After living in Massachusetts forty years—minus three months—I went with my daughters down to the Cape (well, Cape Cod for those not totally caught up in the local jargon). Since I’ve lived here I’ve spent a good deal of time researching local ancestry, and I’d say a two hour drive is pretty local.
It really made a difference as I sit thinking of July 4th and its meaning to me and my family—and our country.
I’d thought the Cape would be a nice place to go, stop at the local libraries and spend some time searching through cemeteries for my ancestors. The Freemans were supposed to be buried at the top of their pasture (1682), the Lothrops’ home was used as the first church in the area which was logical because he was the pastor who guided them there and the church had eventually become a library.
I’d never been to the Cape, but with eleven couples (22 spouses) of my ancestors living in Plymouth and Barnstable Counties by 1650, I was curious.
As we drove through Plymouth, I thought of William Brewster, religious leader of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower and his son-in-law, the first governor of Plymouth Colony, Thomas Prence. Closer to the Cape, I thought of John Ellis, after whom Ellisville had been named.
Barely across the Sagamore Bridge, officially on the Cape in Sandwich, I just had time to glance up from the list of places we hoped to visit in time to see the name of the building identifying the Saddle and Pillion burial grounds where John and Elizabeth Freemans’ graves were marked. Our next stop was the Sturgis Library in Barnstable; the original section was the home of John Lothrop. I looked at the ceiling with its original beam that had held the roof, the wind and rain, and sheltered his family and his congregation.
I thought about those couples and the other six couple, my direct line ancestors who lived in that area in the 1630s.
William Brewster, the religious leader of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower, was a leader of men but a follower of Christ. His belief in our Savior filled his life with peril and hardship. He and his congregation left their homes and possessions not once or twice but three times to escape the persecution and imprisonment that faced them for their beliefs. The third time brought them across the ocean to a new land where their Mayflower Compact established a new type of government, one where, rather than believing in a monarch who was superior to everyone else, all men were considered equal as they formed the laws and customs of the new country. Had William remained in England and been caught, he would have been jailed, possibly executed, for his religious beliefs.
John Lothrop was caught. As the first pastor of the Independent Church of England, he and 42 of his congregation were jailed. Although the others were gradually released, he was imprisoned for two years and then temporarily released to be with his wife as she died, leaving their seven living children with no one to care for them. Only then did the Archbishop of Canterbury release him on the condition that he and his congregation go to the colonies and never return to England. His congregation settled in Barnstable where the town historian stated that, due to his influence, his independent thinking and his tolerance of others’ opinions, for the fourteen years he was pastor in Barnstable, a “civil magistrate was not needed to restrain crime.”
Edmund Freeman was not a pastor, Pilgrim or a notably religious man—except his own less stern but unyielding position probably cost him governmental positions that would otherwise have been his. Though a well to do man, he would not be remembered for his power or position but for his marriage. He and his wife Elizabeth rode together on his horse each evening, he on the saddle with her behind him on a cushion-like pillion, holding onto him. When she died, a stone the shape of a pillion was used as her grave marker while in front of it a stone shaped like a saddle was used for his grave stone. Their peaceful nook in the forest feels of love—the true love of a man and a woman.
John Ellis became the son-in-law of the Freemans. That was not necessarily an easy arrangement since, though they were only one generation from the strict, solidly religious group that had come to the colonies to worship as they believed, John Ellis and his Elizabeth Freeman had their first born less than nine months after their marriage, and it seemed questionable that, despite their deep feelings for each other, there would be a wedding. There was, but that did not stop the town fathers from locking him in the town stocks and whipping him in front of his young bride. But neither of the two seemed to feel unduly punished by the event. No moving away from their critics. John later owned the town tavern and was made lieutenant of the town militia as well as being charged to see to the town garret in case the natives became violent. It appears that he died in one such scrimmage. Loyal to the community that punished and embarrassed him, loyalty to his associates. even to the loss of his life.
Thomas Prence was the first governor of Plymouth Colony and the son-in-law of William Brewster, but some of his problems came as much from the fact that he had eight daughters who
seemed to be as independent and stubborn as the group of Pilgrims they grew up with. Granddaughters of William Brewster leaving the Pilgrim congregations to join the newly established Quakers? One to marry possibly the most defiant man in the community? The governor’s life had to have been one of patience and thoughtfulness.
As we passed through Boston, I looked out the car window to see another monument. The Bunker Hill Monument symbolizes a time nearly a hundred and fifty years after my Pilgrim ancestors lived. As I passed the monument, I felt a renewed sense of appreciation for my ancestors. As Albert Smith, the historian of the town of Peterborough, New Hampshire where John Graham, one of my ancestors, lived in 1775, reported, “One man, John Graham, remarkable for his skill in throwing stones, after exhausting his ammunition, unwilling to retire, seized upon stones and hurled them, not without effect, against the enemy;” but John did not escape without being wounded. Both of his brothers and a half-a-dozen brothers-in-law also fought in the Revolutionary War.
This 4th of July, I’ll be thinking a little differently. I remember the outraged rant of a mother several years ago when the community’s fireworks were set too close to the audience and they experienced a few panics from falling debris, sparks and smoke—then I considered how my ancestors must have felt at Bunker Hill, the sorrow added to the panic of the colonists in 1620, 1630, 1640….
I think I’ll celebrate a bit differently.
God, Bless America! Please.
So it was cold on the Atlantic side, and with some neuropethy going on I had to wear my jacket inside out with the tag showing, and a blanket over that. But surrounded by Mary and Jen, it didn't matter to me. Beautiful fresh wind, beautiful scenery, and love...from generations who sailed that ocean to bring us freedom and liberty.
Sorry for the lack of photos of the places mentioned. When Windows changed m to Windows 10 without my approval, I lost the ability to put in photos from certain cameras. I may be able to put them on Face Book.