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A Pilgrim Melting Pot | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother

A Pilgrim Melting Pot

My ancestors did not come over on the Mayflower in 1620. However, some of them arrived later.

Robert Shelley arrived in Boston in 1632, and Judith Garnet arrived in 1634, as did Dolar Davis. John Cary came to Masachusetts in 1634 as well  – he was the first Latin teacher in Plymouth colony and served as the first constable and then town clerk of Bridgewater. Some stories say that he taught William Brewster Hebrew. Robert Linnell arrived in 1639. Many were among the first families in Barnstable, Massachusetts.

On paper, that sounds very respectable. But there is more to the story. Judith Garnet was excommunicated from the Pilgrims. Why? It was written about her that she was “proud, tenacious of her own opinions, and had very little control over her tongue, which ran like a whip-saw, cutting everything it came in contact with.” She got mad when a group of women in the church held a private meeting, and she wasn’t invited. So she told them what she thought. And she got kicked out because of it. It was then written, “it was the standing topic of conversation for six months.”

And it got more colorful after that. Her daughter Hannah at age 16 fell in love with a 25 year old David Linnell. They got too close for comfort and were publicly whipped. The next year, they got married. David didn’t rejoin the church until the end of his life, and Hannah never did.

The migration continued. William Durkee was probably the first Irishman who settled in Massachusetts Bay Colony. When the Irish lost to Oliver Cromwell, Durkee was taken away and spent years as a slave in Barbados sugar plantations. Then he was released when Charles II came to power and indentured himself to Thomas Bishop to come to America. As a Catholic, Durkee had a hard time in the Pilgrim colony. He was fined for not attending church, and Bishop paid his fine.

Durkee fell in love with a girl named Martha Cross, who got pregnant. Her family didn’t want her to marry a poor servant. He was taken to court and they asked how he would support his wife. He told them his salary was 18 meals per week, and he would share them with her. Durkee was sentenced to 20 lashes for fornication. The resolution was that they got married, and their first child was born 2 weeks later.

Because Durkee was Catholic and would not renounce his faith, he could not own land. Still, he and Martha struggled together and had a large family.

Cary originally came to America because he was studying in Europe when his father died. His brothers got the land and left Cary with only 100 pounds of a large fortune. With nothing to lose, he came to America to build a new life for himself. In 1639, he was among the settlers who negotiated for land purchases with Massasoit. He and his wife had 12 children. In his mother’s final will in England, she willed him a single shilling – if he were still alive.

In these stories, I see glimmers of myself. Thirty years ago, I was told that with my mouth had I lived in Salem, I would have been burned as a witch. It turns out my ancestors weren’t burned. But they were flogged and excommunicated from the Pilgrims. I also see my love of Latin and culture in this story.

My point with this is most of our struggles are not new. Our ancestors and families have fought and struggled. They had their hearts broken and made their mistakes. They were dealt lousy hands and made the best of them. Sometimes they had to start a new life, which they did.

We can do the same. We can choose to blame injustices and bad experiences for our failures. Or we can recognize them as the things that toughened us and motivated us for the real American dream – to build a better tomorrow.

And for that, I give thanks.




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