Mayflower at Sea ~ Granville Perkins, 1880
Three hundred ninety years ago one Degory Priest, having been a member of the Separatist community in Leiden, Holland for awhile, boarded a ship in Plymouth, England, which 66 days later dropped anchor in what would come to be known as Provincetown Harbor in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Like nearly half of his fellow passengers, all of them still living on the ship, he died of disease sometime during the winter that followed.
The only reason I know all of this is that my great-grandmother was a genealogy buff and a member of the Mayflower Society and the Daughters of the American Revolution. When my children were in middle school and doing family trees, my father gave them his grandmother's records. I wish I had known this family history when I was a high school and college student in Massachusetts, visiting and studying the names and places associated with those early European arrivals. I had no idea, when I read Of Plymouth Plantation in college, that one of my ancestors was a signatory of The Mayflower Compact or, when I wandered up and down Cape Cod and around P-town as a high school and college student, that my earliest American ancestors had made their homes there.
This year my thoughts turn to Sarah Allerton. Already widowed when she married Degory Priest in Leiden at about the age of twenty (records vary), she was the mother of at least his two daughters when she remarried in Leiden and had a son. She traveled across the Atlantic with her new husband and three children (and possibly two other children, perhaps from her first marriage, as well) in 1623, and died ten years later.
I see my own life history as one filled with the sadness associated with the deaths of many young people, but apparently Sarah Allerton is my ancestor and sister in more ways than one. What was that like for her? ~ to follow her religious convictions to Leiden, to be widowed twice, and to cross the Atlantic and arrive in Plymouth at the age of about 30, accompanied by her third husband and several children, and then to have to leave them behind a decade later? What was her life like, in a Separatist family in England in the Leiden community, as a widowed young mother, on a small and crowded ship? What was it like to start over in Plymouth, to care for that family and make a home so far from anything familiar?
I had not thought of this at all before today, but maybe, just maybe, in my having made it through these past two years, caring for our children still with us and completing my seminary education, a little spark of Sarah Allerton has survived. I'm happy to claim her as my great-great-great . . . grandmother and sister in faith and determination, though I think it's clear that she had it all over me in both. I hope that she wasn't always too tired and too sad, and that she found some joy in looking out over the Atlantic at sunrise, as I so often have.