What I love most about genealogy is chasing a story: searching through forgotten archives, connecting with distant cousins and sharing family photos and favorite memories. I love adding up the small details–newspaper clippings and pension applications, journal entries and land purchases–to write the story of my family tree. When I first started researching my genealogy, though, I was more interested in collecting names and tracing my family tree back as far as the historical records would allow. I had hundreds of names in my family tree, but even after a few months of researching, I couldn’t share one story about any of my ancestors. While I’m now preoccupied with telling my family’s story, the race to collect more and more names led me back to Edward Fuller, his wife, his brother and his son–all passengers on the Mayflower.
My 12x great-grandfather, Edward Fuller, was baptized on September 4, 1575 in Redenhall, County Norfolk, England; Edward’s brother, Samuel, was baptized at Redenhall on January 20, 1580 and also accompanied the family on their voyage to the New World. Edward boarded the Mayflower with his wife and son, Samuel, and departed from Plymouth, England in September 1620. The Mayflower measured an estimated 100 feet from prow to stern, and the bottom of its keel was about 12 feet below the waterline. This small ship carried an estimated 102 passengers and 40 crew in cramped conditions: by the second month at sea, the ship was being buffeted by strong westerly gales, and the passengers, even in their berths, lay wet and ill. According to William Bradford, the passengers were ill-clad in below-freezing temperatures with wet shoes and stockings that often became frozen, and they were not accustomed to winter weather much colder than back home. This, combined with a lack of proper rations and unsanitary conditions for several months, contributed to the deaths of one crew member and one passenger at sea.
The Mayflower passengers planned to arrive at the Colony of Virginia, but storms forced them to anchor at the harbor at Cape Cod, Massachusetts in November 1620 after nearly three months at sea. Since the Mayflower did not dock at its anticipated and agreed-upon location, the passengers decided to establish a social contract–The Mayflower Compact–that governed and regulated the new settlement and its inhabitants. Edward Fuller was among the original signers of the Mayflower Compact; it reads:
IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience.
Edward Fuller and his wife died that first winter in 1621, and Samuel was raised by his uncle in the colony. In 1624, Samuel received three shares of a division of land (his share in the colony, as well as his parents’ shares) that included a portion of Watson’s Hill. Ten years later, Samuel became a freeman of Plymouth Colony, meaning that he now possessed the right to vote. He married Jane Lathrop, the daughter of Reverend John Lathrop, in April 1635 at the James Cudworth House in Scituate, Massachusetts, and their first four children–Hannah, Samuel, Elizabeth and Sarah–were born there. Samuel’s brother, Matthew, had purchased land in Barnstable, and the couple relocated to and had five more children in the new township. Samuel, my 11x great-grandfather, died in Barnstable, Massachusetts in 1683 at the age of 71.
When I first started researching my family tree, I remember staying awake all night to trace my ancestors back as far as possible. I added a line of Dubois ancestors in France on my dad’s side, found evidence of long-lost Scottish ancestors on my mom’s side and followed the paper trail back to a few English kings. With more experience (and a lot more research), it turns out that I’m definitely not French, I probably shouldn’t have accepted “Ancestry Family Trees” as the only evidence for my Scottish line and I am, in fact, not related to English royalty. That’s what makes genealogy fun, though: following the paper trail, not knowing where you’ll end up. Years later, that paper trail led me to the Mayflower, the Mayflower Compact and the Fuller family from England–one of my coolest stories yet.