Mothers of Cape Cod

Courtesy of Claire Vail Photography (see link below)

I learned a few years ago that I have Mayflower ancestors along two lines of descent. Not a big surprise, as NEHGS makes it known that “More than 30 million people around the world have Mayflower ancestors.” My Sturgis, Gorham, and Paine ancestors were from Cape Cod and, thanks to my Gorham and Paine connections, I can claim Mayflower ancestors along those lines.

When I hear about Mayflower ancestors, it’s almost always about the male passengers, even though there were eighteen female passengers, eleven of whom were teenagers or younger.[1] My inspirations for this blog post are (1) my 14-year-old granddaughter, Bridget, who is a very bright and capable young woman – and who is probably getting quite tired of my stories about her bright and capable ancestors – and (2) the Hon. Josiah Quincy, Jr., who spoke at the 1854 anniversary meeting of the Cape Cod Association of Boston. Quincy noted that some speakers “had confessed that they were not descended from the fathers of Cape Cod, [and he] remarked ‘Neither am I; but I am proud to say that I am – what is a good deal better – descended from the Mothers of Cape Cod.’”[2]

“…I am proud to say that I am – what is a good deal better – descended from the Mothers of Cape Cod.”

I feel the same way and am happy to note here the Cape Cod connections of my and Bridget’s two Mayflower matriarchs.

The first is Elizabeth Tilley, 13-year-old Mayflower passenger[3] and, later, ward and wife of John Howland. My relationship to her is through Temperance Gorham, my great-great-great-great-grandmother and wife of Jonathan Sturgis, both of whom were from Barnstable and then Gorham, Maine. Temperance’s great-grandmother was Desire Howland, daughter of Elizabeth Tilley and John Howland.[4] Desire Howland and her husband, John Gorham, moved from Plymouth to Marshfield to Yarmouth and then Barnstable. Elizabeth Tilley had been left an orphan when both of her parents – John Tilley and Joan (Hirst) (Rogers) Tilley – and her uncle (Edward Tilley) died in 1620. Elizabeth was made the ward of John Howland, whom she married by 1625.[5]

The second is Constance Hopkins, 14-year-old Mayflower passenger and daughter of Stephen Hopkins.[6] Constance is my ancestor via my great-great-great-grandmother, Betsy Paine, wife of David Sturgis.[7] Betsy descends from Mayflower passenger Constance Hopkins through her great-great-grandmother, Mary Snow, Constance’s daughter[8] with Nicholas Snow, whom she married by 1627. (Betsy also descends from William Brewster through her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, Patience Brewster, daughter of William.[9] Patience was not a Mayflower passenger, having “come over afterwards.”) Betsy’s Paine ancestors were among the first settlers of Eastham.

Betsy’s father William and mother Sarah (Mayo) had moved to Gorham, Maine, around 1770, where all their children were born, and where Betsy married David Sturgis, son of Jonathan and Temperance (Gorham) Sturgis.

I’m very proud to be a descendant of all these exceptionally strong women and men who somehow managed to persevere in dire circumstances. As Nathaniel Philbrick says in the introduction to his highly recommended Mayflower, “It ends up being as much a story of survival as it is a story of origins.”[10]


For more information on Claire Vail’s photography, please visit her site.


[2] Frederick Freeman, The History of Cape Cod: The Annals of the Thirteen Towns of Barnstable County, Vol. 2 (Geo. C. Rand & Avery, 1862), 233. Online at:


[4] Elizabeth Pearson White, John Howland of the Mayflower, Vol. 1 (Camden, Maine: Picton Press, 1990), 322.

[5] Ibid., 1: 1.

[6] John D. Austin, Mayflower families through five generations: descendants of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth, Mass., December 1620. Volume 6, Third Edition. family of Stephen Hopkins (Plymouth, Mass: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 2001), 5.

[7] Hugh D. McLellan, History of Gorham, Maine (Portland, Maine, 1903), 700-3. Online at:

[8] Austin, Mayflower families through five generations, 6: 197-98. Online at:

[9] Barbara Lambert Merrick, William Brewster of the Mayflower and the Fifth Generation Descendants of his daughter Patience2 (Plymouth, Mass: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 2001), 174-75. Online at:


About Sam Sturgis

Sam was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees in Psychology from Eastern Michigan University and worked as a Human Factors researcher in automotive safety for 13 years. He entered the field of commercial software development in 1983 and acted as software developer and development manager at Wang Laboratories and The Foxboro Company. Sam joined the NEHGS staff in 2005. Sam's interest in genealogy began shortly after moving to Massachusetts, when he and his family chanced upon the Sturgis Library in Barnstable, during a vacation on Cape Cod. There he discovered that he is a descendent of the Sturgis family that settled on Cape Cod in the 1630's. Sam and his wife Gail live in Medway, Massachusetts. They have two grown children: Katie, a Registered Nurse in Wrentham, and David, a software developer in Somerville.

27 thoughts on “Mothers of Cape Cod

  1. HI Sam,
    I was elated you included the estimate that about 30 million of the US population of 327 million could probably trace their roots to the Pilgrims. The 30 million number initially seems implausible unless you do the math over 15-17 generations with some assumptions about percent who married and had children and how many child per couple etc.
    Since 30 million is almost ten percent of the current US population hopefully it will encourage people to be more optimistic about their odds for finding a Pilgrim ancestor and start to ‘shake’ the family tree and see what falls out.
    As Philbrook points out in his seminal book, certainly it is a story of the challenges of adaptation and survival.

    1. I agree completely! My son-in-law’s ancestors are relatively recent immigrants, having arrived from Norway in 1909 and Ireland in 1891. But, his and my daughter’s children have Mayflower ancestors through their mother’s lines. A very similar situation with my parents. Father with Mayflower ancestors and mother with (mostly) Irish ancestors.

      There’s may be a feeling in the general public that, unless you’re a direct patrilineal descendant from a Mayflower passenger, you’re not a Mayflower descendant. No so, as shown by my (and roughly 29 million other) Mayflower descendants.

  2. A great write up and thank you for sharing. You mentioned Temperance married Jonathan Sturgis. I have Edward Sturgis or Sturges on 1 March 1663.

    1. Thanks for commenting! Temperance was a pretty popular name in the early Gorham family. The Temperance born in 1646 married Edward Sturgis, Jr. about 1663 and “my” Temperance born in 1744 married Jonathan Sturgis in 1765. (“My” Temperance was a couple of generations later.)

      1. I was just about to get back to you…as I realized there’s two Temperance Gorham’s….a cpl generations apart. Thank you so much….for sharing and getting back to me. Stay safe….stay the distance

        1. That’s very cool, Tom! By the way to you have DNA test results anywhere that we can compare? Mine are on Ancestry and 23andMe.

  3. Thanks for this refreshing article, Sam. I especially recommend Caleb Johnson’s article “Girls on the Mayflower” at, your footnote 3, which explains that the girls on the Mayflower had the highest survival rate that dreadful first winter. Without these healthy, courageous girls, we wouldn’t have so many Mayflower descendants living today.

  4. What fascinates me is the unusual given names of my female ancestors through Elizabeth Tilley: Desire Gorham, Temperance Sturgis, and Fear Holmes. Enjoyed your Elizabeth Sturgis article in the latest issue of the Register!

    1. Those Puritan (or Quaker?) names are really interesting. I have a Quaker g-grandmother named “Mercy,” but my favorite female name is “Hate Evil.” Thanks for reading my Elizabeth of Watertown article!

  5. I too descended from Constance and Stephen Hopkins. The Snow line she and Nicholas started in Plymouth Colony ran through 1980 when Robert Snow Jr. (my great uncle) died; his son Willard died in 2004. Robert Jr’s oldest sister was my grandmother Constance Snow. I also descend from William Brewster through Patience, then Mercy Prence, Edmund Freeman and his daughter,Thankful, my fifth great grandmother who married Jonathan Snow, my fifth great grandfather. So delighted to ‘meet’ a cousin of some sort, one of thousands. I am fortunate to have 6 other Mayflower passengers as ancestors which makes for lovely reading and stories.
    On another note, in addition to my professional works as an archaeologist, I also worked with computers. Interesting sets of interests and work many genealogists share.

    1. Susan, if you’ve done a DNA test, I’d love to compare results to see how much shared DNA we might have through those 17th/18th century ancestors. If you send your email address to me at “ssturgis at” we can arrange to compare.

      (Change the ” at ” to “@” in the address.)

  6. Thank you for highlighting the Cape Cod Mayflower women. I also have Hopkins, Brewster, Alden, etc. ancestors. I have lots of Sturgis and Gorham ancestors through my Great Grandfather, Henry Crocker Blossom, a civil war vet. He was descended from Blossoms, Crockers, Bodfishes, and Lothrops, all solid Cape Cod names. John Lathrop.

  7. Thank you for your article on the Mothers of Cape Cod and therefore to the female passengers on the Mayflower. I have 3 wives who I have recently learned I must make separate application for if I want them to be part of my Mayflower membership. Does anyone else find that a bit odd? Why would they not count the known family unit as a single unit if I can prove that the couple, often including the accompanied child, are part of my ancestor group.

  8. Thanks for the suggestion. I did ask the Mayflower Society and as basically told. That is just the way they do it. Therefore they have a paper trail for each person and application. Old ways die hard. I just find it both sexist and antiquated.

    1. But every ancestor has his or her OWN lineage. Just because both members of the couple are Mayflower descendants thru one person, one or the other might also be thru another OR may just lead back further to other interesting genealogy. The Mayflower Society is and always has been interested in honoring and documenting every passenger (well originally just the Compact Signers). In genealogy we care about all family ancestors, not just some of them. The Society has grown and changed quite a bit, for the better in most cases, in the 49 years of my membership! I love it that now ALL passengers qualify. It’s not sexist at all! Each COUPLE has one of each! And look at the last say 15 or 20 years, how much we have all been working more and more on women’s history! We can now do that because we have SO many more tools than earlier. When I began researching my family decades ago, there were only cumbersome tools and resources, so one couldn’t GET TO the female records because there were so fewer, that’s the way it WAS…but not now. We’ve come a LONG WAY and the Society has kept up with that trend.

  9. I did not realize Gorham, Maine was terribly old. My physician daughter, on the front lines helping patients at Maine Med in Portland right now, lives in Gorham. Her husband is a native Mainer, but not from the Portland area. I looked into the history but not very far back. From your post I would deduce that perhaps the town is named for the Gorham family in the Mayflower lineage I’m very familiar with….frankly I never wondered before it was named for that family! Thanks for the insight.

    1. There is a very detailed history of Gorham, ME by Hugh D. McLellan, History of Gorham, ME, (1903) on google books. It also contains genealogies of early Gorham settlers.

      The town was originally called “Narragansett No.7” and later, “Gorhamtown.” A brief summary of the original grant holders (all soldiers in King Philip’s war or their descendants) is here:

      A number of Barnstable county families bought the original grants and moved to Gorham in the mid-1700’s, including my Sturgis and Paine ancestors.

  10. I too had problems with the Mayflower Society. According to them, my husband descends from William White, and they did not list, never mind that he poor woman was his wife Susannah Bassett on their version of the applications they “corrected” for me was pregnant and give birth on the boat! The excuse offered was that the Bassett name was not in the Silver Books, although I had supplied the source as TAG, fall 2017. There’s logic in this being the Mayflower Society having a commitment to tradition–and wanting that source note– but let’s get this poor woman some credit!

  11. I am also a descendant of Elizabeth Tilley, through my 4th great grandmother Abigail Gorham who is a descendant of Desire Howland. Which makes us cousins!

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