How is this Norfolk town linked to the historic Mayflower voyage?
- Credit: Iz Byram
Four centuries ago more than 100 people left everything they had ever known and sailed to America. Four were from Harleston and the part they played in world history is being celebrated across the town.
The Fuller family set sail on the Mayflower in 1620 - but will be back in the Waveney town alongside other historic Harleston characters at a living history event on July 10. The following weekend the community drama 1620: A New World Odyssey, specially written for the Harleston Players by Eileen Ryan, brings to life the stories of the Fullers, their fellow travellers and the Native Americans they lived alongside.
In September 1620 the Mayflower sailed for America with 102 passengers. More were originally from Norfolk than from anywhere else in the country. Some, seeking religious freedom, became known as the Pilgrim Fathers. Others travelled for land and trading opportunities, freedom and adventure.
After 10 gruelling weeks they reached Cape Cod in Massachusetts but by the end of a harsh winter almost half of the new arrivals were dead. However, the colony survived and around 38 million Americans can trace their ancestors back to the Mayflower.
Four of the pilgrim passengers were from Harleston: Edward Fuller, his wife Ann, their 12-year-old son, and Edward’s brother Samuel. The men were two of the 41 signatories of the Mayflower Compact, in which the settlers agreed to work together for the greater good. It established how the new community would be governed and influenced the concept of the American Constitution.
Edward and Ann did not survive that first year, leaving young Samuel to be brought up by the uncle he had been named for. He was the colony’s first doctor and Samuel junior went on to become a freeman of Plymouth, Massachusetts. He and his wife, Jane, had nine children and today thousands of Americans trace their roots back to the baby baptised in Redenhall, near Harleston in 1608.
The Harleston Mayflower celebrations originally planned for 2020 have already included a children’s boat race, historical talks and walks and a booklet about some of the residents of early 17th century Harleston, researched by 13 local volunteers.
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The free living-history event from 11am on Saturday July 10, at locations including the Market Place, Cap Yard and churchyard, will include scripted and improvised scenes, bringing to life characters researched by Harleston’s history team. Visitors will also be able to see livestock breeds dating from the 1600s and a parade from St John’s church at 12.45pm, including a 10-foot model of the Mayflower built by members of the new Harleston Shed, actors, musicians, stilt walkers and more.
1620: A New World Odyssey, by Eileen Ryan, will be performed by the Harleston Players with more than 30 local actors, plus musicians the Hoxne Windbags, on Harleston Recreation Ground at 2.30 and 7pm on Saturday and Sunday July 17 and 18 in a specially created outdoor theatre space with tiered seating. Tickets from Robinson’s Traditional Stationers, Harleston, and www.harlestonplayers.co.uk.
More Norfolk Mayflower links:
John Robinson, who became known as the Pastor to the Pilgrims, was a clergyman at St Andrews Church, Norwich, in 1604. Norwich was one of England’s largest and wealthiest towns, home to skilled, literate and independent craftspeople and traders. Many objected to being told how to worship and wanted church congregations, rather than bishops, to make decisions. John Robinson also wanted the Church of England to move away from its Roman Catholic influences but his views were too radical for church authorities and he was suspended. To avoid being persecuted for organising their own services, whole congregations fled abroad and John eventually arrived in Holland in 1609 – after being imprisoned for an earlier escape attempt.
Robinson’s congregation in Leiden grew to several hundred people, many originally from Norfolk. But he believed they needed more freedom and helped plan the pioneering journey of the Mayflower. Fifty of his congregation made the first journey and more followed, including one of his sons, but John never made it across the Atlantic himself, dying in Leiden in 1625 before he could join his flock in America.
Thomas Williams was born in Great Yarmouth in 1582 and, with his sister Elizabeth, joined former Norwich priest John Robinson, in Holland. He made it across the Atlantic on the Mayflower but, like many of the pilgrims, died soon after they arrived.
Servant Desire Minter, originally from Norwich, went to Leiden with her family. Her father died and she worked for the Carver family, travelling with them to America, aged about 20. However she is believed to have returned to Norwich within a few years.
Francis Cooke was born in Norwich in 1583 and lived in Leiden before travelling to America on the Mayflower with his eldest son, John. His wife and remaining five children joined them in 1623. Francis died in Plymouth, Massachusetts, aged around 80.
Apprentice tailor John Hooke, originally from Great Yarmouth, was just 13 when he boarded the Mayflower. His family moved to Leiden, where young John was apprenticed to tailor, and church member, Isaac Allerton. John travelled with the Allerton family but died within weeks of arriving.