Degory Priest (c.1579 - c.1621) was a member of the Leiden contingent on the historic 1620 voyage of the ship Mayflower. He was a hat maker from London who married Sarah, sister of Pilgrim Isaac Allerton in Leiden. He was a signatory to the Mayflower Compact in November 1620 and died less than two months later.
At the time of the Pilgrim emigration families of this name were living in the London parishes of All Hallows the Great, All Hallows on the Wall, St. Augustine, St. Dunstan-in-the-West and St. Margaret Patten.
Life in Holland
There are several depositions in Leiden which make his approximate birth year 1579. The first historic record of Degory Priest is from documentation in Leiden, Holland on October 7, 1611 when he became betrothed to Sarah Vincent, widow of John Vincent of London. At his betrothal Priest was identified as a hat-maker from London. Sarah’s maiden name was Allerton and was a sister of Mayflower passenger Isaac Allerton. Degory and Sarah were married on November 4, 1611, the same day that Sarah’s brother Isaac Allerton married Mary Norris.
Per Banks, “Digory” Priest was credited as one of the “Leyden” contingent and was again identified as a hat-maker from London in Leyden records.
His name appears in many Leiden records of the time, being comparatively active in comparison to other church members. He became a citizen (burgess) of Leiden on November 16, 1615 with guarantors being future Mayflower compatriot Isaac Allerton and Roger Wilson.
Several Leiden incidents in June 1617 are recorded regarding Degory Priest’s involvement in activities that border on assault in one case and adultery in another. On June 28, 1617 Priest requested two tobacco pipe-makers to sign an affidavit that he had not hit John Cripps on June 17, 1617 but only “touched his Jabot” – i.e. the frill on the front of his shirt. The affidavit may have been needed by Priest to document his innocence in what could have been an assault case. And on the next day, June 18, 1617, Priest needed another affidavit, this time also involving John Cripps, card maker, who was rumored to have been in an adulterous relationship with Elizabeth, who was the wife of Leiden woolcomber John Mos.
Leiden records further indicate that on January 18, 1618 a statement signed by tailor Isaac Allerton was witnessed by Degory Priest regarding the estimated value of a crimson coat.
On April 9, 1619, Degory Priest and Samuel Lee, both hatters, signed a good behavior document on behalf of Nicholas Claverly, a tobacco-pipe maker, who had arrived in Leiden about 1615 and resided in a house owned by Degory Priest. In the document, Priest stated an age of forty years, which indicated he was born about 1579.
Records show that on May 3, 1619 Degory Priest witnessed an affidavit to a statement signed by Richard Tyrill stating that Nicholas Claverly was not connected with the murder of Tyrill’s brother John Tyrill.
On the Mayflower
Degory Priest departed Plymouth, England aboard the Mayflower on September 6/16, 1620. The small, 100-foot ship had 102 passengers and a crew of about 30-40 in extremely cramped conditions. By the second month out, the ship was being buffeted by strong westerly gales, causing the ship‘s timbers to be badly shaken with caulking failing to keep out sea water, and with passengers, even in their berths, lying wet and ill. This, combined with a lack of proper rations and unsanitary conditions for several months, attributed to what would be fatal for many, especially the majority of women and children. On the way there were two deaths, a crew member and a passenger, but the worst was yet to come after arriving at their destination when, in the space of several months, almost half the passengers perished in cold, harsh, unfamiliar New England winter.
On November 9/19, 1620, after about 3 months at sea, including a month of delays in England, they spotted land, which was the Cape Cod Hook, now called Provincetown Harbor. After several days of trying to get south to their planned destination of the Colony of Virginia, strong winter seas forced them to return to the harbor at Cape Cod hook, where they anchored on November 11/21. The Mayflower Compact was signed that day. Degory Priest was a signatory to the Mayflower Compact on November 11, 1620.
From William Bradford’s later recollection of seven men from the Mayflower who died soon after arrival, “Digerie Preist” among them, with this comment: “All these dyed sone after their arrival in the general sickness that befell.” And with this about Priest’s family: “But Digerie Preist had his wife and children sent hither afterwards, she being Mr. Allertons sister.” Bradford closed his comments in this section with the note: “But the rest left no posteritie here.”
Marriage and family
Sarah Priest married 2nd in Leiden on or shortly after November 13, 1621 Godbert Godbertson, whose name, per Banks, was also written as Cuthbert Cuthbertson. He was a hat-maker from Leiden, as was Priest, and had been in communion with the Pilgrims before their emigration. He had previously been married to Elizabeth Kendall in 1617, who presumably was deceased by the time of his second marriage. They came to Plymouth on the ship Anne in 1623 with their son and her two daughters. Both Sarah and her second husband Godbert Godbertson died in 1633 in the epidemic that was rampant at that time. Their burial places are unknown.
Children of Degory Priest and his wife Sarah Priest
- Mary Priest was born about 1612 and died in Charlestown in 1689. She married Phineas Pratt by 1633 and had eight children. The family moved to Charlestown about 1646. Mary Priest Pratt was a person of note in Plymouth history, coming on the ship Sparrow in 1622, being one of Thomas Weston's settlers at the failed Weymouth settlement, and coming to Plymouth in 1623.
- Sarah Priest was born about 1614, went to England by October 1646, and may have died there, date and place unknown. She married John Coombs about 1632 and had two sons. For reasons that are not known, possibly the demise of her husband, Sarah traveled to England about 1645 and left her two sons, John and Francis Coombs, in the care of William Spooner who had agreed to their maintenance. It is believed that Sarah never returned to Massachusetts Colony, either having died on the voyage, or in England.
Death and burial
He was buried likely sometime in January 1621 in Coles Hill Burial Ground in Plymouth, most probably in an unmarked grave, as was the custom that first winter. Along with many others who died in the winter of 1620-1621, his name is memorialized on the Pilgrim Memorial Tomb, located on Coles Hill in Plymouth.
Sarah, wife of Degory Priest and Godbert Godbertson
After Priest’s death, his wife Sarah married another hat-maker, Godbert Godbertson (or Cuthbert Cuthbertson), on November 13, 1621 with whom she had one son, Samuel, born possibly about 1622. Godbertson was said by Edward Winslow to be an English speaker of the Dutch Church and a member of the Separatist church in Leiden. They came, with their son Samuel Cuthbertson (later shortened to Cuthbert) and her daughters Mary and Sarah Priest, to Plymouth on the ship Anne in 1623. They were assigned land in the 1623 Division of Land with 6 “akers” for “Cudbart Cudbartsone” – one acre for the deceased Priest and one each for his wife Sarah, her second husband Godbert Godbertson and their three children. Both Godbertson and his wife Sarah died in the epidemic of 1633 sometime in that fall, with their estate inventories being taken on October 24, 1633. Their burial places are unknown.
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Pub., 1986), pp. 341-342
- A genealogical profile of Degory Priest, (a collaboration of Plimoth Plantation and New England Historic Genealogical Society accessed 2013) 
- Robert Charles Anderson, Pilgrim Village Family Sketch: Degory Priest, (a collaboration between American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society) 
- Charles Edward Banks, The English ancestry and homes of the Pilgrim Fathers who came to Plymouth on the "Mayflower" in 1620, the "Fortune" in 1621, and the "Anne" and the "Little James" in 1623 (Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1962), p. 75
- Caleb H. Johnson, The Mayflower and her passengers (Indiana: Xlibris Corp., 2006), p. 197
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Pub., 1986), p. 341
- Caleb H. Johnson, The Mayflower and her passengers (Indiana: Xlibris 2006) p. 198
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691, (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), p. 413
- George Ernest Bowman, The Mayflower Compact and its signers, (Boston: Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1920), Photocopies of the 1622, 1646 and 1669 versions of the document, pp. 7-19.
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691, (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), pp. 411-413
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691, (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), p. 409
- Pilgrim Hall Museum
- Charles Edward Banks, The English ancestry and homes of the Pilgrim Fathers who came to Plymouth on the "Mayflower" in 1620, the "Fortune" in 1621, and the "Anne" and the "Little James" in 1623 (Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1962), p. 145
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Pub., 1986), pp. 23-24
- Pilgrim Hall Museum Phineas Pratt
- Memorial of Degory Priest
- Memorial of Sarah Priest Godbertson
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Pub., 1986), pp. 277, 417