By Stacy B. C. Wood, Jr.
Our Mayflower ancestors were not of “royal blood.” For the most part, they were what we now would call “middle class” people who had to work for a living. Of the 58 male passengers, both men and boys, the trades or occupations of only 32 are known. This is one more than what was known in January 1999 because the Pilgrim John Howland Society has discovered an Indenture dated 1623 that reveals John Howland’s trade: salter. The women and girls are not included because about two hundred years would pass before females would be allowed to be any more than what we now call “Housewives.”
Here is a list of the male passengers whose trades are known:
† Did not survive the first winter.
* Died April 1621.
- Can you identify all of the trades or occupations?
- Did John Alden make chicken coops?
- Did William Mullins make string, cord or rope?
- Just what did William Bradford do as a fustian weaver?
- What was the camlet that Thomas Rogers made?
Let’s see. Print out this page and write what you think the trade involved in a few words next to each passenger’s name.
Next, to find out the definitions of each of the trades, go to the “Ranks, Professions, Occupations and Trades Website. If that didn’t work try another source consisting of “ Medieval & Obsolete English Trades & Professional Terms used from 1086-1400 (and later)” and “Late 17th Century & Early 18th Century Trades in the New World.” You should be able to identify most of the trades, occupations and ranks (the terms for the “social pecking order”) using these sources. If not, there is always the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
At least 8 of the above passengers had surnames (last names) of trades or occupations. None of them, however, worked in that trade.
- Can you spot them and identify them?
Their names are: Brewster, Cooke, Fletcher, Fuller, Gardiner, Leister, Priest, and Tinker. Also, one of the passengers had a last name that was possibly, in his case, his social rank.
- Did you guess which one he is? Try the “Gs” if you haven’t guessed already. Use the two links above to verify your answer. What ranks were on either side of this one?
Historians and genealogists often want to know more about people than when they lived, married, died and who their parents and children were. It means more if we can “flesh out” those basic “bones.” Trades, occupations, professions and ranks can help greatly in doing so. Places to find this information about someone are church records, tax lists, census, deeds, indentures, wills, estate inventories, city and county business directories, court records and newspaper advertisements, obituaries, wedding notices, etc. Some historians have put together books of all the people of a town, county, state or even country who have worked in a certain occupation. These are then used by other researchers who wish to identify a name that they find in an antique piece of furniture or whatever.
- Did any of these occupations look like something that you might have liked to do if you had lived in the 17th century?
- Do you understand why each passenger, whether he survived that winter of 1620 or not, would have had an important role to play in the colony of New Plymouth that had no other settlements closer than the Dutch in New Amsterdam (now New York City) over two-hundred miles away?
The next ship to arrive from England was the "Fortune" in 1621.
- If you were Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford, what occupations would you have hoped the new settlers had.