Degory Priest (ca. 1579/1582-1621) was the 29th signer of the Mayflower Compact, and one of the original 102 Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620.
Alternate spellings of his name were: "Digory" "Gregory", "Degorie", or "Digorie" Priest.
Little information remains regarding Degory Priest's lineage and his activities as a Mayflower passenger. Priest was allegedly born between 1579 and 1582 in London, England and his wife, Sarah Allerton, was born in London in 1588. She was the sister of Isaac Allerton (1586-1658) (another passenger on the Mayflower). Priest and Allerton were married in 1611 when Allerton was twenty-three years old. Degory Priest died in Plymouth in January, 1621, two months after the Mayflower landed in America. Sarah Allerton, and children, Mary and Sarah, stayed behind in Leyden, Holland where some of the Pilgrims had moved to escape religious persecution in England. However, they came to North America on the Anne almost two years after the death of Priest in 1623. At least one of Priest's grandchildren was an early settler on Nantucket Island.
Life in Holland
His name appears in many Leiden records of the time, being comparatively active in comparison to other church members. He became a citizen (burgess) of Leiden on November 16, 1615 with guarantors being future Mayflower compatriot Isaac Allerton and Roger Wilson.
Several Leiden incidents in June 1617 are recorded regarding Degory Priest’s involvement in activities that border on assault in one case and adultery in another. On June 28, 1617 Priest requested two tobacco pipe-makers to sign an affidavit that he had not hit John Cripps on June 17, 1617 but only “touched his Jabot” – i.e. the frill on the front of his shirt. The affidavit may have been needed by Priest to document his innocence in what could have been an assault case. And on the next day, June 18, 1617, Priest needed another affidavit, this time also involving John Cripps, card maker, who was rumored to have been in an adulterous relationship with Elizabeth, who was the wife of Leiden woolcomber John Mos.
Leiden records further indicate that on January 18, 1618 a statement signed by tailor Isaac Allerton was witnessed by Degory Priest regarding the estimated value of a crimson coat.
On April 9, 1619, Degory Priest and Samuel Lee, both hatters, signed a good behavior document on behalf of Nicholas Claverly, a tobacco-pipe maker, who had arrived in Leiden about 1615 and resided in a house owned by Degory Priest. In the document, Priest stated an age of forty years, which indicated he was born about 1579.
Records show that on May 3, 1619 Degory Priest witnessed an affidavit to a statement signed by Richard Tyrill stating that Nicholas Claverly was not connected with the murder of Tyrill’s brother John Tyrill.
Voyage of the Mayflower
The Mayflower, originating from London with a group of Adventurers bound for the New World rendezvoused on 22 July with the Speedwell just arriving from Holland with a group of religious refugees from Leiden. Originally intended to sail jointly to the English Colony in Virginia it soon became evident that Speedwell was not seaworthy. Passengers and cargo were combined onto Mayflower (with many left behind) for the journey, finally departing on September 9.
During the voyage fierce storms blew the ship off course, arriving at Cape Cod on the Eastern Massachusetts coastline on November 9th. For two days they attempted to sail south to Virginia but exhausting supplies and fierce storms caused them to abort this effort and drop anchor at what is now Provincetown Harbor. On November 11th, the group decided to settle here and start their own colony. They wrote a governmental contract called the Mayflower Compact, Degory was the 29th of the 41 signers on this document.
About the middle of December 1620, the ship moved and dropped anchor in Plymouth Harbor. All the while the pilgrims were conducting several exploring missions of the area and negotiations with the local natives. Almost half of the passengers died, suffering from an outbreak of a contagious disease described as a mixture of scurvy, pneumonia and tuberculosis. In the spring, they built huts ashore, and on March 21, 1621, the surviving passengers disembarked from the Mayflower into their new settlement at Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Degory Priest came alone of the Mayflower with his family remaining in Leiden. He intended to send for his wife Sarah and daughters Marah and Sarah once the colony was established.
Priest died early in the first winter of the “general sickness”. He was aged about 42 years. He was buried likely sometime in January 1621 in Coles Hill Burial Ground in Plymouth, most probably in an unmarked grave, as was the custom that first winter. Along with many others who died in the winter of 1620-1621, his name is memorialized on the Pilgrim Memorial Tomb, located on Coles Hill in Plymouth.
Marriage & Family
The first historic record of Degory Priest is from documentation in Leiden, Holland on October 7, 1611 when he became betrothed to Sarah Vincent, widow of John Vincent of London. At his betrothal Priest was identified as a hat-maker from London. Sarah’s maiden name was Allerton and was a sister of Mayflower passenger Isaac Allerton (1586-1658). Degory and Sarah were married on November 4, 1611, the same day that Sarah’s brother Isaac Allerton married Mary Norris (1588-1621).
After Priest’s death, his wife Sarah married another hat-maker, Godbert Godbertson (or Cuthbert Cuthbertson), on November 13, 1621 with whom she had one son, Samuel, born possibly about 1622. Godbertson was said by Edward Winslow to be an English speaker of the Dutch Church and a member of the Separatist church in Leiden.
They came, with their son Samuel Cuthbertson (later shortened to Cuthbert) and her daughters Marah and Sarah Priest, to Plymouth on the ship Anne in 1623. They were assigned land in the 1623 Division of Land with 6 “akers” for “Cudbart Cudbartsone” – one acre for the deceased Priest and one each for his wife Sarah, her second husband Godbert Godbertson and their three children. Both Godbertson and his wife Sarah died in the epidemic of 1633 sometime in that fall, with their estate inventories being taken on October 24, 1633. Their burial places are unknown.
Children of Degory and Sarah Priest:
- Mary Priest (1612-1689) - married to Phineas Pratt (1590-1680) - was born about 1612 and died in Charlestown in 1689. She married Phineas Pratt by 1633 and had eight children. The family moved to Charlestown about 1646. Mary Priest Pratt was a person of note in Plymouth history, coming on the ship Sparrow in 1622, being one of Thomas Weston's settlers at the failed Weymouth settlement, and coming to Plymouth in 1623.
- Sarah Priest (1614-aft1646) - was born about 1614, went to England by October 1646, and may have died there, date and place unknown. She married John Coombs about 1632 and had two sons. For reasons that are not known, possibly the demise of her husband, Sarah traveled to England about 1645 and left her two sons, John and Francis Coombs, in the care of William Spooner who had agreed to their maintenance. It is believed that Sarah never returned to Massachusetts Colony, either having died on the voyage, or in England.
|Offspring of Degory Priest and Sarah Allerton (1579-1633)|
|Mary Priest (1612-1689)||1612 Leiden, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands||1 January 1670 Charlestown, Suffolk County, Massachusetts|| Phineas Pratt (1590-1680)|
|Sarah Priest (1614-aft1646)||6 March 1597 London, Middlesex, England||August 1646 Plymouth Colony, Plymouth, Plymouth County, Massachusetts|| John Coombs (1597-1646)|
Degory and Sarah have many notable descendants including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Maria Mitchell, Pete Seeger, Richard Gere, Dick Van Dyke, and Orson Scott Card.
Bradford's 1651 Journal
From William Bradford’s later recollection of seven men from the Mayflower who died soon after arrival.
"Moyses Fletcher, Thomas Williams, Digerie Preist, John Goodman, Edmond Margeson, Richard Britterige, Richard Clarke. All these dyed sone after their arivall, in the generall sicknes that befell. But Digerie Preist had his wife and children sent hither afterwards, she being Mr. (John) Allerton's sister. But the rest left no posteritie here."
Cole's Hill Memorial
A large monument was erected in 1921 on Cole's Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts to honor the many pilgrims who came to Plymouth Colony in the Mayflower but died during the first terrible winter and were buried here. This person is one of those person's listed thereon.
National Monument to the Forefathers, commemorates the Mayflower Pilgrims, (including this person) who came to Plymouth Colony in 1620 on the Mayflower. Dedicated on August 1, 1889, it is thought to be the world's largest solid granite monument. Located on an 11 acre hilltop site on Allerton Street in Plymouth, Massachusetts.