John Tilley (Mayflower passenger)
John Tilley (c.1571- winter of 1620/21) and his family were passengers on the historic 1620 voyage of the Mayflower. He was a signatory to the Mayflower Compact, and died with his wife in the first Pilgrim winter in the New World.
Life in England
John Tilley was baptized on December 19, 1571 at Henlow, co. Bedford, England. He was the eldest child of Robert Tilley and his wife Elizabeth. John had a younger brother, Edward, who also came on the Mayflower with his wife. John Tilley, his brother Edward and their wives all perished that first winter in the New World.
There are few records of John Tilley’s life in England. His name appears in the will of George Clarke of Henlow, dated September 22, 1607, which notes that Thomas Kirke, then residing with Tilley, owed money to him. There is a record of a John Tilley, yeoman, residing at Wooton, Bedfordshire, who made a disposition on April 7, 1613 with his age stated as 40 years, which would probably make him the Mayflower passenger of that name. There is little information about the lives of John Tilley and his wife Joan. John Tilley was documented as a member of the Leiden Separatist congregation as well as his brother Edward. Edward’s ward Henry Samson may also have been a member.
On the Mayflower and in the New World
Per William Bradford’s later recollection of this family on the Mayflower: “John Tillie, and his wife; and Elizabeth, their daughter.”
The Mayflower departed Plymouth, England 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 three 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. John Tilley was a signatory to the Mayflower Compact, as was his brother, Edward.
Both John Tilley and his brother Edward were involved in the early exploring expeditions of the Cape Cod area in November and December 1620, with both suffering the effects of being ill-clad and wet in freezing temperatures. It may be that they died from the effects of the exploration weather.
One such extensive exploration in which the John and Edward Tilley are named as having taken part began on Wednesday, December 6, 1620 in freezing weather using the ship’s shallop – a light, shallow-water boat with oars and sails navigated by two pilots and crewed by a master gunner and two sailors. The Pilgrims on board for this expedition, in addition to the Tilleys, were John Howland, Stephen Hopkins and his servant Edward Doty. Senior members on the expedition included John Carver, William Bradford, militia captain Myles Standish and Edward Winslow. The number of persons on this exploration was less than half of a prior expedition due to many having been felled by illness. As was recorded: "...very cold and hard weather... in which time two were sick... the gunner also sick unto death..” This exploration would not turn out well for the English in their first encounter with Indians as they found that slow-firing muskets were no match for rapid-fire arrows. This Indian challenge to the Pilgrims was later known as the "First Encounter."
John Tilley and his wife Joan both died the first winter, as did his brother Edward and his wife Ann. The only Tilley surviving from the Mayflower was John’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, who went on to marry John Howland and raise a large family.
Family and children
John Tilley married Joan (Hurst) Rogers, widow of Thomas Rogers (no relation to the Mayflower passenger of that name) on September 20, 1596 at Henlow in Bedfordshire. Joan Hurst was the younger daughter of William Hurst, and was baptized on March 13, 1567/8 at Henlow making her a little older than John. Joan came to the marriage with a daughter Joan, born of her marriage to Thomas Rogers, whom she married on June 18, 1593. Joan was baptized May 26, 1594, and Rogers seems to have died shortly afterwards.
Child of Joan (Hurst) and Thomas Rogers
- Joan Rogers was baptized on May 26, 1594. There is no further record and she may have died young, likely sometime after her mother’s 1596 marriage to John Tilley.
Children of John and Joan Tilley – all baptized in Henlow, Bedfordshire
They had five children baptized in the parish of Henlow between 1597 and 1607. Of their children, only Elizabeth, baptized August 30, 1607, and who accompanied them on the Mayflower, is a known survivor. The fate of the others is unknown.
- Rose Tilley (1) was baptized on October 23, 1597 and may have died young. No further record.
- John Tilley was baptized on August 26, 1599 and may have died young. No further record.
- Rose Tilley (2) was baptized on February 28, 1601/2 and may have died young. No further record.
- Robert Tilley was baptized on November 25, 1604 and may have died young. No further record.
- Elizabeth Tilley was baptized on August 30, 1607 and died in Swansea on December 22, 1687. She married John Howland in Plymouth Colony about 1624 and had ten children.
Elizabeth (Tilley) Howland's family is described in a later recollection of William Bradford: (Gov. Carver’s) "..servant John Howland, married the doughter of John Tillie, Elizabeth, and they are both now living, and have *10* children, now all living; and their eldest daughter hath *4* children. And ther *2* daughter, one, all living; and other of their children mariagable. So *15* are come of them."
Death, burial and memorial of John Tilley and wife Joan
William Bradford described the demise of John and Joan Tilley: “John Tillie and his wife both dyed a little after they came ashore; and their daughter Elizabeth married with John Howland, and had issue as is before noted.”
John and Joan Tilley died sometime in the winter of 1620/1621, possibly after coming ashore, per Bradford, to the new Plymouth settlement. They were buried in Coles Hill Burial Ground in Plymouth, most likely in unmarked graves as with so many who died in that first winter. Their names, along with others who perished that winter, are memorialized on the Pilgrim Memorial Tomb on Coles Hill as “John Tilley and his wife.”
- Caleb H. Johnson, The Mayflower and Her Passengers, (Indiana: Xlibris Corp., 2006), p. 237
- A genealogical profile of John Tilley, (a collaboration of Plimoth Plantation and New England Historic Genealogical Society accessed 2013) 
- Charles Edward Banks, The English Ancestry and Homes of the Pilgrim Fathers (New York: Grafton Press, 1929), p. 88
- Pilgrim Hall Museum for
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691, (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), p. 406
- 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.
- Caleb H. Johnson, The Mayflower and Her Passengers, (Indiana: Xlibris Corp., 2006), p. 235
- Nathaniel Philbrick, Mayflower: A story of Courage, Community and War, (New York: Viking 2006), pp. 70-73
- Caleb H. Johnson, The Mayflower and Her Passengers, (Indiana: Xlibris Corp., 2006), pp. 237-238
- Charles Edward Banks, The English Ancestry and Homes of the Pilgrim Fathers (New York: Grafton Press, 1929), p. 87
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691, (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), p. 407
- Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620-1691, (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing 1986), p. 409
- Memorial for John Tilley
- William Bradford. History of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford, the second Governor of Plymouth (Boston: 1856), p. 453