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The Best Background
When it comes to genealogical pride, there’s nothing to equal the modest satisfaction of a slightly threadbare, socially impregnable New Englander. A canny guide to the subtle distinctions of America’s most rarefied society.
August/September 1982 | Volume 33, Issue 5
However, while the descendants of these two quite different groups of early settlers followed somewhat different patterns, both most certainly constitute proper New England ancestry. To be sure, a Mayflower ancestry doesn’t have the truly substantial clout of a First Family ancestry, due in no small measure to the fact that Mayflower descendants do not have the financial and political power that is automatically associated with First Family names. But it’s nonetheless very fine to be a member of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. And if, for instance, you’re a Chilton, you’ll be interested to know that the oldest passenger on board was James Chilton; or, if you’re a More, that Richard More was one of the children on the Mayflower ; or, if a Rogers, that Thomas Rogers signed the Mayflower Compact but did not survive the first winter, although, fortunately for some, his son did. So, if you’re descended from one of these three families or any of the other twenty families aboard the Mayflower who are now known to have presentday descendants, well, then you can join the society and also some clubs that attach importance to such things.
New Englanders are happy that of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence, fourteen were from New England. Virginia had seven.
But keep in mind that among the immigrants to Massachusetts between 1620 and 1650 were at least twenty-four-named More and fifteen named Rogers. At least two immigrants to Virginia in the same period were named Chilton, according to Mayflower Families Through Five Generations , Volume II, published in 1978 by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, Plymouth, Massachusetts. So a More, Rogers, or Chilton of today isn’t necessarily the More, Rogers, or Chilton who sailed on the Mayflower .
I regret I have no ancestors who came over on the Mayflower . But if I could be a Mayflower descendant, I’d like to be a Howland. John Howland fell off the Mayflower as it was rounding the tip of Cape Cod. “But it pleased God he caught hould of ye top-saile halliards,” wrote Governor Bradford about the incident in his History of Plimoth Plantation , ”… held his hould (though he was sundrie fadomes under water) … and then with a boat hooke and other means got into ye shipe againe. ” A few days later John Howland was one of a small group of Mayflower men “sente oute” to discover a locality suitable for their future home. Thus it was that John Howland stood on “Forefather’s Rock,” as Plymouth Rock is also called, five whole days before the rest of the Mayflower people landed on it! Now that’s one-upmanship.
If one does not possess a First Family name or have a Mayflower connection, all is not lost. The true basic need (in terms of genealogical snobbery, certainly nothing else) is merely a multigeneration New England ancestry. The farther back, the better—but it doesn’t really matter whether your people were distinguished scholars, horse thieves, intelligent or demented. Illegitimacy, incest, and executed ancestors, unless it was for stealing a horse, are exceptions to this broad-mindedness. Like everything else in our region, it’s the longevity that counts most. Longevity in New England .
I must say that Virginians always seem to go on about how Jamestown was founded before Plymouth and how they produced the likes of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Chief Justice Marshall, and other such notables. It can be quite tedious to listen to that sort of thing. We New Englanders enjoy replying that of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence, fourteen were delegates from New England. Virginia had seven.
To have one of those sixteen in one’s family tree is very much a plus. To a somewhat lesser extent, but still nice, is to be related to the likes of Rufus King, Nathaniel Gorham, or Caleb Strong, all of whom helped to frame the Constitution in 1787. Likewise, to have ancestors who were among the 119 people known to have dressed up as Indians and participated in the Boston Tea Party is something of which a number of today’s New Englanders are quite proud. If anyone says that he or she is related to Paul Revere, a Boston Tea Party participant among other historic achievements, don’t believe it, however. Although Paul Revere evidently had sixteen children by two wives, there are not any known direct descendants around today.