Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sarah Allerton Vincent Priest Godbertson, of Bath, Leiden, and Plymouth

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.

Happy Thanksgiving.


  1. I can't claim any Mayflower ancestors--my mother's people came through Ellis Island in the early part of the 20th century, and we were mostly estranged from my dad's family and never learned much about them. But any American can claim a heritage of independent thinking, action rather than passivity, and a bit of coloring outside the lines of society. That is what led our ancestors to these shores.

    Sometimes I wonder whether that predisposes us for greatness, or spectacular failure...

  2. Wow, fascinating. Such courage. What kind of sense of adventure did they have that allowed them to even entertain the thought of making such a huge move. Boggles my little comfort-seeking mind.

    Hey, like Lisa, my mom's folks came through Ellis Island during the very late 19th and very early 20th century. (Maybe on the same boat..?) Wish they'd turned left at Albuquerque instead of hanging a right; I might not be sitting in a foot of snow right now... But I am grateful that I'm not a pioneer and that I have a furnace.

    I wish you all a peaceful Thanksgiving.

  3. What a beautiful, inspiring heritage you have. Sending love to you this holiday week.

  4. Such courage, our great(s) grandmothers had. I know the story of a few of mine, and am grateful for their legacy. What a lovely reflection, inspiring. Blessings to you this thanksgiving.

  5. Women standing strong against unimaginable heartache, loss, fear... long ago and now. Seems so much is asked of too many of us, yet here we all are still upright most of the time and moving forward with life and finding joy.

    Peace to you on this day of giving thanks for our blessings.