Our Plymouth Colony Connection
It is hard to imagine how anyone would willingly agree to travel over 3,000 miles across the north Atlantic in a small 180 ton sailboat departing in the early fall of the year 1620. Nevertheless, 102 passengers, men, women, and children did agree to make the trip which took a total of 65 days. They sighted Cape Cod on November 21, 1620 and finally landed in Plymouth on December 26, 1620. Winter was just beginning and they had little food and no shelter. During the winter of 1620-1621 almost half of the first inhabitants of the Plymouth Colony perished.
On November 9 of 1621 a second ship, The Fortune, arrived carrying an additional 34 new colonists. The following July, 1623, two more ships arrived, the Anne and the Little James, bringing 88 more colonists including 28 year old Francis Sprague and his two daughters, 6 year old Anna, and 3 year old Mercy. As of the summer of 1623, the 168 surviving residents in the Plymouth Colony are classified by historians as the “Founding Fathers.”
Francis Sprague was a not a Puritan as were many of the original settlers in Plymouth. That is, he did not come to America for religious reasons. It is not clear as to why he risked the voyage especially with two young daughters. We know that he was living in London just prior to the departure and we know that he had lost his wife sometime before 1623. London was an awful place to live in the early 1600s and it is probable that he left for the New World in the hope of making a better home and future for himself and his family. At the time of his death in 1676 he was considered to be one of the most respected and wealthiest men in New England suggesting that his decision to move to the New World was the correct one. Francis Sprague is my great (x12) grandfather and Mercy Sprague is my great (x11) grandmother. I am a descendent of theirs through my grandmother Helen Spaulding on my father’s side of the family.
It appears from what I have learned to date, that Francis and Mercy Sprague were the first of our ancestors to arrive in America. They were followed less than a year later, in the Spring of 1624, by Joris Jansen Rapalje who arrived with his wife on the Dutch ship “Endracht” (Unity) landing in New Amsterdam at the mouth of the Hudson River. I am a descendent of theirs through my Great Grandmother Helen Rappleye on my father’s side of the family. The “Great Migration” into the New World began in 1630 commencing with the arrival of eleven vessels carrying 700 passengers into various coastal ports in Massachusetts, including Boston. Robert Seeley and his family arrived in 1630 as did John Hall and Giles Gibbs and their families. Both are ancestors of my great grandfather Ferree’s mother. Richard Butler and his family arrived in 1633. Thomas Wright and his family arrived in 1635, and Charles Chancey, later to be the second President of Harvard, arrived in 1637. All were direct ancestors of Great Grandfather Ferree’s mother.
One of the reasons that we have so many details of our ancestors arriving and living in our country in the 1600s is due to the fact that the early colonies were highly organized with respect to the governmental management of their settlements. We have court records, birth and marriage records, military records, and records of the purchase and sale of property. Unlike the early Spanish, whose primary reason for being in the Americas seemed to be exploitation, and the French who failed to take advantage of promoting settlement, the English focused on creating well governed groups commencing with early settlements in Virginia and in Massachusetts. This proved in the end to be the right approach. The Dutch also attempted to follow this same approach with their early settlement of New Amsterdam; however, their settlement which was sandwiched between the English to the north and to the south was eventually taken over by the English and renamed New York.
The Puritans in Plymouth Colony were particularly well governed and for that reason we know quite a lot about Francis Sprague and his daughter. We know that they arrived in 1623 and were granted land in the colony. We know that in 1627, the original Company that sponsored their trip to the New World was dissolved (an agreement was made to pay their expenses) and the land was distributed to all 168 surviving colonists included Francis and his two daughters, in groups of thirteen with each group owning 20 acres, one cow, two sheep, and a few pigs. The Pilgrims recorded the distribution of land as the “Division of Cattle.” Parents and children owned equal shares of land and animals. Also in 1627, it is recorded that Francis made an agreement with the governor of the colony, William Bradford, to engage in the fur trade. In 1630 Francis remarried. In 1637 the family moved to Duxbury about 10 miles north of Plymouth and purchased land. Also in 1637 he was admitted as a Freeman, an honor offered only to responsible persons in the colony. History also records that Francis Sprague in 1637 was granted a license to open what may have been the first inn and tavern established in New England. In November of 1637 Francis’s daughter, Mercy, married William Tubbs who arrived in New England in 1630 and settled in Duxbury in 1635. In 1638, Francis Sprague joined the Duxbury militia under Captain Miles Standish. In 1649, Francis is listed as the Surveyor of Highways, a position that he held on several occasions, and in 1649 it is recorded that he was a Constable of Duxbury. Francis Sprague died in 1676, a wealthy landowner and respected individual.
Definitely, as we will see, Mercy Sprague was a more colorful figure than her father. At the age of 17, Mercy married William Tubbs, who was approximately six years her senior. Together they had three children between the years of 1638 and 1654 including the birth of our ancestor, Samuel Tubbs, her first born son. William Tubbs, like his father-in-law, was a respected individual. He was granted Freeman status in 1636, he was a volunteer in the military in the war against the Pequot Indians both in 1637 and again in 1643, and in 1678 he was a Surveyor of Highways. It was also noted in his historical biography that he was a large landowner.
When the marriage of Mercy and William started to fall apart is not exactly known. In March of 1651 several years before the birth of their last child, Mercy at the age of 31, was ordered to appear before the court to answer the charge of “mixed dancing”. The court admonished Mercy for her behavior which obviously was not the norm of the day. Several years later, William Tubbs sold his house “with the consent of Mercy” which was not an ordinary procedure and may have been a precursor of future problems with their marriage. Then in March of 1662, one Joseph Rogers sued a couple for their reporting that they had seen him lying under a blanket with Mercy. He failed to show up at the trial thus implying his guilt, and the court noted his and Mercy’s “obsean and lacivous behavior with each other.” In June 1663, Joseph Rogers was again back in court and this time he was directed to stay away from Mercy Tubbs or risk being whipped. Apparently he and Mercy ignored the court’s order, for in October of 1663 they were both heavily fined after being accused of lying on a bed under a rug. It appears that in Puritan times it must have been difficult to stay away from neighbor’s prying eyes. Finally, William Tubbs sued his wife for a divorce and in 1668 the divorce was granted. William Tubbs remarried. Mercy Tubbs moved to Rhode Island possibly to be with Joseph Rogers, and she then disappeared from the eyes of history. One interesting aside, Joseph Rogers (1607-1678) was probably the Joseph Rogers that arrived on the Mayflower in 1620. Our family may not be direct descendents of a passenger on the Mayflower. We can however, take satisfaction that our great grandmother bedded a Mayflower passenger. There may not be many Americans today that can report this unique family trivia. On second thought, it probably would be better if this trivia is known only to our family.
It might be interesting to trace the descendents of Mercy Sprague Tubbs. Her son, Samuel Tubbs (1638-1696) was born in Duxbury and died in New London, CT. His son, Samuel Tubbs (1672-1713) was born and died in New London, CT. His son, also named Samuel Tubbs (1699-1778) was born in New London, CT and was killed at the Battle of Wyoming, in Pennsylvania during the Revolutionary War. His son, Lebbeus Tubbs was born in New London, Ct and died in Southport, NY near Elmira, New York. He also fought as a lieutenant in the Penn militia during the Battle of Wyoming. His Daughter, Lucy Tubbs (1758-1826) was born in New London and died in Southport. She married Lebbeus Hammond (1754-1826) who also fought at the battle of Wyoming and was born in New London and died in Southport. Lebbeus’s father also died during the Battle of Wyoming. We visited the graves of Lebbeus and Lucy in 2005. Their daughter Mary Hammond (1774-1859) married John Sly (1767-1856). Both are buried in Elmira, New York. Their granddaughter, Mary Sly (1844-1917) married Charles Spaulding. The granddaughter of Charles and Mary is my grandmother Helen Spaulding, my father’s mother. And that is the end of the story.