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The Mayflower, The Pilgrims, & Plymouth

So much has been written about the Pilgrims, the Mayflower, and Plymouth that there is little, if anything, left to say. Rather than regurgitate the work of others, we will point out some of the most authoritative sources on the Internet for these topics.

Predictably, the “Big Three” organizations dedicated to early New England History – the New England Historic Genealogical SocietyPlimouth Plantation, and the General Society of Mayflower Descendants – are good places to start. The GSMD, in turn, points to The Pilgrims & Plymouth Colony, a Website developed by the late Duane Cline. Also, check out the wonderful Plymouth Colony Archive Project.

The following are observations about how Edward and his kin were connected to this time and place.

The Pilgrims and the Mayflower Voyage

Was Edward Doty really a Pilgrim? It depends upon how you define “pilgrim”. Certainly, in Edward’s day the term “Pilgrim” had a much narrower meaning than it does now.

On board the 1620 voyage of the Mayflower to the New World were 102 passengers and 30 or so crew. Of the passengers, 40 or so comprised a band of English seekers of religious independence. These religious people – whose journey to the New World began in Leiden, Holland – referred to themselves as “Saints”, and to the others – who boarded in Southampton, England – as “Strangers”. Later, William Bradford once called the so-called Saints as “pilgrims”, from an Old Testament reference. Who were these people, and why were they on this ship?

In 1517, the Protestant Reformation was launched on the European Continent, when Martin Luther, a Catholic priest, publicly protested what then was viewed as the abuses of the Church. Separately, in 1534, Henry VIII persuaded Parliament to recognize him, the King of England – instead of the Catholic Pope – as the Supreme Head of the Church of England. This break merely was a political ploy, and the Church of England retained all of the other hierarchy and liturgy of Catholicism.

However, the Protestant Reformation eventually made its way to England. Keep in mind that the people at this time believed that their very souls were in peril. Members of the Church of England who wanted to purify the Church of its Catholic trappings – to get closer to God, they believed – were known as “Puritans”. However, some of these – more radical – came to believe that change could not be accomplished quickly enough from within, and that instead a separate church needed to be founded. They were known as “Separatists”.

Finally, some of these – even more radical – came to believe that the could not live even in the shadow of the “corrupt” Church of England, so they migrated first to Holland – which did not have a state-endorsed church – and then to the New World. They referred to themselves as “Saints”, and eventually they were known as “Pilgrims”. Neither Edward Doty – nor his master, Stephen Hopkins, for that matter – was such a Pilgrim.

However, during the bicentennial celebration in 1820 of the founding of Plymouth, the term “Pilgrim” was broadened to include all of the Mayflower passengers. So, although it would have surprised Edward, no doubt – he became a Pilgrim, after all.

Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620
By Jean Leon Gerome Ferris – 1899

On a similar note, Edward has been noted to be one of the 41 signers of what has become to be known as the “Mayflower Compact”. Some historians hail this agreement as the earliest plan for self-rule in the New World. Others question its significance.

Two points about the Compact, in particular, interest Doty followers, though:

  1. Edward Doty and Edward Leister, Stephen Hopkin’s two servants, were permitted to sign, at the end; and
  2. Seven other male indentured servants were not permitted to sign.

Does this mean that the two Edwards had more senior status of some kind? Or, were they already proving to be troublesome, and the Company wanted to bind them to some rules? We probably will never know.

Mayflower Compact – 1620

The “First” Thanksgiving

It is intriguing for a Doty descendant to envision our forefather partaking of this legendary feast – even though the Pilgrims themselves almost certainly did not think of it as their “first” thanksgiving celebration.

Keep in mind that relations with the local Wampanoag tribe had been rocky right from the start, almost all the fault of the Pilgrims. And, by autumn, only 53 of the 104 passengers who had arrived the previous December still were alive. But, thanks to intervention by Squanto, a Native American who spoke English, by March the Pilgrims had made peace with Massasoit, the chief of the Wampanoag tribe. Squanto had been captured previously and had spent five years in London. Now, he helped these English. What good luck for the Pilgrims! As William Bradford wrote, Squanto was “a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation.” His bust is displayed prominently in Pilgrim Hall Museum, which was founded in 1824.

Bust of Squanto
Pilgrim Hall Museum

Edward Winslow, who would become Governor of the Colony in 1633, was among the group of Pilgrims present at the 1621 Thanksgiving, which probably took place in October. Here is his eyewitness account.

[O]ur harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others. And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie.


Plimouth Colony

Plymouth Colony existed only from 1620 to 1691, and its population never was large.


Date Population Date Population
Dec 1620 99 May 1627 156
Apr 1621 50 Jan 1630 Almost 300
Nov 1621 85 1643 Approx 2,000
Jul 1623 180 1691 Approx 7,000


In the beginning, there was only a single hamlet: Plymouth.

Plimouth Plantation Living Museum

However, between the 1630s and 1670s, another dozen or so hamlets were founded within the Colony.

Settlements of Plymouth Colony to 1691

This map shows that during Plymouth Colony’s heyday, it was comprised of settlements, covering all of today’s southeastern Massachusetts. Plymouth still was the Colony’s “capital”, and all of these others settlements must have been very small, indeed. Many of Edward’s early descendants settled these places.

Unfortunately for Plymouth Colony, however, even though English colonists were streaming into northeastern America, few were headed for Plymouth. The vast majority settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony – centered on today’s city of Boston, 40 miles to the north – and fanned out from there. Plymouth was eclipsed. From 1686-88, it was part of a unified “Dominion of New England”. After that arrangement collapsed by 1691/2, Plymouth was merged into Massachusetts Bay Colony and relegated to the annuals of history.

The Great Migration

The first “Great Migration” of English to America and the Caribbean (Barbados) occurred from 1620 – with the voyage of the Mayflower – to 1640 – with the outbreak of the English Civil War. It is estimated that during that period, about 20,000 settlers arrived in New England. About one-half of them were from East Anglia, alone.


Year Immigrants Year Immigrants
1620 [TBD] 1630  
1621   1631  
1622   1632  
1623   1633  
1624   1634  
1625   1635  
1626   1636  
1627   1637  
1628   1638  
1629   1639  
§   1640  



Unlike other contemporaneous migrations, this one consisted primarily of families. These families lived in a limited number of settlements, often in proximity to one another. Members of these families intermarried through the generations, so that many Doty descendants alive today have early immigrant ancestors, other than Edward, profiled by the Project.

In 1988 the New England Historic Genealogical Society launched the Great Migration Study Project, under the direction of Robert Charles Anderson, an eminent genealogist. The aim of the Project is “to compile comprehensive genealogical and biographical accounts of every person who settled in New England between 1620 and 1640”. The Project has made tremendous progress, but still has a long way to go. We encourage you to support it.

Also, an amateur genealogist, Anne Stevens, has compiled a staggering list of 290 ships and 7100 families for which there are records of voyages to the New World between 1602 and 1638. This list includes sorts 1) by date of voyage, 2) by name of ship, and 3) by surname of passenger.

Settlements of New England Colonies to 1727

This map shows how far and wide the early English settlers spread throughout the region. It has been estimated that by 1678, the total English population in New England was about 60,000 people.

Over several generations, many of Edward’s descendants migrated northward, southward, and westward from Plymouth Colony, throughout New England, up the Hudson River, and into New Jersey.