A Pilgrim by Blood and by Heart: On the Discovery of My Mayflower Roots This Thanksgiving

The grave stone of Constance Hopkins Snow, Mayflower Pilgrim, at Cove’s Burying Ground in Eastham, MA

That’s right, Mayflower roots. I could barely believe it myself. Those of you who have been following this blog know that my hobby is genealogy. Serendipitously I recently came across some information about a couple of ancestors from my Grandma Pearl Walker’s line. When I initially started my research, I did not even imagine the possibility of having direct Revolutionary War patriots in my family tree, let alone a real live (or should I say deceased) pilgrim or two.  Who would have known it?  But there they were: Stephen Hopkins (1581-1644), my 12x great grandfather and his daughter Constance Hopkins(1606-1677), my 11x great grandmother.

Stephen Hopkins, a survivor and quite the character

Stephen Hopkins was born 1581 in Hampshire England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Her successor, King James I chartered the Virginia Company to establish a colony in the new world. Stephen Hopkins, an adventurous spirit, set out to sail to Jamestown, Virginia on the supply ship named Sea Venture in 1609.  His first wife Mary and three children Elizabeth, Constance, and Giles remained in England for this endeavor and received some of his wages as a minister’s clerk and indentured servant. On his way to Jamestown he encountered a violent storm and was shipwrecked in Bermuda for 10 months. His fellow castaways included John Rolfe, who later married Pocahontas; and Sir Thomas Gates who was to serve as Jamestown’s new governor.  Stephen was in the company of Gates but complained and questioned the governor’s authority.  As a result, Stephen was charged, found guilty of mutiny, and sentenced to death.  After pleading for mercy and in tears, his sentence was dropped.  “So penitent he was, and made so much moan, alleging the ruin of his wife and children in this his trespass, as it wrought in the hearts of all the better sorts of the company.”  (Obtained from Mayflowerhistory.com).  It is said that a subplot in Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest” was likely based on Stephen Hopkins’ character.   

Eventually in 1610 the castaways were able to construct two boats made of cedar that took them to Jamestown. Stephen reportedly worked in Jamestown from 1610 until about 1614 when news emerged that his first wife had suddenly died in England leaving his children alone and under the care of the Church. Stephen then returned to England and married Elizabeth Fisher. Upon learning about a Mayflower voyage to start a new colony in “Northern Virginia”, Stephen signed up. Not many passengers took their entire family on the Mayflower, but Stephen Hopkins decided to take his pregnant second wife, all of his known living children, and two male servants with him for what would become the infamous treacherous journey in 1620.

We come from hearty stock

102 passengers and 30 crew men were crammed into the 100 foot Mayflower in September 1620. The gale tossed ship veered off course from its destination to Virginia and ended up being docked in Cape Cod in November of that year where the Mayflower Compact was signed.  Two passengers died at sea.  There was one birth during the journey.  Stephen Hopkins’ wife gave birth to a son, Oceanus.  Upon arrival to Plymouth, winter had set in leaving no time to build adequate housing so most of the passengers lived onboard the Mayflower docked in the harbor.  Conditions were very poor on the ship that was cramped and dirty.  Half of the Pilgrims would die that first winter. The Hopkins was the only family unit to survive entirely through that ordeal.

Stephen was noted to be of great help as an explorer of the territory in his knowledge of hunting, fishing, and was considered the “expert” on the Natives from his experiences at Jamestown.  It is said that the first meeting with the Native Americans was at the Hopkins’ residence and that Samoset had stayed overnight in Stephen’s home.  Stephen was an assistant to the governor from 1633-36.  However, he soon fell out of favor with the Plymouth Colony after he set up a shop and served alcohol. He was fined for playing shuffleboard on Sunday, allowing excessive drinking in his house, selling beer at excessive prices, and a looking glass for twice its worth. He also seriously wounded John Tisdale in a fight.  Stephen died in 1644 desiring to be buried by his second wife, and leaving a will to his surviving children.

Constance Hopkins, a young teen on the Mayflower

Constance Hopkins was born in Hampshire, England in 1606.  She was only 14 years old when she came to American on the Mayflower with her father Stephen Hopkins, stepmother Elizabeth, brother Giles, and stepsister Damaris.  Constance may have been one of the first European women to step foot in New England since Freydis, the sister of Leif Ericsson in about 1002-1006 AD.  Constance’s future husband, Nicholas Snow later arrived on the ship Anne in 1623.  The couple eventually moved to Eastham, Massachusetts.  According to records written by William Bradford in 1651, Constance Hopkins Snow had 12 children with “all of them living.” She died in 1677 and is buried in Cove Burying Ground in Eastham, MA.  Constance Hopkins’ original hat made of beaver pelt is on display in the Pilgrim Hall Museum.

 Constance’s daughter, Sarah Snow (1632-1697), would marry William Walker (my 10x great grandfather) in 1655.  William Walker is a direct ancestor of my Grandmother Pearl Walker.  Former President Ulysses S. Grant also is noted to have descended from Sarah Snow.

The first Thanksgiving

Many cultures lay claim to a “First Thanksgiving.”  In fact, many faiths have feasts and occasions which observe giving thanks to God.  The term Eucharist itself means “good gift.” Although most Americans associate Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims, even the events that occurred at Plymouth are up to debate. History points to the Pilgrim Thanksgiving as being observed on the occasion of a bountiful harvest after a particularly difficult winter.  Those who had survived starvation and witnessed the death of 50% of the population the prior winter desired first to show their gratitude to God and to share out of their abundance.  However this feast was not observed every year.   William Bradford called a feast whenever the community experienced a time of drought or need followed by a shipment of supplies or a productive crop.

God’s gift in my own life

My own life has a special connection to Thanksgiving.  After experiencing a miscarriage from my first pregnancy, I felt uncertain if I would be able to ever have any children.  Upon discovering that I was expecting another child, it was with great joy that I learned of the due date of my son was to be on Thanksgiving Day in 1995. The name I chose was “Jonathan” meaning “God’s gift” or God is gracious”.  As it happened, he ended up being born 3 days before Thanksgiving that year!

We all are privileged

We are all privileged regardless of our ancestry. In the midst of our troubles many of us have a tendency to forget that God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in distress. (Psalms 46:2).  Whether or not we choose to acknowledge Him, all good gifts come from God, and even the challenges as well as the gift of our own lives. The early Pilgrims experienced this upon the raging seas and through times of plentiful harvest and blessings.  All of us are pilgrims on a journey to God.  Along the way we encounter periods of abundance intertwined with times of great need.  This brings to mind a famous poem that was once found on a soldier in Gettysburg:

A Christian Confederate Soldier’s Prayer

(Anon – alleged to have been found on a CSA casualty at the Devil’s Den, Gettysburg)

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve. I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health, that I might do greater things.I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy. I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.

I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.

I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for but got everything I had hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am, among all people, most richly blessed.

(Information for this article was gathered from various websites including pilgrimhall.org, mayflowerhistory.com, wikipedia and my family tree at ancestry.com).

My great grandfather George C Walker and his daughter my grandmother Pearl Irene Walker, both descendants of Pilgrims Stephen and Constance Hopkins. Photo taken about 1912 in Niagara Falls, NY

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2 Responses to A Pilgrim by Blood and by Heart: On the Discovery of My Mayflower Roots This Thanksgiving

  1. Rosanne says:

    Oh my Natalie, my heart practically skipped a beat, how amazing is this!

  2. Michelle Kratts says:

    This is amazing! Love it <3

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