the-return-of-the-mayflowerPilgrim Women

Mary Chilton Winslow
circa 1608

Mary Chilton Winslow has the distinction of being the first woman to step foot on Plymouth Rock as the Pilgrims descended from the Mayflower after crossing the Atlantic in 1620.

Mary was born sometime around 1608, probably in England. She was the daughter of James Chilton and Susanna Furner, who were married before the year 1587 in England. Not much is known about Mary’s heritage, but it appears that her father was the son of Lionel Chilton and her mother was likely the daughter of Francis and Isabelle Furner. Both parents were “Separatists” or “Pilgrims” which was a religious group that were dissenters from the Church of England.

In the early 1600’s many of the English began to question the teachings of the Church of England or Anglican Church. The Church of England had been founded by Henry VIII when he separated from the Catholic Church in order to get a divorce from Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Bolyen. Some of these individuals chose to remain members of the Church of England and “purify” it from within and were called “Puritans”. A more radical group believed that the Church of England was too corrupt to salvaged and these individuals separated from the church and were nicknamed “Separatists”. These Separatists were persecuted by the English monarchy and even by the Puritans within the Church of England. Many fled to Holland where their religious views were tolerated. This same group also soon became known as “Pilgrims”, because they were forced to wander from their native land looking for religious freedom.

Though it has been widely disputed, it is now believed by most that the Chilton family was a part of the group of Separatists that fled to Leyden, Holland. While years ago many believed the Chilton’s were not part of this group, it is recorded that in 1619, Mary and her father, James Chilton were attacked by a group of rock throwing boys in Leyden, Holland. Therefore it appears that her parents were indeed Separatists.

While life in Holland was easier for the Pilgrims than a life of persecution in England, it was still difficult for the Separatists to make a living. Most of the group had been farmers in England and upon moving to Holland they had to learn new skills to survive in an urban land that afforded them only a meager income. Besides being hard to eke out a living, the adults of this group felt that their children were becoming too immersed in the Dutch culture and were slipping away from their faith.

Because of this, the Pilgrims decided to leave Holland. The leaders of the group entered an agreement with a group of “Adventurers” or business men in England who wanted to profit off those interested in beginning a new life in the New World. The agreement was made that in exchange for their passage, the Pilgrims would give the Adventurers a percentage of their first harvest. Along with the Pilgrims, the Adventurers also paid the passage of a number of people who were going to America for financial gain. These people were called “Strangers” by the Pilgrims. The first group Pilgrims set sail on the Mayflower in 1620. Mary Chilton and her family were on this ship. The total number of Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower were 102.

The ship was headed to the Jamestown Colony, Virginia, but missed it’s mark, whether by mistake or planning. The Mayflower arrived at Cape Cod in November of 1620. James Chilton, who was one of the oldest of the Mayflower passengers, died on December 18, 1620 while the Mayflower was docked in Provincetown Harbor. There is no record as to whether he was buried at land or sea.

The leaders aboard the Mayflower decided not to stay at Cape Cod and continued down the coast to Plymouth where the passengers founded a new colony. According to tradition Mary Chilton raced John Alden to the front of the launch that was bringing the Mayflower passengers ashore. She stepped off the boat and was the first woman to set foot on Plymouth Rock. The painting ,“The Landing of the Pilgrims”, by Henry Bacon, reflects this tradition. It pictures Mary being the first woman to step out of the launch onto Plymouth Rock.

The first winter that the Pilgrims spent in Plymouth was an extremely hard one with grave consequences. Nearly half of the passengers that made it across the Atlantic died in and epidemic referred to as “The First Sickness”, including Mary’s mother. This left the thirteen-year-old Mary an orphan. After the death of her mother, it is believed that Mary lived for the next few years with the family of Miles Standish or John Alden.

In 1621, John Winslow, brother of Mayflower passenger Edward Winslow, came to America on the “Fortune”. Mary and John met and were married sometime before 1627, probably in July of 1623. They had ten children together: John, Susanna, Mary Edward, Sarah, Samuel, Joseph, Isaac, an unnamed child who died young, and Benjamin. The youngest child, Benjamin, is the only child listed in the Plymouth records.

Sometime after the birth of their last child, the Winslow family moved to Boston where John became a successful merchant and shipowner. It was here that they both died, John in 1674 and Mary in 1679. Mary was the only female passenger from the Mayflower who left a will.

Elizabeth Tilley Howland

Elizabeth Tilley Howland was born on August 30, 1607 to John and Bridget Tilley in Henlow, Bedford, England. She had four brothers and sisters who crossed the Atlantic with her in the Mayflower. Her entire family died either on the trip over to America or during the first winter at Plymouth, leaving Elizabeth without any family, living in a strange land.

Like other girls who lost their loved ones, Elizabeth moved in the with Brewster family. She became fast friends with Mary Chilton and Priscilla Mullins. She, like the others, helped in the community with domestic duties and babysitting.

Elizabeth eventually married John Howland in Plymouth. She was known as a kind and generous person. She lived a very long life, compared to most of the original passengers of the Mayflower, dying in 1687 in Swansea, Maine.


Priscilla Mullins Alden

Priscilla Mullins Alden is probably the best known women who came over to America on the Mayflower. She is famous due in part to the popular legend dramatized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Courtship of Miles Standish” (1858). In that legend, John Alden started out to win the hand of Priscilla for Miles Standish, but instead won the hand of Priscilla himself. Her famous quote being: “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?”

Priscilla was born Priscilla Mullins around 1602, to William and Alice Atwoods Mullins in Dorking, Surrey, England. Her family consisted of her parents and a brother. The family was part of a religious group called “separatists” that wanted to leave the Church of England, which led to persecution.

The Mullins family came to America on the Mayflower. Priscilla spent a lot of time babysitting on the way to America, which helped her as she raise her own family as an adult. Her entire family died during the first winter at Plymouth, and Priscilla moved in with the Brewster family. Also living there were Mary Chilton and Elizabeth Tilley and the three became fast friends.

In 1623, Priscilla married John Alden and the went on to have a large family of eleven children. They moved to Duxbury, becoming one of the founders. On an interesting note, Priscilla ended up being related to Miles Standish when her daughter, Sarah, married his son Alexander.