William Brewster (1567-1644)

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Elder William Brewster IV was born circa 1566 in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, England, United Kingdom to William Brewster (1527-1590) and Mary Smythe (1536-1579) and died 10 April 1644 in Plymouth, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, United States of unspecified causes. He married Mary Brewster (1569-1627) circa 1583 in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, England.

Early Plymouth Colony settler (1620) from the Mayflower.

Vital Statistics Edit

  • Son of William Brewster (1527-1590) and Prudence Peck and great great a lot of great grandfather of Ayden Shields
  • Born about year 1566 in Scrooby, in north Nottinghamshire, England
  • First trip to Holland (1585)
  • Immigration to Holland with Pilgrims (1609)
  • Immigration to America on the Mayflower (1620) and fourth signatory to the Mayflower Compact
  • Died 1644 - Plymouth Colony

Biography Edit

William Brewster was the 'ruling elder' for the religious Pilgrims in the mixed group of passengers aboard the Mayflower in 1620. Previously he had been a diplomat, lawyer, printer and teacher. His printing press was destroyed by authorities and he was forced into hiding for his extreme non-conformist views that were quite contrary to the orthodox doctrine of the established Church of England. He arrived in London by disguise to take up passage on the Mayflower to escape English persecution.

Early Life Edit

He was the son of William Brewster and Mary Smyth and he had a number of half-siblings. His paternal grandparents were William Brewster and Maud Mann. His maternal grandfather was Thomas Smyth. Brewster may have been born in Doncaster.

They were set on a path of separation from the Anglican Church. From about 1602, Scrooby Manor, Brewster's home, became a meeting place for the dissenting Puritans. In 1606, they formed the Separatist Church of Scrooby.

Restrictions and pressures applied by the authorities convinced the congregation of a need to emigrate to the more sympathetic atmosphere of Holland, but leaving England without permission was illegal at the time, so that departure was a complex matter. On its first attempt, in 1607, the group was arrested at Scotia Creek, but in 1608 Brewster and others were successful in leaving from The Humber. In 1609, he was selected as ruling elder of the congregation.

Initially, the Pilgrims settled in Amsterdam, and worshiped with the Ancient Church of Francis Johson and Henry Ainsworth. Off put by the bickering between the two, though (which ultimately resulted in a division of the Church), the Pilgrims left Amsterdam and moved to Leiden, after only a year.

In Leiden, the group managed to make a living. Brewster taught English and later, in 1616-1619, printed and published religious books for sale in England though they were proscribed there, as the partner of one Thomas Brewer. In 1619, the printing type was seized by the authorities under pressure from the English ambassador Sir Dudley Carleton and Brewster's partner was arrested. Brewster escaped and, with the help of Robert Cushman, obtained a land patent from the London Virginia Company on behalf of himself and his colleagues.

Voyage of the Mayflower Edit

In 1620 he joined the first group of Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower on the voyage to North America. When the colonists landed at Plymouth, Brewster became the senior elder of the colony, serving as its religious leader and as an advisor to Governor William Bradford (1590-1657).


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, William was the 4th signer 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.

Colony Religious Leader Edit

As the only university educated member of the colony, Brewster took the part of the colony's religious leader until a pastor, Ralph Smith, arrived in 1629. Thereafter, he continued to preach irregularly until his death in April 1644.

Brewster was granted land amongst the islands of Boston Harbor, and four of the outer islands (Great Brewster, Little Brewster, Middle Brewster and Outer Brewster) now bear his name.

Brewster died in 1644 and was likely buried in Miles Standish Burial Ground in Duxbury.

Marriage & FamilyEdit

William Brewster married Mary, whose maiden name is unknown. During much of the 20th century she was thought to be the daughter of Thomas Wentworth. However, there is no compelling evidence to support this. More recent speculation suggests her maiden name was Wyrall, but again the evidence is weak at best.

The children of William and Mary were:

  • Jonathan Brewster (1593-1659) came to Plymouth Colony a year after his parents on the Fortune. There he married Lucretia Oldham. Her brother was Captain John Oldham, whose slaying led to the Pequot Indian war (1636-37). Brewster and Oldham had eight children.
  • Patience Brewster (1600-1634) came to Plymouth Colony in 1623 with sister Fear and married Thomas Prence (1600-1673) who would become 4th Governor of the colony. They had 4 children.
  • Fear Brewster (1606-1634) - so called because she was born at the height of the puritans' persecution. Married Isaac Allerton (1586-1658) of London, two children. Stayed behind when parents sailed on Mayflower, but joined them shortly afterwards.
  • Unnamed son (born and died 1609)
  • Love Brewster (1611-1650) came over on the Mayflower at age 9 and married Sarah Collier of London, 4 children
  • Wrestling Brewster (1614-1627) - Mayflower passenger who died young and unmarried per Gov Bradford's journal (Ford 2:402).
  • (possibly) Captain Edward Brewster - traveled to Virginia with Thomas West, Lord Delaware.


Offspring of Elder William Brewster IV and Mary Brewster (1569-1627)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Jonathan Brewster (1593-1659) 12 August 1593 Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, England 7 August 1659 Norwich, New London County, Connecticut Betja Rabnits (1597-1619)
Lucretia Oldham (1600-1679)

Patience Brewster (1600-1634) 1590 Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, England 12 December 1634 Plymouth Colony, Plymouth, Plymouth County, Massachusetts Thomas Prence (1600-1673)

Fear Brewster (1606-1634) 1606 Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, England, United Kingdom 1634 Plymouth, Plymouth County, Massachusetts Isaac Allerton (1586-1658)

Unnamed Son Brewster (1609-1609) 1609 Leiden, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands 1609 Leiden, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands
Love Brewster (1611-1650) 15 May 1611 Leiden, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands 6 October 1650 Duxbury, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, United States Sarah Collier (1613-1691)

Wrestling Brewster (1614-1627) 1614 Leiden, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands 1627 Plymouth, Plymouth County, Massachusetts


Offspring of William Brewster III and Mary Smythe (1536-1579)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Henry Brewster (1562-1644)
William Brewster (1567-1644) 1566 Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, England, United Kingdom 10 April 1644 Plymouth, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, United States Mary Brewster (1569-1627)

Edward Brewster (1568-1613)

Other Household Members Edit

  • Humility Cooper (1619-1638) - arrived in 1620 on Mayflower with the Tilley's who both died. She was part of the Winslow household in 1623 per the land grant records giving her one acre. By 1627 she was in the Brewster home and in 1638 she returned to England.
  • More, Richard (1614-c1694), brother, age 5 (birthday in late Nov), indentured to William Brewster (1567-1644). The only child to survive to adulthood, he lived a long and exciting life, married twice, posterity, eventually passing away in Salem, Massachusetts just shortly after witnessing the hysteria of the Salem witch trials.
  • More, Mary (1616-1621)*, sister, age 4, assigned as a servant of William Brewster (1567-1644). She died sometime in the winter of 1620/1621.

Vital Records Edit

Bradford's Passenger ListEdit

From Gov. Bradford's list of Mayflower passengers (written circa 1650).

Mr. William Brewster; Mary, his wife; with two sons, whose names were Love and Wrasling; and a boy was put to him called Richard More; and another of his brothers (sic: sister Mary). The rest of his children were left behind, and came over afterwards.

Mr. Brewster lived to very old age; about 80 years he was when he dyed, having lived some 23 or 24 years here in the countrie; and though his wife dyed long before, yet she dyed aged. His sone Wrastle dyed a young man unmaried; his sone Love lived till this year 1650 and dyed, and left 4 children, now living. His doughters which came over after him are dead, but have left sundry children alive; his eldest sone is still living, and hath 9 or 10 children; one maried, who hath a child or 2.

Richard More, his brother (sic: sister Mary) died the first winter; but he is married, and hath 4 or 5 children, all living.

References Edit

Mayflower 2016b

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