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John Billington (1580-1630)

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John Billington (c. 1580 – September 30, 1630) was the first Englishman to be convicted of murder in what would become the United States, and the first to be hanged for any crime in New England. Early Plymouth Colony settler (1620) from the Mayflower.

Vital Statistics Edit

  • Born about 1580, possibly in Lincolnshire, England
  • Married to Elinor Billington
  • 26th Signatory to the Mayflower Compact (1620)
  • Died 30 Sept 1630 - Plymouth, MA

Biography Edit

The first Englishman to be convicted of murder in what would become the United States, and the first to be hanged for any crime in New England.

He came to the Plymouth Colony on the famous voyage of the Mayflower in 1620 with his wife and two sons (not as a pilgrim but a hired planter). He soon made enemies with many aboard the ship. He was known as a "foul mouthed miscreant" and "knave." He was not a member of the separatist Brownist congregation that dominated the colony's life, but had fled England to escape creditors. His sons were also seen as troublemakers.

In March 1621, Billington was convicted of contempt for insulting Captain Myles Standish. His punishment was to have his heels tied to his neck. Billington apologized profusely and was spared from the penalty.

In 1624, Billington became a follower of the Reverend John Lyford, who was banished from Plymouth Colony in 1625 for being a danger to the community. Though Billington was nearly convicted as Lyford's accomplice, he was permitted to remain in Plymouth Colony.

In September 1630, after a heated argument over hunting rights, Billington fatally shot fellow colonist John Newcomen in the shoulder with a blunderbuss. After counseling with Governor John Winthrop, Governor William Bradford concluded that capital punishment was the necessary penalty. Billington was convicted of murder and hanged at Plymouth, Massachusetts. The inland pond known as Billington's Sea was named after his son, Francis.

Children of John Billington and Elinor Billington Edit

Famous Descendants Edit

U.S. President James Garfield was a descendant of Billington.

Bradford's Passenger ListEdit

Quote from Gov Bradford's listing of 1620 Mayflower passengers:

John Billington, and Elen, his wife; and 2 sones, John and Francis.

John Billington, after he had bene here 10 yers, was executed for killing a man, and his eldest sone dyed before him; but his 2 sone is alive and maried, and hath 8 children.

References Edit

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