Richard K. Hart

Susannah Winslow Sailed to America on the MayflowerSusannah Winslow
Sailed to America on the Mayflower

By Richard K. Hart (Descendant of Susannah Winslow)

As you know, only five of the 18 *married* women survived the next four months. Susannah [Fuller?] White, wife of William White, was one of them; Elizabeth [Barker] Winslow, wife of Edward Winslow, was not. William White was also a victim of that first winter. Reality had to be faced, and in May, Susannah married Edward Winslow, twenty six, a widower of less than two months, and former husband of her friend, Elizabeth. Her marriage to Winslow put Susannah’s name in the history books as the first English bride of the New England colonies. She had already become the first English mother in New England, when her son, Peregrine, was born aboard the Mayflower. It was anchored in what is now Provincetown harbor while the Pilgrims were searching for a place to settle. And while she was not the *first* widow, she was one of the first, with a newly born baby son, and another son, Resolved, about six years old. With two small boys to care for, Susannah must have despaired and grieved terribly for William, and for her friends, Elizabeth Winslow and Dorothy Bradford.

It would be interesting to know what kind of relationship Edward and Susannah had. Their marriage was obviously one of necessity, not rooted in courtship. He spent a lot of time away from home, including the last nine years of his life, and didn’t seem to mind. In all of Edward’s comings and goings the record is silent with respect to Susannah. Presumably, she did not accompany him on his numerous trips of state, but looked after things at home. There were few amenities in Plymouth, and until 1637 when the family moved to their newly built home up the coast in Marshfield (then Green Harbor), life must have been fairly primitive for Susannah, as it was for the rest of the Pilgrim women.

Edward Winslow from the beginning carried a substantial load, both in the Church and in the government. That burden was shared as only a woman can know, by Susannah. As Plymouth’s ambassador at large, Edward represented the colony on numerous occasions in talks with the Indians, at Puritan Boston, and in England. He was a member of the General Court as either governor or assistant governor from 1624 to 1646. In 1632, he led an expedition into the Connecticut Valley and, finding the place to be brimming with potential, sent a party of men there who successfully established a trading post where the city of Windsor now stands.

In 1634, Winslow was sent to England to handle a delicate diplomatic matter, but was clapped into Fleet Prison by Archbishop Laud, that bain of Puritan and Separatist alike, who used Winslow as a scapegoat for the religious practices of the Pilgrims. It seems Edward had admitted to preaching in church (he was not a licensed Anglican clergyman) and had, acting in his civil capacity, married several couples — again, a sacramental act in England. For months he languished in jail (gaol) no doubt with considerable apprehension, but was finally released. Upon his release he hastened back to Plymouth without completing his mission.

The colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut and the new colony of New Haven, joined together in a confederacy which they called the United Colonies of New England, in 1643. (Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine were excluded.) Edward Winslow was a representative from Plymouth colony and was thereafter heavily involved in the politics of the confederacy.

In 1646, Edward Winslow left New England for London on another diplomatic assignment and never returned. Things were different since he was jailed there over a decade earlier by Archbishop Laud. Now Oliver Cromwell and his supporters had the king’s royalist forces in retreat. When King Charles was beheaded in 1649, Edward was likely there in the yard at Whitehall and witnessed the event. Cromwell had taken note of Edward’s diplomatic skills while he represented the New England colonies in London, and kept Winslow busy for the next several years. Edward Winslow died at sea in 1655 while engaged in an expedition against the Spanish on behalf of Cromwell.

So it was that Susannah was without a husband at home for much of her married life because of Edward’s diplomatic journeying. Nothing, sadly, is known of her death, though it is speculated by some that she died in 1680 at Marshfield. Her son by Edward Winslow, Josiah, like his father, was a political animal. He too served as governor of Plymouth. Susannah was thus the mother of the first native-born English governor in New England.

To recap, Susannah [Fuller?] [White] Winslow, was; 1) the first English mother in New England (her son, Peregrine, was born aboard the Mayflower, anchored in what is now Provincetown harbor while the Pilgrims were searching for a place to settle); 2) one of the first widows, with a newly born baby son, and another son, Resolved, about six years old; 3) the first English bride of the New England colonies (she married Edward Winslow whose first wife and her friend, Elizabeth, perished shortly after the Mayflower arrived in New England); 4) the mother of the first native-born English governor in New England, Josiah Winslow.