September 16, 2020 marks an important milestone for my family. It is the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower from Plymouth, England in her famous voyage to bring a group of English Puritan Separatists to the New World. After years of living in exile in Holland, their presence there was made illegal because of a new agreement between Holland and James I of England (you know, that KJV guy – he wasn’t so keen on losing his subjects, or on people trying to reform the Church of England).
In July of 1620 the group made its way back to England, and having made a deal with the Virginia Company to allow them to establish a colony in the New World, they acquired the use of two ships – the Mayflower and the Speedwell. After several attempts to start crossing the Atlantic failed because of issues with the seaworthiness of the Speedwell, that ship was eventually abandoned. All 102 of the “pilgrims” and 30 crew members would crowd onto the Mayflower to make the crossing, which launched on September 16, 1620. (There were rumors that the captain of the Speedwell actually sabotaged the ship because he was fearful of making the voyage)
Among these hearty faithful were a few people who were simply “along for the ride” so to speak, called “strangers” in the sense of “pilgrims and strangers.” One such character was a young man named Edward Doty. Edward was an indentured servant under the employ of a couple, Stephen and Elizabeth Hopkins. At the time of sailing, Edward was 22. (For an interesting side story, check out Stephen Hopkins life – he almost didn’t live to sail on the Mayflower, and if he hadn’t my story might have been very different)
Even though he was a hired man, working off a debt as an indentured servant, Edward was considered a full member of the decision making process that would bring about the first democratic documents of the New World – the Mayflower Compact. Being that the group had actually landed outside of area governed by the Virginia Company’s royal charter (they had permission from the King to settle in Virginia, but they actually landed farther north), the group understood that they needed to establish a set of rules for the self-governance of the new colony. As they set anchor in what is now Provincetown Harbor and before they walked ashore for the first time, 41 men signed the agreement on November 11, 1620 (using the old Julian calendar, on today’s calendar the date would be November 21). Edward’s signature was the 40th on the document, followed by that of the Hopkin family’s other indentured servant, Edward Leister.
A month later, the group landed at the site picked for building the colony on December 21, 1620. It would known as Plymouth (in honor of the English town from which they had departed). The first winter was harsh and of the 102 original passengers, only 57 would survive. Edward lived and would soon make his mark in the New World. Unfortunately the first records we have of him indicate that he was involved in the first duel in the colony with his fellow indentured servant, Mr. Leister. Both young men were described in records as “spirited” and not in Puritan sense. Fortunately both survived the duel and were punished for disturbing the peace.
Edward worked hard though and apparently settled his debt with the Hopkins family quickly. By 1627, he owned his own land and by 1633 he was one of the wealthiest men in the colony, paying as much in taxes as his former employer. He married and had ten children, dying on August 23, 1655.
So four hundred years of time have passed, as have eleven generations of my family. I am the 12th generation of the Doty legacy in the New World, Edward being my 9th great grandfather. Though my Mayflower ancestor was really not your ideal version of a “Pilgrim,” it was because of those stalwart souls that he made his way to America. While many of his exploits are in the record books, not much of his faith is known. Fortunately he was part of a group of individuals who paved the way for the religious freedom we enjoy today. His signature is proudly displayed on a document which inaugurated democracy in the New World, over a hundred years before the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution. So, you can imagine, even with all of his faults (and he had many it seems), I am proud of what he and the others of his day accomplished.