Francis Nearly Blew Up The Mayflower


I was surprised several months ago to find an ancestral line that takes my people to the Plymouth Bay Colony. My astonishment continued as I unraveled more and more intertwining lines of colonial Massachusetts genealogy.

I could never find anyone who actually sailed on the Mayflower. Until today.

His name is John Billington. Unlike passengers escaping religious persecution, he remained loyal to the crown, and so earned, with others like him, the friendly moniker, “The Strangers.”

Outcast among the pilgrims, John and his family were further blacklisted upon dropping anchor off the coast, when son Francis – also my direct ancestor – shot a gun near a barrel of gunpowder, nearly sinking the ship and killing everyone on board!

The Billington family is mentioned several times in documents of the day, as the town’s troublemakers. Eleanor was jailed and whipped for slander. One son roamed the woods for days until returned by Native Americans. Finally, John murdered his neighbor and hanged for his crime, making him the first execution in Plymouth Bay!

… My ancestor set fire to the Mayflower! Accident or arson?


Wow! I just found another ancestor who came on the Mayflower. His name was John Cooke, and he was a Puritan.

It’s kind of random. I’m clicking mindlessly through every line on, and continuing until it runs out. That’s thousands of names. It’s numbing.

For no other reason than their faces jumped out at me (Why?), I clicked on both of these gentleman. One gentleman. The other was something of a brigand, and I love him for it.

Honestly, this is one of those times I feel like I’m hearing my ancestors. “I’m here. You’ve been looking.” I felt a hint when I found Mr. Billington. What about that tiny image made him worth a glance?

When I found John Cooke in the same afternoon, it oddly confirmed that they stopped me. I’ve been mindlessly clicking and backtracking arrows for hours. Why them?

If I stop to investigate someone more closely, she’s usually a woman (except for kings. Their genealogy goes on forever, a part of documented history, and that’s fun). I find women more relatable. These were just old dudes buried in thousands of names that all start to look and sound the same.

Both on the same day? That’s too coincidental to be random.

Perhaps they found me. Perhaps it was chance. Either way, it was a great day. One ancestor was an asshole; another was judging him.

I make fun, but it really is very exciting to connect myself to this piece of history. To learn that the Mayflower nearly sank off the coast? Wow.

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