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

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
Accurate, Accessible Answers

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


  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.

    1. I worked for Plimoth Plantation for 6 years. Juan Pedro lived at Plymouth from 1622-1623. First Black Heritage Pilgrim? Today's Plantation tour guides refuse to acknowledge this. Abraham Pearce was a Pilgrim who came to Plymouth in 1623. Was he White or Black? Only a DNA can prove this.Most of the Pierce descendants refuse the DNA test. Both Pierce lines, male and female need to be tested. There is a Conspiracy to down play Black Pilgrim History here in Plymouth. I'll continue to seek the truth on this.

    2. People of Black Heritage could have been viewed as property, not as people, by the Mayflower Pilgrims.They could have been a crew member of the Mayflower as well as an unlisted passenger, that came from Black Heritage. Yes there could have been Black People on the Mayflower. A Conspiracy exists to downplay Pilgrim Black History.....

    3. As an indentured servant, you would not be considered "property"!

  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.

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

    "African American Mayflower Descendents?"

    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.

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

  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.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. I am the Charlotte Mayflower Colony Governor and I found this article because I want to make sure that all people know that they are welcome in the Mayflower Society if they are descended from one of the 66 people who were on the Mayflower. I was looking for what is out there (online). As we approach the 400th anniversary, I think it is important that our membership reflect the results of centuries of living together in this and. Also, not all descendants are Americans. Membership only requires documentation that one is a descendant.

    1. Thank you very much for stating that all are welcome. I have just sent my preliminary request and hope to be accepted as a descendant of John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley (and her parents) through the Hannah Howland/Jonathan Bosworth, Jr. line. Persis Bosworth was my fourth great grandmother.

  8. I just sent away my preliminary paperwork to join the Mayflower Society in California. My ancestors on the Mayflower are also ancestors of the George H W Bush family and many many other well known people. I fully expect to be admitted since the son of my DAR Patriot married a Mayflower descendant. The passengers on the Mayflower were not African, but there are plenty of black descendants thanks in part to my great great grandmother. It's a wonderful thing!

  9. Hey there I’m a direct descendant of Abraham!!! He was my 9th great grandfather on my fathers side and I just stumbled across this doing research on my family tree. If anyone has a contact I’d be more than willing to do testing.

  10. I am an African American descendant of John Billington, who was a passenger on the Mayflower. One of his sons survived and I found out, quite by accident that his lineage owned a slave named Sarah who belonged to Hezekiah Magruder. Sarah produced my three and four times great grandfathers.

  11. Well I took a DNA test and my Y chromosome is
    R-L664 and like I said above Im a 100% confirmed direct male line ancestor of Abraham Pierce.

  12. A Cousin of My Great Grandfather's had joined The Mayflower Society, and his sister joined the DAR(bot are now deceased. I always wanted to join the former, but I have no idea where on earth I would get the information(documentation) I would need. I wish I could just HIRE someone to get it FOR me! LOL! I am a descendant of both Frances Cooke(through the marriages of two of his granddaughters to Thomas Taber, son of Phillip Taber) and of Edward Doty-the latter of whom sounds like quite a rip! I am also a direct descendant of John Thorndike and Elizabeth Stratton, he being one of the founders of Ipswich....several of the old Thorndike Houses are still standing and I mean to see them (at least from the outside, as I do not believe any of them are "House Museums", before I, too pass to the grave! Again, though, I have no earthly idea how to get any documentation and do not even know if there is an Ipswich Society!