The great “Billington Sea”

My ancestor Francis Billington is never mentioned by name in William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation. Francis’s first name is given in Bradford’s list of the Mayflower passengers, and in Bradford’s subsequent notes on passengers’ fates written in 1650, Francis is only referred is as John’s second son.

I am reading the 1952 edition of William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647, with notes and an introduction by Samuel Eliot Morison. On page 79, concerning early relations with Native Americans, Morison notes that Mourt’s Relation provides more details, along with Morison’s own description of Francis Billington as Mayflower’s “bad boy.”

Mourt’s Relation (or A Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimoth in New England), written primarily by Edward Winslow, was first published and sold in London in 1622.[1] One of two interesting details regarding my ancestor Francis Billington is given below on 8 January 1621:

Still known as the Billington Sea today (even though it’s really a pond), I took my younger daughter there this summer to see the “great sea” so named for her forebear.

The second story of the “Mayflower bad boy” is a bit more amusing, which I’ll share next month.


[1] The book has been erroneously cited as “by George Morton, sometimes called George Mourt,” resulting in the title Mourt’s Relation. George Morton arrived in Plymouth from Leiden on the Anne in 1623. George’s wife Juliana Carpenter was a sister of William Bradford’s second wife Alice. George and Juliana’s son, Nathaniel Morton (say 1613-1685), served as Plymouth’s secretary under his uncle William Bradford and wrote an account of the settlement of Plymouth Colony, which was the first to publish a list of signers of the Mayflower Compact.

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

28 thoughts on “The great “Billington Sea”

  1. Thank you. As a Billington descendant I find few positive stories about this Mayflower family. Not Puritans, the Billingtons were punished and ostracized by these religious zealots. There are no existing documents that describe the murder case against John Billington, just the bare statement of his execution.

    1. I recently found that I too am a descendant of Francis Billington. I’m now very interested in finding more information. Where were they traveling from and what religion did they practice, if any?

      1. I have seen various religions for John Sr. I also have recently found that I am related so first hi cousin. The most references to John Sr. Billington’s family were to the Church of England. The Pilgrims were desperate to find more people to find religious freedom they had returned from Holland not finding what they were looking for and needed more people. John was in supposedly in debt and wanted so he was a good candidate to go to what he thought was going to be Jamestown. There was one reference that said catholic which I doubt, most listed Church of England. Good luck on your journey of discovering the past. John Sr. >Francis> Isaac

    1. Hi cousin, are you a descendant of Richard Bullock by his first wife Elizabeth Ingraham or by his second wife Elizabeth Billington? My father descends from Richard and Elizabeth (Ingraham) Bullock, while my mother is the descendant of Francis Billington through his daughter Mercy.

      1. Richard Bullock and Elizabeth Ingraham were my 8th great grandparents through their daughter, Mary who married Richard Haile. I haven’t found any other connection to Francis Billington but I have many tangled roots and found my mother-in-law was my 8th cousin, my grandparents were 6th cousins. They never knew it.

        1. I descend from that same daughter, a somewhat “new” ancestor I learned from this post –

          1. Richard Bullock m. Elizabeth Ingraham
          2. Mary Bullock m. Richard Haile
          3. John Haile m. Hannah Tillinghast
          4. John Haile/Hale m. Elizabeth Mason
          5. Anne Hale m. Daniel Salisbury
          6. Anne Salisbury m. Jonathan Slade
          7. Abigail Slade m. Daniel Fitts
          8. Lyman Fitts m. Harriet Maria Richards
          9. Ella Eliza Fitts m. Henry Thurston Child
          10. William Chapin Child m. Lucy Belle Healy
          11. Henry Thurston Child II m. Elizabeth Peltz Helman
          12. William Chapin Child II m. Joy Dolores Challender
          13. Christopher Challender Child m. Arlene Ovalle

          1. My family goes
            1. Richard Bullock m. Elizabeth Ingraham
            2. Mary Bullock m. Richard Haile
            3. John Haile m Hannah Tillinghast
            4. Barnard Haile m. Hannah Wheaton
            5 Amos Haile m. Ruth Estabrooks/Easterbrooks
            6. Barnard Haile m. Mary Bardine/Barden
            7. Betsey Haile m. Stillman Welch
            8. George Welch m. Lydia Ann Jacobs Gladding
            9. Stephen Albro Welch m. Harriet Stannard Townsend
            10 Mildred Welch m. Donald Robert Clough

            Does that make us 7th cousins?

  2. Great topic choices, everything you write on is interesting. A lot of genealogists trace ancestries of people we don’t know, so I got a kick out of “Weekend at Brewstie’s” awhile ago and another post in the same vein, I don’t remember who it was about though. 🙁 Merry Christmas to you and your family and best wishes for ’20!

  3. So sorry my late friends, the Beale brothers, are not here to read this. Brother Bill was not a William, but Billington, for your shared ancestor.

  4. This gives me an opportunity to ask about the character “f” used for “f” as in fresh and “s” as in frefh. However, the use of “s” is evident as in Mafters and iffues. Why not use the s? In other words, why substitute “f” in some cases and not in others (although I note in the examples of Mafters and iffues the s is at the end of the word).

    Other words of confusion: Does feene = fallen or is that seen? Am I correct that “one peece” means one gun?

    Thanks for your guidance on this matter that has confufed me. I’ve never read anything to help me clarify my confufion.


    1. Try writing with quill pen and ink and it may become evident. The ink flows smoothly as long as the pen tip keeps moving forward or is picked up off the paper. If the pen moves backward, extra ink collects and a blot is the result. The way the cursive “s” is made today would result in blots, so the ink is spread out in larger characters resembling the lowercase “f,” especially when internal rather than terminal. Many writers would also add flourishes to the ends of words after certain characters just to use up the ink at the tip before it fell on the paper. This practical pen-and-ink convention for “s” was duplicated in type until pen technology and handwriting conventions changed. I’m sure a historian could give more information on specific dates.

      1. Thanks for taking the time to write and answer my question, Tamara. I had no idea that it had to do with the particularities of the quill pen. Elizabeth

      1. I read the article and it’s very clear. Really appreciate this explanation as I’ve always wondered and hadn’t found someone who could clear things up for me. Also on “one peece” — thanks for that, too. I’ve only used the word to ask for “a piece of cake.” Elizabeth

  5. Thank you for this story. I concur, it is nice to learn about Francis, my 8x great grandfather. His daughter Mary (m:
    Samuel Eaton) is my line. I look forward to reading the next installment.

    1. Did you know Mary was Daughter of Christian Penn Eaton Billington, & Samuel was her step-son. I will Explain how if you don’t already know the Connection?

  6. Thanks for reminding us of a good story. I am also a Billington cousin. I found it amusing that the granddaughter of the bad boy of Plymouth married the grandson of the good boy of Plymouth (Elinor Billington married Samuel Warren; I descend from this Warren line to Cornelius Warren’s daughter Rebecca, who married John Davis in Walpole, NH). The photo you provide seems to say “18 children,” but Christian Penn Eaton Billington had 8 children with Francis, plus one by Eaton, didn’t she?

    1. Christian (Penn) (Eaton) Billington had three children by Francis Eaton (Rachel, Benjamin, and a mentally handicapped child that died unmarried), and eight children by Francis Billington, so eleven in all. Francis Eaton’s son by his first wife Samuel Eaton married twice, the second being Martha Billington (a daughter of Francis Billington and Christian, so his step-mother’s step-daughter). All known descendants of Francis Eaton go through Samuel Eaton or his children by Christian Penn (although Francis Eaton had at least two surviving daughters by his first wife whose names are not known), so as a result, all documented living descendants of Francis Eaton are related to all documented living descendants of John Billington.

  7. I am also a descendant of Francis Billington. My 8th great-grandfather Samuel Sabin (son of Rehoboth immigrant William Sabin) married Mary Billington, the daughter of Francis Billington.

    1. I am also a descendant of John and Francis Billington. My 8th Great Grandparents were Mary Billington and Samuel Sabin. 7th Great Grandparents, Sarah Sabin and John Kingsley, Then follow the Hicks side to my 3rd Great Grandparents, Lidia Hicks and Joel Cass.

  8. So, I think that makes us 8th cousins. We tested my brother’s Y-DNA and got a match with a gentleman descended from Samuel Sabin’s brother Benjamin, making us I think 9th cousins once removed with him. That was interesting to confirm the connection because our branch of the Sabin family moved to Nova Scotia around 1762. I was interested to note the Cass surname. My son lived for awhile in Cass, West Virginia, named for Joseph Kerr Cass, vice president and cofounder of the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company. In our travels we were interested to see that a lot of states had a Cass County. In investigating this, we found that there were prominent politicians in several states in the Midwest who were descended from the Cass family of Massachusetts. Just curious if you are part of that family.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.