Elizabeth Tilley, child of the Mayflower

Elizabeth Tilley was 13 years old when she walked up the long wooden planks and boarded the Mayflower. Born about 1607, she had already lived in two countries and was now on her way to her third and final new country. This time though, she wouldn’t have to learn a new language and a new culture. Today it is thought that some of the problems the Pilgrims had with life in Holland was the idea that their children were becoming more Dutch than English. More worldly than Christian. When you really think about it, it is not so different from the fears parents have today of their children choosing today’s culture over the values taught by family.

So what was life like for 13 year old Elizabeth Tilley? There were a few other 13 year olds on the ship with her, they were Love Brewster (a boy), Mary Chilton, and John Cooke. There were two 14 year old boys, Francis Billington and Constance Hopkins and two 12 year old boys Samuel Fuller and Giles Hopkins. These were Elizabeth’s playmates and if you read the list there is only one other 13 year old girl, Mary Chilton.

Although history tells us very little about the children of Plymouth we can infer that whether they might have wished it or not, Mary Chilton and Elizabeth Tilley were likely often thrown together because of circumstances. And might have been confidants or in today’s vernacular, bff’s.

The passengers traveled below decks. Think about that for a moment. They weren’t in nice staterooms on Princess Cruise Line. They were in a dark, stinky, room filled with people and animals. This was Elizabeth’s home for 66 long days. Imagine no bath or bathroom, no privacy for months. And this was life for the children and their parents on the Mayflower.

I’m sure that there were times when the weather was nice and they were allowed on deck. Can you smell the ocean air? See the sunshine as the children would have? They must have been excited to walk out into that fresh air, maybe just to sit and read or listen to someone else read a book aloud. Those other days below deck would have been difficult indeed. Bad weather, animals to care for, sick people who needed tending. That is what would have taken up most of Elizabeth’s time on the Mayflower.

Elizabeth’s parents, John and Joan, died soon after landing in Plymouth. Elizabeth married fellow passenger John Howland sometime around 1623 when she was about 16. They would become the parents of 10 children and 83 grandchildren. John and Elizabeth Howland have millions of descendants today and have left a lasting legacy on the United States. Their descendants are preachers and presidents, actors and teachers leaving their own mark on our country.

Elizabeth Tilley Howland died December 21, 1687. Learn more about Elizabeth and John at Pilgrim John Howland Society and General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

Elizabeth Tilley is my 9th great-grandmother.

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America: A Nation of Explorers

It’s November. That’s the month I choose to pester my family with Facebook posts about our Mayflower ancestors. It’s been my tradition the last few years to post tidbits once or twice a week to help inform the next generation about the trials and tribulations faced by those who paved the way for us.

I wonder sometimes why we have such a reverence for certain groups of people, such as those who traveled on the ship called Mayflower. What made them more special than those who traveled on the ship called Fortune? Nothing really. Each and every one of them faced the same hardships. Sickness, lack of food, winter. Hardships that I can’t even fathom as I sit here in my warm home typing away on my computer.

Thinking of those who forged the way in America reminded me of a conversation I had with a woman I had just met while I was living in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville is a unique place of proud people. Some who still hold tight to the ideas of the Antebellum South. I met this woman one night while I was at work. We chatted for a couple of minutes while she was dropping names right and left. I’m sure you’ve met that type of person before. One who thinks their worth is made from who they know, not who they are?

The conversation was such that I was able to drop a few of my own by first naming my ancestor James Whitecotton who fought in the American Revolution under General George Rogers Clark (Clark is still a big deal in Louisville even today). After that I tossed in a couple of Mayflower ancestors and we turned the conversation towards the settling of America.

This woman made a comment then that struck me and has stayed with me even years later. She said that it was her opinion that the American people as a group are a people who are always striving for the next great thing, be it science or exploration. Always wanting to expand West. Her reasoning was that the earliest settlers were made up of mostly second and third sons who wouldn’t inherit land and so of necessity moved to the New World.

Thus she said, began a mindset that continued for each generation. Exploration. Land.

Looking at my family tree I see the truth of what she said. From those who traveled on the Mayflower and Fortune to America and created a New World, to those who moved from Germany to Russia to America to provide a better life for their families. I see the idea that things are always better over the horizon. I see in my family a single family line in which each generation moves a little further west until they finally end up in California.

So to begin my yearly Mayflower tidbits for my Facebook family I will share a story about a boy named John Billington, Jr. John was a mischievous young man of about 16 years old when he traveled on the Mayflower with his parents John Sr. and Eleanor and his younger brother Francis.

He and his brother were known for their pranks on board ship and once they landed in Plymouth they continued with their trouble-making ways. At some point, young John became lost in the woods outside of town and was found and returned by the local Indians. This was the setting for the book, John Billington: Friend of Squanto. John Billington, Jr became sick soon after this incident and died at a young age. His father John Sr. is another story for another day. All the Billington descendants are through son Francis.

My proven Mayflower ancestors are Allerton, Billington, Brown (2 lines), Cooke, Howland (2 lines), Tilley, and Warren. I’m always happy to meet new cousins so let me know if we share an ancestor.