I was so grateful to my mother-in-law Wanda for giving me some ancestors. Ancestors are people one is related to who are famous for a good reason. We don’t have ancestors in my family. We have relatives. There is a difference.
I was thrilled when Wanda told me that she had ancestors on the Mayflower. That was just after a delicious Thanksgiving dinner. Wanda mentioned her renowned relation, Richard More, while we were enjoying a turkey-induced state of relaxation.
“Really!” I exclaimed as I hopped on the Internet. I couldn’t wait to find out who he was and what dreams had led him to America.
You see, when I was in second grade, one of my friends was a bona fide Mayflower descendant. Not merely content with having great-greats on the boat, she was a living legacy of Gov. William Bradford. My family hadn’t come to America with starry-eyed dreams of opportunity. They had gotten out ahead of a lynch mob who thought Russia would be better without them. I’m glad they did. I think my life has been a lot better without Russia.
One problem: making holiday decorations on themes of grinding poverty and political repression doesn’t work. Some things don’t get prettier, no matter how much glitter you apply. So I was happy to marry into some family history. I had visions of showing off the tasteful seasonal decor of my perfect home to visitors who would exclaim over my handiwork.
“Oh, I suppose I always go overboard,” I would blushingly confess. “I can’t help it. We had ancestors on the Mayflower.”
Then I read the rest of the story — a soap opera even before the scandal started. There was an entailed estate, a reckless brother killed in a duel, and a real estate deal masquerading as a marriage between two people who should never have been together. Their names were Katharine and Samuel More. They had four children, one of whom was Richard.
The tragedy heats up when Samuel gets a job and religion. I’m not against religion, but this was the noxious Puritan strain where fanatics make the world better by reforming the morals of others. Samuel wanted to get rid of Katherine, but not her estate, so he got the bright idea of accusing her of adultery. As for the four children, he claimed that Katharine had been messing around with her previous fiancé, and the children were bastards.
So, he kidnapped the children and, for a mere hundred pound investment in the Mayflower, arranged for them to be given to families leaving for the Colonies. Richard was five years old.
Samuel’s job was secretary for Lord Zouche, who held a number of important offices in England. One of his duties was to round up orphaned children to ship over to the Colonies as indentured servants. The orphan part was a formality. If one was poor, one’s children could be shipped out and there was no way to stop it.
The judge in the More case was Lord Zouche, and the law clearly wasn’t on the side of the wronged woman, especially one who had been accused of wrongdoing herself. We don’t know if she ever saw Richard again.
What sort of a family had I been lured into? Richard More was the only one of his siblings to survive the first year in what became Massachusetts. He became a sea captain who never lost a ship, nor did any of his crew ever bring suit against him. Pretty rare in that time. When his friend died, leaving three children behind, he took them in and raised them. His life was not without further sorrows. He lost several children and three wives. He lived to a ripe old age and is the only Mayflower passenger whose burial place hasn’t been moved. The graves of his siblings are unknown. It was a cruel and unforgiving age, but he was a decent man in it. One could do worse for an ancestor.
If Katherine did fool around, I’m kind of glad. Samuel went on to fight in the English Civil War, and was responsible for his troops being massacred because he refused multiple offers of quarter. He was a prisoner himself. One hopes his captors used rusty leg irons. Samuel was the real bastard in this story.
I married a great man with a wonderful family. This Thanksgiving, I’ll be thinking of my ancestors and all the decent people who did their best in difficult circumstances. And I will think about Samuel More as I slice up the turkey.
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