William Brewster (Mayflower passenger)

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William Brewster
William Brewster cropped.png
An imagined image of William Brewster. There is no known image of him from life.
Born William Brewster
c. 1566
Scrooby, Nottinghamshire
Died April 10, 1644 (aged 76)
Duxbury, Plymouth Colony
Nationality English Subject
Occupation Postmaster and English Teacher of Scrooby, Preacher of Plymouth
Known for Pilgrim
Religion Separatist
Spouse(s) Mary Brewster
Children Jonathan Brewster
Patience Brewster Prence
Fear Brewster Allerton
Love Brewster
Wrestling Brewster
Parent(s) William Brewster
Mary Smythe

William Brewster (c. 1566–10 April 1644) was an English official and Mayflower passenger in 1620. In Plymouth Colony, by virtue of his education and existing stature with those immigrating from the Netherlands, Brewster, a separatist, became a regular preacher and the leader of the community.

Life in England[edit]

William Brewster was born ca. 1566,[1] most probably in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, England. He was the son of William Brewster and Mary (Smythe; Simkinson)[clarification needed] and he had a number of half-siblings. His paternal grandparents were William Brewster (1510–1558), and Maud Mann (1513–1558). His maternal grandfather was William Smythe (1505–1560).[2][3]

He studied briefly at Peterhouse, Cambridge, before entering the service of William Davison in 1584.[4] Brewster was the only Pilgrim with political and diplomatic experience. With his mentor in prison, Brewster had returned home to Scrooby for a time, where he took up his father’s former position as postmaster.[5] Cambridge was a centre of thought concerning religious reformism, but Brewster had spent time in the Netherlands in connection with Davison's work, giving him opportunity to hear and see more of reformed religion. While, earlier in the 16th century, reformers had hoped to amend the Anglican church, by the end of it, many were looking toward splitting from it.[6] (See Brownist.)

Restrictions and pressures applied by the authorities convinced the congregation of a need to immigrate to the more sympathetic atmosphere of Holland, but leaving England without permission was illegal at the time, so that departure was a complex matter. On its first attempt, in 1607, the group was arrested at Scotia Creek, but in 1608, Brewster and others were successful in leaving from The Humber. In 1609, he was selected as ruling elder of the congregation.[5]

Life in Holland[edit]

A rare 17th-century "Brewster Chair," named after William Brewster.[7]

William lived near St. Peter's church in Pieterskerk with his wife and children. He taught English to Leiden University students and was also a printer of religious pamphlets. His son, Jonathan, was a ribbonweaver. William was chosen as assistant and later as an elder to Pastor John Robinson. He was still an elder when he travelled to Plymouth Colony in 1620.[3]

In Leiden, the group managed to make a living. Brewster taught English and later, in 1616–1619, as the partner of one Thomas Brewer, printed and published religious books for sale in England, though they were proscribed there. In 1619 Brewster and Edward Winslow published a religious tract critical of the English king and his bishops. James ordered Brewster’s arrest, and when the king’s agents in Holland came to seize the Pilgrim elder, Brewster was forced into hiding just as preparations to depart for America entered the most critical phase. The printing type was seized by the authorities from the English ambassador, Sir Dudley Carleton, and Brewster's partner was arrested. Brewster escaped and, with the help of Robert Cushman and Sir Edwin Sandys, obtained a land patent from the London Virginia Company on behalf of himself and his colleagues.[5]

With Brewster in hiding, the Separatists looked to their deacon John Carver and to Robert Cushman to carry on negotiations with the appropriate officials in London.[8] In 1620 when it came time for the Mayflower departure, Elder Brewster returned to the Leiden congregation. He had been hiding out in Holland and perhaps even England for the last year. At the time of his return, Brewster was the highest-ranking layperson of the congregation and would be their designated spiritual leader in the New World.[9]

Brewster joined the first group of Separatists aboard the Mayflower on the voyage to North America. Brewster was accompanied by his wife, Mary Brewster, and his sons: Love Brewster and Wrestling Brewster.[10]

Mayflower voyage[edit]

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

Among children boarding the Mayflower were four unaccompanied children from Shipton in Shropshire placed as indentured servants with senior Separatists William Brewster, John Carver and Robert Cushman, on behalf of Samuel More, husband of the children’s mother Katherine More. The children were placed without their mother’s permission after four rancorous years between the More adults over charges of adultery against Katherine More with her longtime lover, the children’s alleged father. Two children were placed with William and Mary Brewster.[11]

The Mayflower departed Plymouth in England on 6/16 September 1620.[clarification needed] 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 buffeted by strong westerly gales. The ship‘s timbers were badly shaken with caulking failing to keep out sea water. Passengers laid wet and ill even when in their berths. On the journey there were two deaths, a crew member and a passenger. The worst was yet to come after arriving at their destination. In the space of several months almost half the passengers perished in the cold, harsh, unfamiliar New England winter.[12]

On 9/19 November 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 harbour at Cape Cod hook, where they anchored on 11/21 November. The Mayflower Compact was signed that day.[12][13]

In Plymouth Colony[edit]

When the passengers of the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Colony, Brewster became the senior elder, and so served as the religious leader of the colony;[citation needed] in the colony, he became a separatist leader and preacher,[14] and eventually,[when?] as an adviser to Governor William Bradford.[citation needed] Brewster's son Jonathan joined the family in November 1621, arriving at Plymouth on the ship Fortune, and daughters Patience and Fear arrived in July 1623 aboard the Anne.[15]

As the only university educated member of the colony, Brewster took the part of the colony's religious leader until a pastor, Ralph Smith, arrived in 1629. Thereafter, he continued to preach irregularly until his death in April 1644. “He was tenderhearted and compassionate of such as were in misery,” Bradford write, “but especially of such as had been of good estate and rank and fallen unto want and poverty.” [5]

Brewster was granted land amongst the islands of Boston Harbor, and four of the outer islands (Great Brewster, Little Brewster, Middle Brewster and Outer Brewster) now bear his name. In 1632, Brewster received lands in nearby Duxbury and removed from Plymouth to create a farm there.[16]

In 1634, smallpox and influenza ravaged both the English and the Indians in the region. William Brewster, whose family had managed to survive the first terrible winter unscathed, lost two daughters, Fear and Patience, now married to Isaac Allerton and Thomas Prence, respectively.[17]

Family and other charges[edit]

Title page of a pamphlet published by William Brewster in Leiden


In 1591 or 1592, William Brewster married a woman named Mary,[3][18] whose surname is unknown; no formal record of their marriage appears in the preserved marriage records of Nottinghamshire Archives.[19] The search for further information on Mary—about whom many theories, e.g., about surname, have been offered[citation needed]—as well as on the marriage, has been extensive, e.g., by Jeremy Bangs, Director of the American Pilgrim Museum in Leiden, Holland.[19]


Their first child, Jonathan, was born on 19 August 1593.[citation needed] Two other children were born in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire: Patience about 1600, and Fear about 1606. A more comprehensive list of their children is as follows:[citation needed]

  1. Jonathan Brewster (12 August 1593 – 7 August 1659) married Lucretia Oldham of Derby on 10 April 1624, and were the parents of eight children. He was the father of Mary Turner and the grandfather of Amos Turner.
  2. Patience Brewster (c. 1600 – 12 December 1634) married Gov. Thomas Prence of Lechlade, Gloucestershire, 4 children.
  3. Fear Brewster (c. 1606 – before 1634) so called because she was born at the height of the Puritans' persecution. Married Isaac Allerton of London, 2 children.
  4. Unnamed child was born, died and buried in 1609 in Leiden, Holland.
  5. Love Brewster was born in Leiden, Holland, about 1611 and died between 6 October 1650 and 31 January 1650/1, at Duxbury, in Plymouth Colony. At the age of about 9, he travelled with his father, mother and brother, Wrestling, on the Mayflower to Plymouth Colony. There he married Sarah Collier on 15 May 1634. Love and Sarah were the parents of four children.
  6. Wrestling Brewster was born in 1614 in Leiden, Holland; was living in 1627, died unmarried before the 1644 settlement of his father's estate.[3]

Other charges[edit]

Three of the Mayflower pilgrims, including William Brewster, took responsibility for children of Samuel More, who accompanied him and others as indentured servants:

  • Mary More, age 4, assigned as a servant of William Brewster. She died sometime in the winter of 1620/1621. Her burial place is unknown, but may been on Cole's Hill in Plymouth in an unmarked grave, as with so many others buried there that winter. As with her sister Ellen, she is recognized on the Pilgrim Memorial Tomb in Plymouth, misidentified after her sister's name as "and a brother (children)," the mistake of calling her "a brother" arising from William Bradford's failing memory years after the event of her death.[citation needed]
  • Richard More, age 6, servant of William Brewster. He resided with the Brewster family until about mid-1627 when his term of indentureship expired. His name appears, at age 14, in a census as a member of the Brewster family, in what was called then ‘New Plimouth’. By 1628, Richard was in the employ of Pilgrim Isaac Allerton, who was engaged in trans-Atlantic trading.

In addition to these, Jasper More, age 7, was assigned to John Carver as a servant, but died of a ‘common infection’ in Dec. 1620 while the Mayflower was in Cape Cod Harbor (several weeks after Elinor). He was buried ashore in the area of what is now Provincetown, where a memorial plaque bears his and the names of four others ‘who died at sea while the ship lay at Cape Cod Harbor’ in Nov./Dec. 1620. Finally, Elinor More, age 8, was assigned to Edward Winslow as a servant, but died in November 1620 soon after the arrival of the Mayflower at Cape Cod Harbor. Her burial place is unknown, but may have been ashore on Cape Cod similar to her brother Jasper. With many others who died that winter, her name appears on the Pilgrim Memorial Tomb, Cole's Hill, Plymouth, Massachusetts.[20][21][22][23][24][25]


William Brewster died on 10 April 1644,[1] at Duxbury, Plymouth Colony.[citation needed] He was predeceased by his wife, Mary Brewster, who died in April 1627, age about sixty.[3][26]

William Brewster was buried in Burial Hill in Plymouth. A memorial stone exists there for him, which states that it is in honour of "Elder William Brewster Patriarch of the Pilgrims and their Ruling Elder 1609–1644".[27] The burial place of his wife Mary is unknown.

Places and things named after Brewster[edit]

Notable descendants[edit]


  1. ^ a b Stratton, Eugene Aubrey (1986). Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620–1691, p. 251, Salt Lake City, UT, USA: Ancestry Publishing.
  2. ^ a b Merrick, Barbara Lambert [Ed., Comp.] (2000). William Brewster of the Mayflower and His Descendants for Four Generations, 3rd Rev. Edn., pp. 1–5, 30-35, Plymouth, MA, USA: General Society of Mayflower Descendants.
  3. ^ a b c d e A genealogical profile of William Brewster, (a collaboration between Plymouth Plantation and New England Historic Genealogical Society)[1]
  4. ^ "Brewster, William (BRWR580W)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  5. ^ a b c d Philbrick, pp. 16-18.
  6. ^ Philbrick, pp. 13 and 16–17.
  7. ^ Wallace Nutting (1921). Furniture of the Pilgrim century: 1620–1720, including colonial utensils and hardware. Marshall Jones Company. p. 182. 
  8. ^ Philbrick, p. 19.
  9. ^ Philbrick, p. 25.
  10. ^ David Lindsay, Mayflower Bastard: A Stranger amongst the Pilgrims (St. Martins Press, New York, 2002) p. 31
  11. ^ Donald F. Harris, PhD., the Mayflower Descendant (July 1994) vol. 44 no. 2 pp. 112–114.
  12. ^ a b Eugene Aubrey Stratton. Plymouth Colony: Its History and People, 1620–1691, (Ancestry Publishing, Salt Lake City, UT, 1986) p. 413
  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. ^ Philbrick, p. 46.
  15. ^ Philbrick, p. 125.
  16. ^ Steele, Ashbel (1857). Chief of the Pilgrims: Or, The Life and Time of William Brewster, Ruling Elder of the Pilgrim Company That Founded New Plymouth, the Parent Colony of New England, in 1620, p. 353, Philadelphia, PA, USA: J.B. Lippincott.
  17. ^ Philbrick, p. 172.
  18. ^ 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, MD.:Genealogical Publishing Co., 2006) pp. 36, 37
  19. ^ a b Bangs, Jeremy Dupertius (2012). The Mayflower Quarterly, vol. 78, no. 2 (June), p. 145.
  20. ^ David Lindsay, Mayflower Bastard: A Stranger amongst the Pilgrims (New York: St. Martins Press, 2002), pp 102–104 and pp. 25–27, 102–104, 150–152
  21. ^ Harris, Donald F. (1994). The More Children of the Mayflower, Part III," The Mayflower Descendant, Vol. 44, no. 2 (July), p. 4.
  22. ^ Philbrick, p. 26, 76.
  23. ^ Nick Bunker, Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and their New World, (NY. Alfred A. Knopf 2010) p. 253-254
  24. ^ Caleb H. Johnson, The Mayflower and Her Passengers (Indiana: Xlibris Corp., copyright 2006 Caleb Johnson), pp. 189-192
  25. ^ Mayflower Families Volume 15 Family of Richard More (Published by General Society of Mayflower Descendants 1997), p. 151, Plymouth, MA, USA: General Society of Mayflower Descendants.
  26. ^ Caleb H. Johnson, The Mayflower and Her Passengers (Indiana: Xlibris Corp., copyright 2006 Caleb Johnson), pp. 94 & 98
  27. ^ Memorial for William Brewster (William Brewster)
  28. ^ Jones, 38
  29. ^ Cottrell, Robert C. (2010). "Roger Baldwin: Founder, American Civil Liberties Union, 1884–1981". Harvard Square Library. pp. 1–12. ISBN 9780231119726. Retrieved 18 July 2010. 
  30. ^ a b c d e f Roberts, Gary Boyd (1983). Genealogies of Connecticut Families: From the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, p. 649, 668, Baltimore, MD, USA: Genealogical Publishing, ISBN 9780806310305.
  31. ^ a b c Jones, 766
  32. ^ a b c Jones, 767
  33. ^ a b c Jones, 768
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  45. ^ Quote: “You're the top! You're a Brewster body.”[this quote needs a citation] With that phrase, songwriter—and Brewster auto owner—Cole Porter immortalised the New York City coachbuilder in his hit musical “Anything Goes,” in the song "You're the Top."[according to whom?][citation needed]
  46. ^ a b c Jones, 120
  47. ^ a b c Jones, 521
  48. ^ a b c Jones, 235
  49. ^ Jones, p. 189
  50. ^ "Jordana Brewster profile". E! Online. Retrieved 26 April 2007. 
  51. ^ Kabaservice, 16
  52. ^ Obituary: "Kingman Brewster, Jr." New York Times. 9 November 1988.
  53. ^ Jones, 143
  54. ^ Jones, 144
  55. ^ Jones, 280
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  58. ^ Edith L. Blumhofer, Her Heart Can See: The life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005):11.
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  65. ^ Fleury, Melanie (2011). "Ashley Judd's Ancestors are Found on 'Who Do You Think You Are?'". Archived from the original on 29 February 2012. Retrieved 10 April 2011. [better source needed]
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  67. ^ Jones, 620
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  69. ^ Newport Historical Society (1913). Items of interest concerning Oliver Hazard Perry in Newport, and Newport in the War of 1812, p. 24, Newport, RI, USA: Newport Historical Society.
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  71. ^ a b c Hughes, Thomas Patrick (1898). American ancestry: Giving the name and descent, in the male line, of Americans whose ancestors settled in the United States previous to the Declaration of independence, A.D. 1776, Vol. 11, p. 150, Albany, NY, USA: J. Munsell's Sons.[full citation needed]
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  74. ^ Child, Christopher Challender (2007). "Ancestry of Seth MacFarlane". Retrieved 10 March 2010. [full citation needed]
  75. ^ Jones, 16
  76. ^ Jones, 19
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  78. ^ http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/R076/highlights
  79. ^ Battle, Robert (2008). "Ancestry of Sarah Palin". Retrieved 10 March 2010. [better source needed]
  80. ^ Jones, 15
  81. ^ Roberts, Gary Boyd (2000). "The Ancestry of Novelist Thomas Pynchon". Retrieved 13 April 2010. 
  82. ^ Johnson, Caleb (2007). "Famous Descendants of Mayflower Passengers – Mayflower Ancestry of Cokie Roberts". Retrieved 10 March 2010. 
  83. ^ a b Jones, 900
  84. ^ a b Jones, 901
  85. ^ Jones, 984
  86. ^ Rader, Dotson (1997). "Let Yourself Feel It All". Lakeland Ledger (23 November ). Retrieved 26 July 2010. [better source needed]
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  88. ^ Yarbrough, Tinsley E. (2005). David Hackett Souter:Traditional Republican on the Rehnquist Court. Oxford, Oxon, ENG: Oxford University Press. p. 3. ISBN 9780195159332. 
  89. ^ Roberts, Gary Boyd (UNK.). "The New England Ancestry of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr.". New England Historic Genealogical Society. Retrieved 10 March 2010.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  90. ^ a b Jones, 251
  91. ^ a b Jones, 252
  92. ^ a b Jones, 253
  93. ^ Johnson, Caleb (2007). "Famous Descendants of Mayflower Passengers – Mayflower Ancestry of Zachary Taylor". Retrieved 10 March 2010. 
  94. ^ Roberts, Gary Boyd (UNK.). "The New England Ancestry of Sewall Green Wright.". New England Historic Genealogical Society. Retrieved 10 March 2010.  Check date values in: |date= (help)


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Brewster, William". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

  • Jones, Emma C. Brewster (1908). The Brewster Genealogy, 1566–1907: A Record of the Descendants of William Brewster of the "Mayflower," Ruling Elder of the Pilgrim Church Which Founded Plymouth Colony in 1620, New York, NY, USA: Grafton Press.
  • Philbrick, Nathaniel (2006). Mayflower: A story of Courage, Community and War. New York, NY, USA: Viking.[full citation needed]. [full citation needed]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]