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 is my 9th great-grandmother.