John Carver (Plymouth Colony governor)

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John Carver
1st Governor of Plymouth Colony
In office
November 1620 – April 1621
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byWilliam Bradford
Personal details
Bornbefore 1584
DiedApril 1621
Plymouth Colony
Resting placeCole's Hill Burial Ground
Mary de Lannoy
(m. 1609; died 1609)
Katherine White
(m. 1615⁠–⁠1621)
Children2 (predeceased both parents)
Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall (1882)

John Carver was one of the Pilgrims who braved the Mayflower voyage in 1620 which resulted in the creation of Plymouth Colony in America. He is credited with writing the Mayflower Compact and was its first signer, and he was also the first governor of Plymouth Colony.[1][2][3]

Life in Leiden[edit]

Little is known about Carver's ancestry or early family life. Jeremy Bangs notes that Carver and his wife Mary were members of the Walloon church in Leiden, Holland on February 8, 1609. The Flemish Walloon community was fleeing religious persecution in their homeland (then part of the Spanish Netherlands, now split between Belgium and France), as were the Puritan separatists who came to Holland from England around 1607.

Carver was a deacon in Leiden about 1609 at about age 25, and he is believed to have been born sometime before 1584. Leiden records of St. Pancras Church[clarification needed] state that Carver buried a child on July 10, 1609. Sometime shortly after the death of the child, his wife Mary died.[3][4] He later married Katherine White who was a prominent member of the Leiden English separatist church, though the exact date is not known. She was originally of Sturton in Nottinghamshire, eldest daughter of Alexander White. Carver became much more involved in the Leiden church after marrying Katherine, making a close association with Puritan pastor John Robinson, husband of Katherine's younger sister Bridget.[5][6]

Preparing for the New World[edit]

Carver and Robert Cushman began negotiations with officials of the Virginia Company in London in 1617 for land in the Colony of Virginia where they could live and be self-governing. They came in contact with Sir Edwin Sandys, an acquaintance of church elder William Brewster and a leading member of the Virginia Company. They had to put together seven articles for the Council for Virginia, signed by all the senior Puritan church members, which acknowledged the supremacy of the king and the Church of England.[7]

To fund the Mayflower voyage, the Leiden congregation turned to Thomas Weston and the Merchant Adventurers, London businessmen interested in supporting the voyage in hopes of profit. Carver had the task of organizing the voyage and negotiating funding with Weston and the Adventurers along with Cushman as the chief agent. In 1620, they were in Aldgate, London where they negotiated with Weston for financial backing.[8] Weston hired the Mayflower, and it sailed from London to Southampton to rendezvous with the Speedwell, which was carrying the Pilgrims from Leiden in Holland. Carver was in Southampton in June 1620 purchasing supplies for the Mayflower voyage, along with Christopher Martin.[9] Carver was very wealthy and provided much of his personal fortune to invest in the joint-stock company and in the Mayflower voyage itself.[9]

Mayflower voyage[edit]

Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1899

Carver and his wife Katherine boarded Mayflower with five servants[5][9][10][11] and seven year-old Jasper More, one of the four children of the More family who were sent in the care of the Pilgrims.[12] Carver seems to have been elected governor of the Mayflower for the duration of the Atlantic crossing.[9]

The Mayflower anchored off Cape Cod in November, 1620, and the Mayflower Compact was signed aboard ship on November 11; it became the first governing document for Plymouth Colony.[13] Carver may have been the author of the Compact, and was definitely its first signer. He was subsequently chosen to be governor of Plymouth Colony.[14]

Life in Plymouth[edit]

The first winter in Plymouth Colony was exceedingly difficult, as the colonists suffered greatly from lack of shelter, diseases such as scurvy, and general conditions on board ship.[15] Nearly half the Mayflower passengers died in the course of a few months. The first will drawn up in New England was that of William Mullins, and it was written on his behalf by Carver while Mullins was on his deathbed. It was signed as the last will and testament of Mullins by Carver, Mayflower's captain Christopher Jones, and the ship's surgeon Giles Heale. This is the only known copy of Carver's signature.[5]

On March 22, 1621, Governor Carver and Wampanoag leader Massasoit worked out a treaty of peace and mutual protection. This treaty lasted for more than half a century.[16][17]

Carver died in April or May 1621, aged 56 years, and his wife died five or six weeks later.[1][5]


John Carver married Mary de Lannoy sometime before February 8, 1609.[3] She was a Walloon (Huguenot) of L’Escluse, France. She may have been related to Philip de Lannoy (Delano), who came to Plymouth on the Fortune in November 1621. The couple buried a child at St. Pancras in Leiden on July 10, 1609;[4] Mary died soon after in July 1609.

He married Katherine (White) Leggatt sometime before May 22, 1615. She was the widow of George Leggatt. Mayflower genealogist Robert S. Wakefield spells her name as Catherine, but seventeenth century documents use Katherine. She died sometime in May 1621, some 5–6 weeks after Carver's death.[1][5][18] John and Katherine buried a child at St. Pancras in Leiden November 11, 1617.[4] He had no known surviving descendants.[3]


Carver had been working in his field on a hot day in April 1621 when he complained of a pain in his head. He returned to his house to lie down and soon fell into a coma, and he died within a few days, not long after April 5, 1621. William Bradford was chosen to replace him as governor; Bradford was recovering from illness, so Isaac Allerton was chosen to be his assistant.[19][20][21] After all the secret burials that were performed all winter, the settlers wished to bury the governor with as much ceremony as possible. Bradford wrote in April 1621:

He was buried in the best manner they could, with some vollies of shot by all that bore armes; and his wife, being weak, died within five or six weeks after him.[1]


  1. ^ marriage may have been earlier than 1615


  1. ^ a b c d Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691, (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), p. 259
  2. ^ "Pilgrim Hall Museum John Carver". Archived from the original on 2016-06-23. Retrieved 2013-04-21.
  3. ^ a b c d A genealogical profile of John Carver, (a collaboration of Plimoth Plantation and New England Historic Genealogical Society accessed 2013-04-21) "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-11-01. Retrieved 2013-04-21.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ a b c Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620–1691 (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), p. 18
  5. ^ a b c d e 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 Publishing Company, 2006), p. 44
  6. ^ Nick Bunker, Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and their New World a History (New York: Knopf 2010), pp. 108–109
  7. ^ Nathaniel Philbrick, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War (New York: Viking, 2006), p. 19
  8. ^ Charles Edward Banks, "The English Ancestry and Homes of the Pilgrim Fathers" (2006)
  9. ^ a b c d Philbrick, p. 42
  10. ^ Stratton, p. 407, (in Bradford's own words)
  11. ^ Stratton, p. 405
  12. ^ David Lindsay, Mayflower Bastard: A Stranger amongst the Pilgrims (New York: St. Martins Press, 2002), pp. 30, 53, 222 n. 21
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Stratton, pp. 142, 413
  15. ^ Rothbard, Murray Rothbard (1975). ""The Founding of Plymouth Colony"". Conceived in Liberty. Vol. 1. Arlington House Publishers.
  16. ^ Dana T. Parker, "Reasons to Celebrate the Pilgrims," (Orange County Register, Nov. 22, 2010) [1], Retrieved 28 Jan. 2011.
  17. ^ Heinsohn, Robert Jennings. "Pilgrims and Wampanoag: The Prudence of Bradford and Massasoit". Sail 1620. Archived from the original on 30 November 2010. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  18. ^ Nick Bunker, Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and their New World a History (New York: Knopf 2010), pp. 108-110
  19. ^ Nathaniel Philbrick, p. 102
  20. ^ Stratton, p. 143
  21. ^ David Lindsay, Mayflower Bastard: A Stranger amongst the Pilgrims (New York: St. Martins Press, 2002), p. 46

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