holland and England, and on the movement of those settlers once they had arrived in New England.

This book is invaluable to the genealogist whose roots go back to these settlers. It is fascinating reading for the Americana buff who wants to know about how the land was apportioned, how the courts worked and in-depth social history.

Included are biographical sketches of hundreds of the earliest settlers. "Plymouth Colony" combines history and genealogy in a unique way. It's good reading and well-documented.

"Plymouth Colony" by Eugene Aubrey Stratton, the former historian general of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, is available in softback ($16.95 postpaid) from Ancestry, Publishing, P.O. Box 476, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110.

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