Shropshire’s Mayflower connection
400 years ago, the Mayflower set sail for America with over 100 passengers and 30 crew members.
Among the passengers were 4 young children, Ellen More aged 8, Jasper More aged 7, Richard More aged 5 and Mary More aged 4. Originally assumed to be servants, research has shown them to be members of the landed More family of Shropshire with a fascinating and tragic story.
They were children of Katharine More who had married her younger cousin Samuel in 1611. The marriage of Katharine and Samuel seems to have been arranged for the purposes of combining the More estates of Larden in Shipton and Linley, near Norbury. Katharine’s brothers had all died – the last in a duel over a lover – so there was no male heir to inherit the Larden estates.
The marriage settlement ref 1037/10/3 combined the estates under Richard More (Samuel’s father), with Richard paying about £600 (£60,000 in today’s money) for Jasper and his wife and Samuel and Katharine to live at Larden. The estates would then pass to the ‘heirs of their bodies’ of Samuel and Katharine.
Ellen, Jasper, Richard and Mary were born and baptised in More as the children of Samuel. Samuel by now was secretary to the diplomat Lord Edward Zouche, and consequently spent much of his time in London.
By 1616, Samuel More became suspicious that the children were not his and accused Katharine of adultery. She declared a pre-contract (bethrothal) with a local farmer, Jacob Blakeway. After four years of legal cases, Samuel sued for judicial separation and gained control of the children. Katharine’s appeals to keep them failed.
Much of the evidence for this comes from a statement by Samuel More found by his descendant Jasper More at Linley Hall. This was shown to Jasper’s friend, Antony Wagner who wrote up details of the case in a letter to The Times, 1959 BM83 vf. A number of details cannot be verified as the court records haven’t survived.
Meanwhile, Lord Zouche was an active member of the Virginia Company, establishing settlements on the coast of America. Small groups of Puritans were seeking greater religious freedom in America. Apparently counselled by Lord Zouche, Samuel paid shares for the four children to set sail for the Colony of Virginia on the Mayflower with a group of puritans who would later become known as the Pilgrim Fathers. This was being done without Katharine’s knowledge and apparently at the request of Samuel More’s father, Richard, who wanted the children banished. Richard had Puritan sympathies (and later he and Samuel were active Parliamentarians in the English Civil War) so perhaps this act was in keeping- if extremely cold-heartedly – with his religious sympathies.
The last we hear of Katharine in the More archives is when, having lost her children, she renounces claims to Larden estate for £300 in 1622 Ref 1037/10/10.
The Mayflower set sail from Plymouth on 16 September 1620 (new style calendar dates; to the passengers on board it would have been 6 September 1620 as the Julian calendar was still in use in England). The Atlantic’s storm season was fast approaching. The ship was over-crowed as it also included passengers from the Speedwell which was unseaworthy. Severe illness caused the death of half the passengers including Jasper and Ellen. Mary died soon after the landing at Cape Cod on 11 November.
Richard was the only survivor of the More children. He went on to have a successful career as a sea captain, trader and privateer.
You can find out much more about this fascinating true story in the extensive research of Donald Harris which is held at Shropshire Archives (ref BM v.f.) and in the novel by Phil Revell, ‘A Spurious Brood’ based on the facts. The Shropshire Mayflower website is also well worth checking out for lots of interesting information about the More children, the Mayflower and Richard More’s life in the new world.