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John Billington (1580-1630)

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John Billington was born 1580 in Lincolnshire, England and died 30 September 1630 in Plymouth, Plymouth County, Massachusetts of unspecified causes. He married Elinor Armstrong (c1580-1643) 1603 in Lincolnshire, England.


Biography Edit

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.

The Billington family appears to have originated from in or around Cowbit and Spaulding, co. Lincoln, England, where Francis Longland named young Francis Billington, son of John Billington, as an heir. A manorial survey taken in 1650 indicated that Francis Billington was then in New England. Research in the records of the region has yet to turn up any additional details of the family, however.

Voyage on the Mayflower Edit

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.

Mayflower2016

Mayflower at Provincetown Harbor

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, John was the 26th of 41 signers on this document.

Mayflower compact 2016

Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 1899

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.

Troubles in Plymouth Edit

Every community seems to have its troublemakers, and for Plymouth Colony it was the Billingtons. Shortly after arriving in Plymouth Harbor and still onboard the Mayflower, young Francis Billington got ahold of his father's musket and shot it off inside, showering sparks around an open barrel of gunpowder and nearly blowing up the ship. A few months later, in March 1621, John Billington was brought before the Company and charged with "contempt of the Captain's lawful command with opprobrious speeches," and was sentenced to have his neck and heels tied together: "but upon humbling himself and craving pardon, and it being the first offence, he is forgiven." Two months later, his son John wandered off and was taken by the Nauset to Cape Cod: Plymouth was forced to send out a party to retrieve the boy. In 1624, Billington was implicated in the Oldham-Lyford scandal, which was a failed revolt against the authority of the Plymouth church--but he played ignorant of the plot and was never officially punished. In 1625, William Bradford wrote a letter to Robert Cushman saying "Billington still rails against you, ... he is a knave, and so will live and die."

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.

1630 Murder Trial Edit

In 1630, John Billington shot and killed John Newcomen, over an old quarrel, they having been enemies for some time. In September 1630, after a heated argument over hunting rights, Billington fatally shot fellow colonist John Newcomen in the shoulder with a blunderbuss.


Billington was tried by jury, and sentenced to death by hanging, which was carried out in September 1630. 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.

Billington's wife was sentenced by the Plymouth Court in 1636 to sit in the stocks and to be whipped for a slander against John Doane.

Marriage & Family Edit

John Billington married Elinor _____ in England. They had two sons. After John’s death, Elinor married Gregory Armstrong in September 1638. Elinor died after March 2, 1642/3. Gregory Armstrong died in Plymouth on November 5, 1650.





Children


Offspring of John Billington and Elinor Armstrong (c1580-1643)
Name Birth Death Joined with
John Billington (1604-1628) 1604 Lincolnshire, England 1628 Plymouth, Plymouth County, Massachusetts
Francis Billington (1607-1684) 1607 Lincolnshire, England 3 December 1684 Middleborough, Plymouth County, Massachusetts Christian Penn (1607-1684)

Siblings

Famous Descendants Edit

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

Vital Records Edit

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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