‘Old Comers’ appears to be a way of referring to those who arrived at Plymouth prior to any given point in time; however, eventually this term came to encompass all who were resident in Plymouth by 1627. (Stratton)
The Pilgrims (although they did not call themselves that) were also referred to as the Saints, First Comers, Old Planters, the Planters, Ancient Brethren or Ancient Men).
Bradford usually called the Mayflower passengers “Old Comers.” (Stratton) In “the 1626 agreement between the London Adventurers and Allerton called him agent for the ‘rest of the Planters there’; however, these planters, the heads of each family then resident in Plymouth, were thereafter more usually called the ‘Purchasers.’ …”
“Though there might have been some looseness in the terms of the ‘Old Comers’ or ‘Old Planters’ in the beginning, ultimately they came to refer those residents in Plymouth by the 1627 Division of the Cattle, and the terms are virtually synonymous with the ‘Purchasers,’ though Old Comers/Planters might encompass all members of the families, and Purchaser only the head.” (Stratton)
Bradford differentiates “Old Planters” and “New-Commers” as those who came before the 1623 ships.
“On the other hand the old planters were affraid that their corne, when it was ripe, should be imparted to the new-commers, whose provissions which they brought with them they feared would fall short before the year wente aboute (as indeed it did).”
“They came to the Gov[erno]r and besought him that as it was before agreed that they should set come for their perticuler, and accordingly they had taken extraordinary pains ther aboute, that they might freely injoye the same, and they would not have a bitte of the victails now come, but waite till harvest for their owne, and let the new-commers injoye what they had brought; they would have none of it, excepte they could purchase any of it of them by bargaine or exchainge.” (Bradford, 323)
First Four Ships
The Plymouth colonists ultimately classified all those who arrived on the first four ships alike. They were the first English settlers who arrived on the first four ships coming to Plymouth, Massachusetts – the Mayflower (November 11, 1620); the Fortune (November 9, 1621); and the Anne and the Little James, (June or July 1623).
Mayflower (November 11, 1620)
When the Mayflower first weighed anchor off Cape Cod on November 11, 1620, of the 102 passengers who had sailed from England one had died, William Butten, apprentice to Samuel Fuller, and one had been born, Oceanus Hopkins, and so there were still 102 as the result of one death and one birth.
While anchored off Cape Cod, four passengers died – Dorothy Bradford, James Chilton, Jasper More and Edward Thompson – and one more was born, Peregrine White. So by the time that the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Harbor on December 16, 1620, there were 99 “first comers.” From December 21, 1620 through March 1621, William Bradford recorded the deaths of 44 more passengers. After the Mayflower left on its return journey to England on April 5, 1621, five more settlers died, including Governor John Carver and his wife, reducing the number of survivors to 50. (Deetz)
Fortune (November 1621)
In the fall of 1621 the Fortune was the second English ship destined for Plymouth Colony in the New World, one year after the voyage of the Mayflower. It was a much smaller ship, compared to the Mayflower, at 55 tons displacement, and about one-third the tonnage of the Mayflower.
It is believed that the majority of the passengers of the Fortune were gathered together in London by Thomas Weston and others of the London-based Merchant Adventurers; Fortune was to transport new settlers to the colony. It reached Cape Cod on November 9, 1621 and the colony itself in late-November.
Their leader was Robert Cushman who, in 1620, had been the Leiden agent in London for the Mayflower and Speedwell. And although William Bradford stated that there were thirty-five persons on board Fortune, the names of only twenty-eight persons are noted as receiving lots credited to those arriving as noted in the 1623 Division of Land.
Per author Charles Banks, individual records show that sixteen of the passengers can definitely be assigned to London or districts of the city such as Stepney and Southwark. Another three passengers were from Leiden in Holland. Ten more passengers, whose origins cannot be determined, either died early or left the colony as determined by who was listed in the 1627 Division of Cattle.
Eighteen persons are known to have been unmarried, eight married, but emigrating without their families, and as far as can be determined, Mrs. Martha Ford may have been the only woman on the ship. Although it is possible some of the missing seven persons in the passenger count were wives.
The ship was unexpected by those in Plymouth colony and although it brought useful settlers, many of whom were young men, it brought no supplies, further straining the limited food resources of the colony. The ship only stayed in the colony about three weeks, returning to England in December loaded with valuable furs and other goods.
Anne & the Little James (July 1623)
In the spring of 1623 about 90 passengers embarked in two small ships sailing from London to Plymouth Colony for the purpose of providing settlers and other colony support. These were the 140-ton supply ship Anne and the smaller, new 44-ton pinnace Little James which had been outfitted for military service.
They were financed by Thomas Weston’s investment group, the Merchant Adventurers, who also financed Mayflower in 1620 and Fortune in 1621. After a three-month voyage, Anne arrived in Plymouth, on July 10, 1623 and Little James a week or ten days later.
Of the 90-odd passengers, there were about 60 men, women and children total in both ships, many being former English Separatist residents of Leiden, Holland, and with about 30 others being part of an independent emigrant group led by John Oldham. This later group had been promised a separate living situation in Plymouth apart from the main settlement.
After this voyage Anne was to return to its regular cargo shipping work and Little James was to remain in the colony for fishing, cargo and military service. Anne’s master was William Peirce and Little James had two young men in charge – Master John Bridges, master mariner, and a novice captain, Emmanuel Altham, a Merchant Adventurer.
Sixty of them were sponsored by the joint stock company, and therefore were obligated to work for the “common good” of the colony. But thirty others were under no such obligation, having paid their own expenses. They were referred to as “the particulars,” having come “on their particular.” The particulars were not sponsored by the core emigrant group and thus not required to work for the communal good of the Colony.
Bradford commented that of the sixty settlers who came to join the general body of settlers as distinct from those who came on their own particular, some were “very useful persons and became good members to the body; and some were the wives and children of such as were here already. And some were so bad as they were fain to be at charge to send them home again the next year”. (Bradford, p. 127).
Eight wives accompanied their husbands on these two ships, along with twelve children most brought over by their parents of at least two of whom were Patience and Fear Brewster, daughters of William and Mary Brewster, who had arrived on the Mayflower.
There are no separate passenger lists for each ship, as those that sailed in these ships were grouped together in records under Anne when the official land division was made in 1623 with assignment of acreage lots by name.
Click the following link to a general summary about Old Comers:
Alyssa Mehnert says
Thank you for this article. I had no idea the Ancient Planters were Pilgrims. My husband’s side is a direct desendent of William Spencer who arrived in Jamestown in 1607.
Has nothing to do with Hawaii.
Peter T Young says
As I noted when I restarted the historical posts, I am involved with the Mayflower Society in Hawaii and at least through May, 2022, there will be “Mayflower Monday” posts. In addition, on Tuesdays, there will be “Timeline Tuesday” posts that in may cases speak of people, places and events around the world, with references to what was happening in the Islands at the time.
Ann C Peterson says
Aloha Peter, thanks for posting on this history. I’m not a member of the Mayflower Society but have 4 ancestors who came over on the Mayflower. Always appreciate learning more about them. Keep the stories coming!
Thank you Peter for Mayflower Monday.
We myriad descendants alas weighed anchor over the centuries in and around this magnificent archipelago.