September birthdays… and some dirty laundry.

Okay. i’m abit late on this… but here’s September’s birthday list:

  • John Nason: 1 September 1585
  • Edmund Lockwood: 2 September 1574
  • Christian Penn: 2 September 1613
  • Abigail Aikin: 9 September 1721
  • Jan Bosch: 12 Septemer 1599
  • Cpt. Joseph Winchell: 13 September 1670
  • Judith Maxon: 17 September 1720
  • David Aikin: 19 September 1689
  • Mary Smith: 26 September 1796

Three hundred and seventy-seven years ago this month Mayflower passenger, John Billington, was hung for murder. He was, in fact, the first white man hung in North America. He was also my great12  grandfather.  He was know as a ruffian and a “knave” fond of brawling and social turbulence.  The governor at the time, William Bradford, had an obvious distaste for the Billington family and wrote the following about John Billington in The History of Plymouth Colony:

    This year John Billington the elder, one of those who came over first, was arraigned, and both by grand and petty jury found guilty of willful murder by plain and notorious evidence, and was accordingly executed. This, the first execution among them was a great sadness to them. They took all possible pains in the trial, and consulted Mr. Winthrop, and the other leading men at the Bay of Massachusetts recently arrived, who concurred with them that he ought to die, and the land be purged of blood. He and some of his relatives had often been punished for misconduct before, being one of the profanest families among them. They came from London, and I know not by what influence they were shuffled into the first body of settlers. The charge against him was that he waylaid a young man, one John Newcomin, about a former quarrel, and shot him with a gun, whereof he died.

 Four years after John’s death, his son Francis married Christian Penn, who was born on September 2nd, 1613. It has been suggested that Christian’s cousin was Admiral William Penn, whose son, William, founded Pennsylvania. When Christian married Francis she was already a widow. Her new husband was likely not well received in the community, being the son of John the murderer, which makes one wonder why she would chose to marry him. Perhaps it was love? or perhaps a necessity to not be a widow supporting four children without support? We’ll never know. Here’s what we do know about her:

  • she came to Plymouth aboard the “Anne” in 1623

  • she was first married to Francis Eaton in 1624/25

  • she married Francis Billington in 1634

  • into her new marriage she brought 3 of her own children and one step-child from her deceased husbands first marriage.

  • She had nine children with Francis Billington. Seven survived into adulthood.

  • On December 4th, 1638 her husband Francis was fined for “drinking tobaccoe in the heighway”.

  • In 1642, according to the records of the town of Plymouth, several (at least 5) of her children were “bound out” to other families.  This included Mary, my great10 grandmother at age five, and Joseph, who apparently ran away from his foster parents to return to his birth parents, Francis & Christian. It is written that they turned him away quite sternly. According to court documents of the time, Francis and Christian and step-son Benjamin were to be put into the stocks if they received run-away Joseph into their home.

  • Between the years 1644-1650 death took two of her young children in a row (one is un-named or unknown, the other was Rebecca).

  • In February 1665  her house burned down. Necessities were “collected for the Releife of ffrancis Billington hee haveing lately suffered great lose by the burning of his house“. Records of the Town of Plymouth, Vol. 1, p. 83.

  • On June 7th, 1672 Christian’s daughter, Dorcas, was whipped for committing fornication (probably for being pregnant and unmarried). She had an illegitimate son that same year.

  • In 1676 Christian’s  son-in-law, Robert Beere, was killed by Indians. (Her daughter Elizabeth’s next husband, Thomas Patey, drowned in the Seekonk River in 1695).

  • In 1680 Christian’s daughter-in-law, Grace (wife to Joseph), was brought to stand before the courts, a second time, for theft. Joseph was ordered numerous times to find a job and support his family. He had the reputation of being a “lay-about”. Perhaps this was fueled by his anger at being “bound out” to another family.

  • The final thing we know about Christian Penn Billington was that she died in 1684 at Middleboro, MA.

I can’t help but think that Christian’s story is a sad one. It started out with such grand adventure… leaving England for worlds unknown. I doubt she could’ve imagined how her life would end up. I hope there was some happiness in it. But happiness probably didn’t come easy when you married into, what Govenor Bradford called, “one of the profanest families among them“.


Published in: on 6 September 2007 at 12:11 am  Comments (1)