GJ residents talk of tracing lineage to the Mayflower

QUICKREAD

The Thanksgiving table

Gary Parrott remembers growing up with several family specialties served at Thanksgiving. Whether those dishes date back to 1621 is debatable, but Parrott does remember them to be an acquired taste.

In particular, there was a pie that “I didn’t like the taste of as a kid.”

The first Thanksgiving was a three-day affair for the Pilgrims and their American Indian friends. The menu, according to the “History of Thanksgiving” at http://wilstar.com/holidays/thankstr.htm, was different than what is now considered traditional Thanksgiving fare: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

The first Thanksgiving feast likely included venison, duck, goose and perhaps wild turkey, berries, plums, dried fruit, boiled pumpkin, watercress, clams, lobsters and a fried bread made from corn.

Thanksgiving wasn’t recognized as a national day until President Lincoln signed a proclamation in 1863 and it wasn’t until 1941 that Congress made Thanksgiving a legal holiday.



Sometime during every Thanksgiving dinner, Gary Parrott’s mother would remark, “This is just like what our ancestors did back in 1621.”

Her comment went right over Parrott’s head until his mother became ill in 2000 and his father told Parrott to take whatever he wanted of a bunch of paperwork of his mother’s.

It turned out to be a whole library of research his mother had done into their ancestors, four of whom sailed to the New World on the Mayflower and celebrated the first Thanksgiving dinner.

“I said, ‘Wow!’ It made my ancestors come alive,” said Parrott, who is one of a few Grand Junction members of the Colorado Mayflower Society.

Members of the society can trace their lineage to at least one of 26 men and three women who sailed on the Mayflower and who had descendants.

There are more than 400 members in the Colorado Mayflower Society and about 29,000 members nationally, according to The Mayflower Society, General Society of Mayflower Descendants. But not all descendants are a part of the society.

It’s estimated that there are 35 million descendants of the Pilgrims, according to The Mayflower Society.

Judy Seay, another Grand Junction resident, is one of those.

“As a kid, I didn’t care,” said Seay, who was born and raised in Mass-

achusetts.

“It’s a big deal” back East to be descended from the Pilgrims, she said, despite her youthful apathy.

In the West, it’s not so much, she said. That is, at least to some.

“I think it’s kind of neat,” said Judy’s husband, Norm Seay, who grew up in California.

“I have a very limited sketch of my own family history. It’s interesting to see her go back so far … to the start of our country,” he said.

“He may be more impressed with it than I am,” Judy Seay said.

When the Seays married in 1955, Judy’s father gave her a list her grandfather created that named many of her ancestors. It wasn’t until fairly recently that she decided to look into her lineage and, even then, she didn’t do it for herself.

She thought her grandson might be interested, or perhaps his kids. “I just want them to know they do go back,” she said.

So in 2004, Seay used some of the research done by a cousin and became a member of the Colorado Mayflower Society by proving her lineage to Henry Samson, who was a teenager when he sailed for America on the Mayflower with his uncle and aunt, Edward and Ann Tilley, according to

http://www.mayflowerhistory.com.

“He was the cabin boy,” Seay said.

After gaining membership, Seay went to a luncheon for the society on the Front Range. During the event, members were to stand when their Pilgrim relative’s name was read. Seay noticed a woman who kept popping up. Seay remembered her grandfather’s list and decided to find more of her Pilgrim ancestors.

Seay is the great-many-greats-granddaughter of not only Samson, but also of Myles Standish, William Brewster and John Alden.

Standish was in Queen Elizabeth’s army and stationed in Holland when he met English members of a Separatist church living in Leiden, Holland, in pursuit of religious freedom. When some of the Leiden Pilgrims decided to travel to the Colonies, they hired Standish as their military captain, according to http://www.mayflowerhistory.com.

The Pilgrims were split into two groups, Saints and Strangers, and Brewster was one of the Saints. Elder Brewster was the highest-ranking member of the Separatist church on the Mayflower.

Alden is perhaps Seay’s favorite Pilgrim ancestor. He was hired as the barrel-maker for the Mayflower’s voyage. In Plymouth, he held various elected positions and, along with the Standish family, helped found the town of Duxbury. He had 10 children and lived to the age of 89, according to http://www.mayflowerhistory.com.

Incidentally, Alden also is the great-great-grandfather of John Adams, the second president of the United States.

Seay has plenty of respect for her Pilgrim ancestors, particularly considering the difficulties they went through getting to the New World and surviving their first winter, during which almost half of the 102 who set sail from England died.

“I can’t imagine enduring that hardship. I can’t imagine being willing to try (to come to America) ... Oh man, did they have courage,” Seay said.

She has visited the Mayflower II, a replica of the Mayflower, in Plymouth, Mass., and it’s a “little boat.”

“The living quarters must have been cramped,” said Seay, who wasn’t sure she could have done what her ancestors did.

Parrott also visited the Mayflower II as a boy and has a photo of his grandmother, himself and his two brothers in front of the ship in 1958, just a few years after the replica was built.

He went back several years ago and along with seeing the ship again, he and his wife, Lori, visited Plimoth Plantation (Plimoth is an alternate spelling of Plymouth) and Salem (another relative was convicted of being a witch by yet another relative during the witch trials).

“I wish I’d had an ounce of brains” to ask grandparents and parents for family stories and history, said Parrott, who is a member of several other lineage societies including the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and the Society of the Cincinnati.

Instead, Parrott must rely on the many genealogical resources and databases available, the Mormon Church’s resources and Mesa County Libraries, which “is one of the better one-stop shops for genealogy research,” he said. The Museum of the West is another “great repository.”

Drawing upon his research, Parrott wrote a pamphlet titled “Biographies of My Mayflower Ancestors” for his two children and brothers. Along with short biographies of Stephen Hopkins, John Howland, Thomas Rogers and John Tilley, Parrott outlined the line of descent from each ancestor to his immediate family.

Parrott’s favorite Mayflower ancestor is Hopkins. “He was a character.”

Eleven years before the Mayflower set sail for the New World, Hopkins was on the ship Sea Venture bound for Jamestown when it wrecked in the Bermudas. While a castaway, Hopkins was involved in a mutiny against the current governor. When the mutiny was discovered, Hopkins was sentenced to death, but he pleaded his case so well that his sentence was commuted, according to www,mayflowerhistory.com.

“Apparently, he was very eloquent,” Parrott said.

The Sea Venture wreck and mutiny are thought to be the inspiration for William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” according to wikipedia.org.

Hopkins later became a wealthy merchant and served as an elected official for a while.

Rogers was “probably one of the gentlemen of the group,” Parrott said.

Rogers was a successful merchant and he brought his son, Joseph, with him on the Mayflower voyage.

Rogers died during the Pilgrim’s first difficult winter in the New World. Fortunately, Joseph survived and had eight children.

While Rogers died early, Howland nearly didn’t make it to America. He fell overboard during a storm, but managed to grab the topsail halyards and was rescued with a boathook, http://www.mayflowerhistory.com says.

Howland came to America as an indentured servant to the childless John Carver, and later inherited Carver’s estate. Howland’s wife, Elizabeth, was the daughter of another Mayflower passenger, John Tilley.

Along with Parrott, Presidents George Bush and George W. Bush are among Howland’s descendents, according to http://www.mayflowerhistory.com.

While researching, “You look back and say, ‘I had an ancestor that did that, that’s neat.’ Everybody has a story,” Parrott said.


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