Sunday, March 16, 2014

African American Mayflower Descendants?

Mayflower, Library of Congress Photograph Collection

It Could Happen
What happens when you combine a heritage of English Pilgrim and an African slave? Well common sense tells you that you get a few of those 30-35 million Mayflower descendants to be mixed with African American blood. So how many Mayflower descendants have actually been accepted as members to the Mayflower society? Now that is a million dollar question. We posed our question to the General Society Mayflower Descendants, Lea Sinclair Filson, Assistant Governor General. Although no exact number is provided, here is the answer given to a3Genealogy
You ask an interesting question which we have been asked many times. The short answer is yes, we have members from many different races.  Their ancestors had biracial marriages in later generations, but there were no biracial couples on the Mayflower itself.  Lea Sinclair Filson
Mayflower African American Research
It is no easy task for anyone to prove eligibility for The Society of Mayflower Descendants, but  theoretically, in spite of slavery, it is possible for African Americans to do so. Through the tightly woven tapestry of African and pilgrim bloodlines, some will find that a branch of the family tree is indeed eligible for the Society of Mayflower Descendants.

Mayflower Ethnic and Religious Diversity
In a Los Angeles Times article, Mayflower Society Guards Door: For Some It’s An Ego Trip; for Others, Pride in Heritage, Charles Hillinger, author, reports the status as of 28 Nov 1985. This 1985 article implies that there are African American members:
Descendants include Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Mormons and members of other faiths. They come from all walks of life, rich, middle class and poor, teachers, preachers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, truck drivers, postmen, businessmen and women, secretaries, police officers, pilots, librarians… There are black members, an airline stewardess whose mother is Japanese, Indians who trace their ancestry to both the Pilgrims and the Indians who greeted the Pilgrims on arrival in this country. 
Nathaniel Hawthorne best speaks of early Puritan and African relationships  in 1862:
There is an historical circumstance, known to few, that connects the children of the Puritans with these Africans of Virginia, in a very singular way. They are our brethren, as being lineal descendants from the Mayflower, the fated womb of which, in her first voyage, sent forth a brood of Pilgrims upon Plymouth Rock, and, in a subsequent one, spawned slaves upon the Southern soil…” Nathaniel Hawthorne by Harold Bloom; page 55.
African Americans Before the Mayflower
Keep in mind that I am only speaking of the Mayflower that landed in 1620, MA. Let’s not confuse this part of history with the March 1619 enumeration of Jamestown  that predated the Mayflower. There, thirty-two (32) African indentured servants were enumerated in Jamestown.  But back to the Mayflower….

Were There Any African Americans on the Mayflower?
According to Caleb Johnson, “there were no blacks on the Mayflower."
The first black person known to have visited Plymouth was 30-year old John Pedro, presumably a servant or slave, who stopped at Plymouth in 1622 before heading on to Jamestown, Virginia. There are no records of any blacks living in Plymouth Colony until 1643, when an individual referred to simply as "the blackamore" is listed as one of the men between the ages of 16 and 60 who was capable of carrying arms in the defense of Plymouth (think of it as the first Selective Service list in America). The next mention of a black in Plymouth records seems to be a 1653 court record mentioning a "neager maide servant of John Barnes" who testified on her master's behalf in a lawsuit against John Smith. During the King Philip's War of 1676, a black named Jethro was captured by the Indians, but taken back by the colonists a few days later. In a subsequent court action, he was ordered to be a servant for two more years and then he was to be freed. Plymouth, for the most part, had servants [indentured servants] and not slaves, meaning that they usually got their freedom after turning 25 years of age. (Information from Caleb Johnson’s MayflowerHistory.com

Were Black People the Only Indentured Servants?
Be sure to understand that indentured servants and slaves are not synonymous. Slaves were bound indefinitely, indentured servants served for a pre-determined amount of time. In these earlier years, it was not uncommon to see whites and black indentured servants working alongside of one another.

In exchange for passage to America, the service of  poorer white people was sold
 to the “planter class” for a predetermined number of years. Upon arriving on the shores, the ship captain (or agent in charge) sold these passengers to the highest bidder based on household and planter’s needs. 

For More Information
Thanks to Heather Wilkinson Rojo, Secretary of New Hampshire Society of Mayflower Descendants, links have been added below. (See comments).
Kathleen Brandt
a3Genealogy.com
Accurate, Accessible Answers

(Original 23 Nov 2011 article updated with Mayflower Society response)

6 comments:

  1. The very first person I ever helped to fill out a Mayflower Application was a black man I met at the NEHGS library. We had a common ancestor, passenger George Soule. At about this same time, Plimoth Plantation was being criticized for having a black actor portray Abraham Pierce in their living history museum. The controversy still exists, was Abraham Pierce a free black man? I wish there were some real answers to these questions.

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  2. Heather, thanks so much for the comment. So I'm assuming your person is a member? I must look up Abraham Pierce - this story sounds absolutely fascinating.

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  3. Fascinating that you give us all that verbiage and don't answer your own question --

    "African American Mayflower Descendents?"

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    1. It appears you missed this statement in the first paragraph "I have posed it to the society, but still awaiting a solid answer." As of to date we have not received an official response, but we have requested the information 3 times to the Society.

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  4. ric - pretty rude and crude approach don't you think? Ever heard of a literary device?

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  5. I am a distance descendant from Alden. To my knowledge there were no African's on the ship from my reading. The intermarriages in my family kind of turned around and provide descendants of color. My grandfather married a mulatto. I am interested in joining the Society. I am in the DAR from another line.

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