Mayflower family traditions

Following the author’s wedding to Ian Holland at Old South Church in Boston in 1991.

With all the excitement about the four hundredth anniversary of the Mayflower sailing, I’ve been looking for my own Pilgrim ancestors. While my maternal side is mostly nineteenth-century German and English immigrants, my paternal side does have deep New England roots. So far, I haven’t found anyone who came over on the Mayflower in my family tree. Yet, I still feel a connection to those feisty Pilgrims. Their religious beliefs have rippled down through the centuries, with a few embellishments and changes, but are still flowing strongly in me and my family today.

The Pilgrims were a radical group of Puritans labeled as Separatists. While the Puritans wanted to purify the Church of England, the Pilgrims wanted to take it a step further and separate themselves into their own congregations. They wanted no church hierarchy and no one telling them what their congregation could or could not do. Plymouth Colony was founded on these principles in 1620.

Their less extreme, fellow Puritans arrived in America ten years later and started the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. However, once in America these Puritans were influenced by the Pilgrims’ separatist views. Eventually, the religion of these Pilgrims and Puritans became known as Congregationalism. And it was these beliefs that formed the flourishing Congregational Church in New England.

All my early Massachusetts ancestors were Congregationalists. Each worshipped in his or her own town’s church. These churches often still exist, with names like the First Congregational Church of Plympton, or Sutton, or Holliston. However, there is one Congregational church that resonates with me today.

Old South Church in Boston is a church firmly rooted in radical ideas like those that helped create Plymouth Colony.

Old South Church in Boston is a church firmly rooted in radical ideas like those that helped create Plymouth Colony. It is a church with members just as feisty as the Pilgrims and includes a Mayflower descendant as a founder. But, best of all, it is a church my ancestors attended and where I am still a member.

Old South began in 1669 with dissenters from the First Church in Boston. Just like the Pilgrims, they felt the need to separate themselves – this time, over church membership and the right to have one’s child baptized. Because there were already two Congregational churches in Boston at the time, they were initially called the Third Church. Later they became known as Old South.

Over the years Old South has had its share of fiery members. These included the group behind the Boston Tea Party. It also included my grandmother, Catherine (Yeagle) Dauber, who was elected Old South’s first woman moderator in 1969. When I think about all the generations of Old South members between myself and its founders, I can feel the connection back to those Mayflower Pilgrims. I may not have a genealogical Mayflower ancestor, but I have many spiritual Mayflower forebears!

About Pam Holland

Pam is a certificate holder from the Boston University Genealogical Research program and has researched family history for over 14 years. She has attended numerous genealogical institutes, including Samford University Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) and Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG). She also has a B.A. from the College of Wooster and a M.S. from Northeastern University. Her areas of interest include New England, New York (both city and state), Ireland, Germany, Social History, and DNA.

13 thoughts on “Mayflower family traditions

  1. What a great family legacy you have at that historic church. I remember reading something recently in which the author tried to maintain that the Old South Church was really just a public meeting space that also allowed religious gatherings. Revisionist history…gotta love it (or not)!

    1. I live in a very small village called Scrooby which is the home of the Pilgrim Fathers. We are very excited about the Mayflower 400 celebrations. If you ever come to England our tiny village is a lovely historic place to visit.

  2. Rev. Samuel Willard, their second minister (from 1678-1707), is one of my 8th-great uncles. He was also involved in the Salem witch trials, and ultimately spoke out against them. I suspect I may possibly have ties to two other ministers, John Bacon (1772-1775) and Samuel Stearns (1834-1836). I really do need to go to the Boston area!

    1. Hello “cousin” Susan! Samuel Willard is my eighth great grandfather. A couple of years ago I made my first trip to Boston and was lucky enough to visit the Old South Church. I noticed a banjo clock hanging at the back of the sanctuary. In 1802, Simon Willard (grandson of Joseph Willard) obtained a patent for his “Improved Timepiece” or “banjo” clock. I was tickled to see a Willard clock there. If you’re interested, there is a Willard House & Clock Museum in North Grafton:

      1. Hello Intrepid – thanks for the link to the museum! Curiously, on my Henry side of the family, we were also clockmakers, although in a later period – about mid-1800s to 1900. (Mind you, I suspect being a clockmaker wasn’t an uncommon profession in those days.) My clockmakers’ ancestors also operated out of Boston, in spite of living in Quebec at the time. The other historic place I need to visit in Massachusetts is the Fairbanks House, the oldest known wood structure still standing in North America. It was built circa 1637 by Jonathan Fairbanks, who was one of my 9th-g-grandfathers. It’s quite fascinating to me (living in Vancouver, Canada) how many ancestors I have in New England. Mind you – going back to the original subject of this post – I still have not identified any Mayflower ancestors (in spite of the fact that one of my ancestors, Ruth Brown (1791-1887), was reported to be a descendant. I did discover, however, that she had other interesting ancestors – e.g. a “gateway ancestor”, Olive Welby.)

  3. I love all my Mayflower anestors and all things Mayflower! Nice litte piece on Old South Church where 2 of my Carpenter GGGG Grndparents are buried

  4. Maybe one if your future grandchiksren can marry into my large family! We are directly related to 3 Mayflower families. Chilton, Cooke, and Warren. All via ancestors of the mother and father of my great grandmother.

  5. Rev. John Lothrop was my 8th great-grandfather, who, along with others, founded what is now the Congregational/UCC church in England & the US. After being pardoned (and banished) he & his flock settled in Scituate, then on to Barnstable. They built a residence & meeting place which is now part of Sturgis Library in Barnstable. John was the 4th g-grandfather of Thomas Hinckley, last Gov. of Plymouth Colony. Thomas is my 2nd cousin, 4x removed. I am proud to count these gentlemen as my ancestors, and I am sure that several of those who have written/commented here are relatives! It truly is a small world.

  6. Rev John Robinson is one of my ancestors, as is Rev Peter Hobart (Old Ship Church) and a number of other ministers are relations – Eliot, Williams are two

  7. My Rogers, Chamberlain, Marshall ancestors settled early at Billerica, MA. The early church there was Puritan/Congregational. Much later, it morphed to Unitarian. My maternal grandparents never wavered from the Congregational Church. I grew up in a Unitarian Church at Tulsa OK. I have not been to church in the last 50 years.

  8. Noticed one of the Congregational Churches you mentioned was Holliston. I live in Holliston, am a member of the First Congregational Church of Holliston and my ancestors were some of the first members of that First Parish Church in Holliston. Would love to know who your Holliston ancestors were.

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