Sunday, December 4, 2016

Chapter 44 - Isaac Allerton, Mayflower Passenger - Autobiography

I wish to personally thank my 10th great grandson, Charles A. Baker Jr., for giving me this opportunity to post my autobiography on his family history blog. I have been writing and then waiting for this chance to tell my side of my life story for over 300 years and at last my time has come. I have tried in my writing not to bore you with too many irrelevant details especially with respect to the numerous business ventures that I engaged in over my life span. Fortunately, these business ventures left many historians having to admit that I became the wealthiest of the original "Pilgrims" who arrived in America on the Mayflower in the year 1620. But then I digress, let me begin my life story.

Early Life:
My parents died when I was very young and as a result I am not positive that I was born in the year 1586 as is often reported in your history books. We did not have birth certificates back then nor any recorded birth documents like you have today and I never saw the church records of my birth. When we were young my siblings and I after the death of our parents were moved to the greater London area where at a young age, still in my early teens, I was apprenticed as a tailor. My younger sister Sarah, who was born around 1588 and our younger brother John who was born around 1590, were also apprenticed but fortunately we all lived and worked in the same neighborhood and we were able to see each other on a regular basis. We were also fortunate as we grew up to receive a good education by the English standards of the early 1600s.

I was only 23 years old when I moved, perhaps escaped is a better word, with my sister, her new husband, John Vincent, and my brother to Leiden in the Netherlands in the year 1609. I suppose it was our youth that allowed us to get so angry about our church's absolute refusal to address our complaints that they had radically deviated from the basic teachings of the Bible. Unlike the children of your generation Charles, who are allowed to express their liberal beliefs by protesting and marching in the streets without facing arrest and imprisonment, when our group protested or even refused to attend a Church of England service, King James I and his cohorts had us arrested and thrown in jail. But we were all young and whether or not it made sense, our beliefs that the church had to change were so strong, that rather than face arrest and imprisonment, we left England for a new life in the Netherlands. It was here where we hoped we would be free to worship as we pleased. There were in the end around 100 of us that originally moved to Leiden and almost all of us were under the age of thirty at the time of our departure from England. John Carver, my friend, and who eventually became the first governor of Plymouth Colony was only 25 when he moved. Another friend, William Bradford, the second governor of Plymouth Colony was only 19 years old when he escaped to the Netherland in the year 1609. Unfortunately, in the end life in Leiden was not as wonderful as we all had hoped it would be. But we were young, optimistic, and perhaps na├»ve.

Our home in Leiden was small and very crowded with all of our small family living in only three rooms but we were fortunate in that we lived near our church known as the Pieterskert (St. Peter's Church) and near the University of Leiden, where some of our new English friends found employment. I was soon able to obtain a job working as a tailor's helper and many of my other refugee friends found employment in Leiden's extensive cloth industry. Everything was going as expected until my sister's new husband died suddenly. She was understandably devastated but sudden deaths were not uncommon in our lives. Considering that none of us could yet speak fluent Dutch and we rarely mingled with the Dutch citizens other than sometimes while working, it is fortunate that both Sarah and I were able to find someone whom we wished to wed. In my case, I feel in love with and married a young English girl named Mary Norris who like us had left England. We were married on 4 November 1611. On the same day my sister Sarah married her second husband Degory Priest, also an English emigrant, a hatter from London. Incidentally Charles, Mary Norris is your 10th great grandmother, and she was lovely and she immediately made my life better.

Early Leiden
Over the next five years Mary and I had three children who survived: Bartholomew who was born in 1612, Remember born in 1614, and your 9th great grandmother, Mary, who was born in 1616. When we arrived in Leiden most of the newly arrived English were strangers to us although some of them had immigrated as a group from Scrooby in County Nottinghamshire, England including a few important"Pilgrim" leaders such as William Brewster and William Bradford. I guess it was my hard work and my deep and active involvement in our community and in our church that by 1615, I was granted by the City of Leiden with an honorary citizenship to their city. This was quite an honor and very rare within our group. I am sure that it helped that I had quickly learned to speak the Dutch language and I was not afraid to get involved with the affairs of the local Dutch citizens as well as with our own English group. This was definitely not the case with many of our friends from England who preferred to remain aloof from their Dutch neighbors. Unfortunately for all us who had come over from England, life in this foreign country was not what we had hoped it would be. For one thing, it was next to impossible to find jobs that paid decent wages and developing and growing an independent business was impossible. These limitations meant that it was difficult to find upscale places to live outside of our own small English community.  Another major concern for all of us and in particular my wife Mary, was that our children were quickly loosing their English identities. They were speaking Dutch and unfortunately thinking of themselves as Dutch. At least half or more of our younger ones here in Leiden had never been to England and even those who had been born in England, after a decade of growing up in Holland, their memories of their birth land were completely forgotten.

There was however, another very important reason that our group of English "Separatists" believed that at some point we might have to abandon our new home in Holland. There had been for many years beginning in 1566 a war between Spain who controlled much of north-west Europe and the Dutch who were seeking independence from Spain. In 1609 a truce had been signed between Spain and the Dutch rebels which gave the Dutch control over parts of Holland which included our home city of Leiden but the truce was set to expire in 1621. We all feared probably for good reason, that if a war began again and Spain successfully invaded the area currently under Dutch control, then our somewhat radical Protestant group would likely be targets of the Spanish Catholic armies. Obviously there were many good reasons why we thought that it might be best if we found a more welcome place to call home.

Talk of leaving Leiden and Holland began seriously in 1617. By now there were around 180 of us living in Leiden many of whom were living in near poverty as good paying jobs were at this point very difficult to find. I must admit that I did not play a major role in organizing our departure from Leiden although I was a strong and active supporter of our doing so. We sent two of our community leaders, John Carver and Robert Cushman, both of whom were deacons in our church, over to England to attempt to get permission from the Crown for our group to emigrate to America. They also needed to find a way of raising the necessary funds to pay for our passage to America. Without going into a lot of details, we did by 1619, obtain permission to emigrate to the Virginia Colony, and Mr. Carver and Mr. Cushman made an arrangement with a group that called themselves the Merchant Adventurers to finance our voyage and early settlement. The terms of this deal required us to ship goods from our new colony back to them for resale in England (primarily fish I am told) wherein we hoped that they would make a profit and our debt to them for the cost of the voyage would eventually be paid back. The second condition was that we were required to allow additional paying passengers from England to accompany us on the voyage to help offset the cost..

Here again, I am not going to go into any detail about the voyage since this story is well known to most readers other than to say of the roughly 102 passengers onboard the Mayflower only around half of us were "Pilgrims" from Leiden and many of us were just children. Unfortunately many of our English friends were left behind in Holland in large part because they could not financially or physically afford to make the voyage plus of course, there was limited space onboard the ship. The hope was that many more would follow in subsequent years. Mary and I and our three children and the other passengers and crew of the Mayflower arrived in America after two miserable months at sea in early November 1620. Unfortunately we landed at what would later be called the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts well off our planned destination of landing near your present day New York City at the mouth of the Hudson River which was then considered part of the Virginia Colony. The weather when we arrived was cold and awful and there was no talk of sailing south to our original planned destination. We had to make due with where we were if there was to be any hope of survival.

I guess it is well known that the winter of 1620/21 was an absolute disaster. Almost half of our original 102 passengers died over this first winter from the cold, from the lack of shelter, and from diseases. Among the dead were my wife Mary, my brother John, as well as my sister Sarah's husband Degory Priest. I was devastated and heart broken as were most of us. We all knew that the voyage would not be easy but such a disaster was beyond our wildest dreams.  Of the 18 adult women onboard the Mayflower, many of whom like my Mary were mothers, 13 died over this first winter. Another terrible loss for our new community was the death in May of 1621 of our recently elected governor, John Carver. John had been one of the primary organizers of our trip to the new world and with his personal wealth he had helped pay in part for the voyage. Furthermore, he was the author of the Mayflower Compact that we all signed when we first arrived in America, and he was our first elected governor.

Following the death of John Carver, my friend William Bradford soon became the new governor of our new colony and quite to my surprise I was elected as the assistant governor. I was now 35 years old and after years of active involvement in our community both in Leiden and now here in Plymouth, I was finally being rewarded. It was about time. I was by far the most accomplished businessman as shown by my active and successful tailor business in Leiden. Furthermore, my understanding of finances and private investments well overshadowed the abilities of our new governor who was if anything Charles, a complete socialist by the standards of your present day. Our Governor William Bradford was not an advocate of private ownership of land plus he and many of his close associates believed that even food, clothing, and housing should all be shared in common. Fortunately in the end, they were overruled by the majority, although even Governor Bradford finally admitted by 1623 that socialism in Plymouth simply would not work. There simply would not be enough food produced under a system where hard work was not being rewarded. This failure under a socialistic system is still true today.

William Brewster
I served as the Assistant Governor until 1624 and then I was appointed to the colony's civil affairs council which also gave me authority over our colony's finances, the Treasurer in affect, which from the beginning of our settlement had been mostly out of control much to the displeasure of our financiers back in England, the Merchant Adventurers. By the year 1626 after six years in our new community, we had failed to make a single payment against our debts and it became so serious that I was selected in 1626 to sail back to London to attempt to renegotiate a new agreement with the Merchant Adventures or possibly even try to buy them out. Earlier in this same year, prior to my departure, I had the good fortunate to marry for the second time a beautiful young girl named Fear Brewster, who was the daughter of William Brewster our religious leader here in Plymouth Colony. Fear had been left behind in Leiden when her parents and two older brothers had sailed to America on the Mayflower. Fear and her sister sailed to Plymouth to be with her parents on the ship Anne in 1623.  When we married, I was 40 years old and Fear was only 20. I was probably not Fear's first choice as a husband, but I was unmarried and in a senior position in Plymouth Colony and Fear's parents gave her no choice to decide whether or not she would marry Isaac Allerton. We learned prior to my departure to England, that we would be welcoming a new child sometime in early 1627, hopefully after my return. One obvious advantage of my marrying was that my new wife would be around while I was away to watch over my three children, although when we married, Fear was only six years older than my son Bartholomew who was then only 14 years old.

Fur Trading with Indians
I should mention that prior to my departure to London, England a few of the more prominent citizens of Plymouth including myself and William Bradford, had agreed to assume all of our colony's debt to the Merchant Adventurers. In exchange for assuming the debt, it was agreed that our little group would be granted a monopoly on the fur trade in our part of America. Getting socialist leaning William Bradford and a few others to agree with this arrangement was a hard sell but I finally convinced them that the deal would in the end make it easier to pay off our debts, that is assuming that we could make a deal with the Merchant Adventurers. So I left for England. Unfortunately, settling our vast debts with the Merchant Adventurers proved to be very difficult and I ended up sailing to and from England on multiple occasions in years 1626, 1627, 1628, and 1630. We did however, begin slowly paying down the debt and the trips also allowed us to bring back to the Colony from England much needed supplies and livestock.

I was shocked when after returning from my latest trip to England in 1630 to learn from Governor William Bradford that I was to be fired as our Colony's treasurer and liaison with our lenders in London.  I was accused of dealing dishonestly with the Colony (particularly by my old friend William Bradford and less so by others) and that I had been mixing their money earned from the sale of furs with my own money on some personal trading deals. While I have to admit that they were technically correct that I had mixed some funds, my intentions had been to try and make some money for all of us and that had not some of my dealings failed, I would have more than paid them back. I suppose the fact that I failed to return from England in 1630 with the Colony's badly needed supplies, exposed my (our) losses in my investments. It did not help when it was later reported that we still owed the Merchant Adventurers a tremendous amount of money and that my efforts over the past five years had accomplished little. During my time as the Colony's financial manager, I had also on behalf of the Colony obtained a land grant and a patent from the English for land in Kennebec, Maine as well later in Pentagoet, Maine where we set up trading posts with the local Indians to enhance our fur trading business. When I went ahead and set up my own trading posts near our Colony's posts a few years later, which I assumed would be acceptable, I was strongly accused of creating a conflict of interest. It did not help that later in 1635, by treaty the control over our land in Pentagoet was returned to the French and the Colony's business was taken from us by force. In all honesty, I believe that all of my hard work and time away from my home and family was not appreciated especially by William Bradford who had no understanding or talent whatsoever in business and financing and as I said previously, he was a socialist and a man intolerant of others who do not shares his views. Sorry Charles, I realize that Bradford is another one of your 10th great grandfathers but facts are facts. It should also not be forgotten that years later in 1646 when I finally sold my land and goods that I still owned in Plymouth, I gave to Bradford and the others all of the money that they claimed I owned them back in 1630. Fortunately by this point I was one of the wealthiest individuals in New England.

Modern day Marblehead, Mass
Breaking away from my leadership responsibilities in Plymouth Colony in the long run worked to my advantage. While I retained a house in Plymouth that I called home until the death of my wife Fear in the year 1634, she died from a plague that hit the area that year, I had been away from Plymouth much of the time prior to her death.  Following her death I did not hesitate to move away from Plymouth permanently to a place called Marblehead located across the bay from a city later known as Salem. It was here that in 1632, I had started up a fishing business that soon became very profitable. The demand for fish in England was great as were the profits from their sale.  I owned eight fishing boats and had up to five full time employees. By this point my oldest son Bartholomew had moved back to England traveling with me on one of my past visits. My daughter Remember moved with me to Marblehead where she met and married her future husband. My youngest daughter Mary remained in Plymouth where she married Thomas Cushman in 1636. My son Isaac by my second wife Fear, also moved with me to Marblehead. He was at the time around 17 years old. Our fishing business was so good that in 1633 I had also opened another operation up in Machias in Maine but an attack by the French military and their Indian allies and their burning of our facilities forced us to close our operations about a year later. It was undoubtedly my aggressive personality that got me in trouble again here in Marblehead for the local religious leaders very upset with my liberal religious views, got their local civic leaders to order me to move from the area. I finally accommodated them in 1635 leaving behind my business to be run by my new son-in-law and Remember's husband, Moses Maverick.

New Amsterdam around 1640
Moving to Dutch controlled New Amsterdam was a natural thing for me to do for some obvious reasons. First of all, New Amsterdam was not under the control of the Puritans who generally frowned on my business interests. In fact, the city was well known as a mecca for international trade even back in the early 1600s as the city was originally chartered in 1621 by the Dutch West India Company, a huge trading company. Finally, while the city was under Dutch control many of their citizens were not of Dutch descent. The fact that I spoke Dutch and had lived in Holland for over a decade made me a welcome resident. I very quickly learned after relocating to New Amsterdam that one of the most profitable industries in America was in the transporting of tobacco and other items grown or caught (animal furs) in America over to England and Europe for sale or in exchange for goods that we then brought back to America for resale. Over the next decade I owned and managed a large shipping and trading business that included the ownership of many ships. The business required me to travel up and down the American coastline and eventually even to the West Indies setting up multiple trading deals. With New Amsterdam our headquarters, we owned a large two story warehouse that was located right on the East River about a mile north of the tip of Manhattan on what I understand is today known as Pearl Street.  The business prospered even after I left New Amsterdam in the year 1646 and moved full time to New Haven, Connecticut. I was familiar with New Haven as a port city since we had set up operations there only a few years earlier and as I was at this point around 60 years old, I thought that it would be ideal to get away from the rut of New Amsterdam and settle in a slower and more attractive environment. There was another and perhaps even more important reason as to why I moved to New Haven. In 1644, I met and married in New Haven a woman by the name of Joanne Swinnerton who had recently lost her husband of many years. Joanne had been living in New Haven and preferred not to move from this lovely community. She did agree however, to travel with me back to New Amsterdam until I could pass along some of my business management responsibilities to others although even after moving fulltime to New Haven, I had no intention of giving up the ownership of our operations in New Amsterdam. My son Isaac, now 19 years old, moved with me to New Haven.

Early New Haven
My trading operations continued after my move to New Haven and on numerous occasions I had to leave home both to visit our warehouse operations in New Amsterdam and to make trading deals in various settlements along the coastline including New Sweden and Virginia. As the years continued by however, I remained home more frequently and let others manage the operations. I was proud that my son Isaac began attending Harvard College in 1650 and then later helped me manage the business in New Haven after his graduation.  As an experienced and lifelong seafarer, I was very proud of the home we had built near New Haven. Our large two story home with four wide  porches sat on the side of a sloped hill that eventually dropped down to the waters of the bay below. From our house we could see below the growing town of New Haven, the large bay of water, and on a clear day we could see the shores of Long Island off in the distance. It was a wonderful setting to retire.

It is said that I died at the age of 72 in the last part of 1658 or early in the year 1659. It is also said that I died of the plaque but I have no such recollection. My will which I had prepared earlier, simply listed my debts and the names of those who owed me money. The remainder of my hard assets I had previously given to my family including our home in New Haven which I left to my wife and then following her death to my son Isaac. I am buried or so I have been informed, in the churchyard of Center Church on the Green in New Haven. My wife Joanne, outlived me by over 20 years but she currently is buried alongside my grave and we speak occasionally. Fortunately I lived a long and prosperous life and from what I knew at the time of my death all of my children were well taken care of.  I understand that years later following my death it has been written that I was the wealthiest of all of the original Mayflower passengers and I was the only one of the original adult Mayflower passengers who lived and was buried away from Plymouth Colony. One other thing that I must mention, is that while I left Plymouth Colony under the cloud that I had cheated the Colony out of money, I was never ever accused of such a thing in any of the other places that I lived and worked and in fact in all of these locations I was a very highly respected citizen. With that said, I will end this brief story of my life and thank you again grandson for allowing me to include my story in your history blog. Hopefully we will soon see each other again, although perhaps "soon" has a different meaning for you than I intended, and if so, I apologize.
Isaac Allerton


No comments: