Elder William Brewster

Elder William BREWSTER (1567 – 1644)  was Alex’s 11th Great Grandfather; one of 4,096 in this generation.

Elder William Brewster on US Capital Dome

When the Mayflower colonists landed at Plymouth, Brewster became the senior elder of the colony, serving as its religious leader and as an adviser to Governor William Bradford.  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.

Brewster, Mass. was first settled in 1656 as a northeastern parish of the town of Harwich, Massachusetts. The town separated from Harwich as the northern, more wealthy parish of Harwich in 1693, and was officially incorporated as its own town in 1803 when the less wealthy citizens of Harwich were upset that the town’s institutions were all on Brewster’s main street (Route 6A), including the town hall and churches. Brewster was named in honor of Elder William Brewster, the first religious leader of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony

William Brewster was one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact

William Brewster was probably born 1566/7  in Doncaster, Yorkshire, England, although no birth records have been found, and raised in Scrooby in north Nottinghamshire. He was the son of William BREWSTER and Mary SMYTHE (Simkinson).  He had a number of half-siblings. His paternal grandparents were William Brewster and Maud Mann. His maternal grandfather was Thomas Smythe. He married Mary WENTWORTH  in 1591 at England.  He was a Pilgrim colonist leader and preacher who reached what became the Plymouth Colony in the Mayflower in 1620. He was accompanied by his wife, Mary Brewster, and his sons, Love Brewster [Isn’t that a great name?] and Wrestling Brewster [Wrestling with Faith?].  Son Jonathan joined the family in November 1621, arriving at Plymouth on the ship Fortune, and daughters Patience [I’m glad our ancestor was Patience instead of Fear ]and Fear arrived in July 1623 aboard the Anne. William Brewster died on 10 Apr 1644 and was likely buried in Plymouth, possibly upon Burial Hill.

An imaginary likeness of William Brewster. There is no known portrait of him from life.

Mary Wentworth was born about 1569 in Scooby, Nottinghamshire. Her parents were Thomas WENTWORTH and Grace GASCOIGNE.  Mary died 17 Apr 1627 at Plymouth, Mass.

Children of William and Mary:

Name Born Married Departed
1. Jonathan Brewster (Wiki) Scrooby
12 Aug  1593
Lucretia Oldham
10 Apr 1624
7 Aug 1659
Norwich, New London, CT
buried in Brewster’s Plain, Norwich, CT
2. Patience BREWSTER c. 1600
Gov Thomas PRENCE
5 Aug 1624
In 1634 during the outbreak of “pestilent feaver.”
3. Fear Brewster c. 1605  Scrooby Isaac ALLERTON
c.  1625
as his second wife
In 1634 during the outbreak of “pestilent feaver.”
4. Love Brewster c. 1607 Scrooby Sarah Collier (Daughter of William COLLIER)
15 May 1634
1650 in Duxbury. His name was recorded by a grandson as “Truelove.”
5. William Brewster Buried
20 Jun 1609 at St. Pancras, Leiden
6. Wrestling Brewster c. 1611
Leiden Holland
Unmarried Between 1627 and 1651

Early Life

Scrooby, England is where the Pilgrims were originally from.  It is  a small village, on the River Ryton and near Bawtry, in the northern part of the English county of Nottinghamshire. At the time of the 2001 census it had a population of 329.  Until 1766, it was on the Great North Road so became a stopping-off point for numerous important figures including Queen Elizabeth I and Cardinal Wolsey on their journeys. The latter stayed at the Manor House briefly, after his fall from favour.

Scrooby Manor was in the possession of the Archbishops of York. Brewster’s father, William Sr.,  had been the estate bailiff for the archbishop for thirty-one years from around 1580. With this post went that of postmaster, which was a more important one than it might have been if the village had not been situated on the Great North Road, as Scrooby was then.

The only remaining wing of the original Scrooby Manor House. William Brewster resided here and this is the place where the Pilgrims first met in secret following their separation from the Church of England.

William Jr. studied briefly at Peterhouse, Cambridge before entering the service of William Davison in 1584.   In 1585, Davison went to the Netherlands to negotiate an alliance with the States-General. In 1586, Davison was appointed assistant to Queen Elizabeth’s Secretary of State Francis Walsingham, but in 1587 Davison played a key functional role in the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, and was made the scapegoat for this event in British history.


Cambridge was a centre of thought concerning religious reformism, but Brewster’s time in the Netherlands, in connection with Davison’s work, gave him opportunity to hear and see more of reformed religion. While, earlier in the sixteenth century, reformers had hoped to amend the Anglican church, by the end of it, many were looking toward a split.

On Davison’s disgrace, William returned to Scrooby. There, from 1590 to 1607, he held the position of postmaster. As such he was responsible for the provision of stage horses for the mails, having previously, for a short time, assisted his father in that office. By the 1590s, William’s brother, James, was a rather rebellious Anglican priest, vicar of the parish of Sutton cum Lound, in Nottinghamshire. From 1594, it fell to James to appoint curates to Scrooby church so that Brewster, James and leading members of the Scrooby congregation were brought before the ecclesiastical court for their dissent. They were set on a path of separation from the Anglican Church. From about 1602, Scrooby Manor, William’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 (a large tidal estuary on the east coast of Northern England). 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 Johnson and Henry Ainsworth. Offput 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.

In 1620 William 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 adviser to Governor William Bradford.

Plimoth Plantation  Recreation of 1627 Village

Plimoth Plantation Recreation of 1627 Village

Our ancestors or their close relatives had almost half the lots in early Plymouth – (George Soule was the grandfather of John TOMSON’s son-in-law, not close enough to get a #)

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, Massachusetts is also named for him as is the Brewster Chair. In 1632 Brewster received lands in nearby Duxbury, and removed from Plymouth to create a farm in Duxbury.

William Brewster Chair made of: Fraxinus Americana (American white ash).

Pilgrim Hall has had this chair since the early 1830s when it was donated by the Brewster family of Duxbury.

At the time of his death, Elder Brewster had one chair worth 4 shillings, and another worth 1 shilling.  While the inventory does not describe the most expensive chair, the value of 4 shillings is comparable to the value of the two “great wooden chairs” mentioned in William Bradford’s inventory, worth an average of 4 shillings.

Along with the very similar Bradford chair, this chair is one of the earliest chairs made in America. We know the Brewster chair was made here rather than in England because the species of ash is native to America.

Brewster Chest — Pilgrim Hall Museum

It is believed that Elder Brewster brought this chest from Holland to England on the Speedwell and to America on the Mayflower in 1620.

At the time the Pilgrims lived in Holland, pine from Norway was plentiful, as a result of extensive trade between the two countries. A chest was the single most important piece of furniture a colonist could bring. It could be used not only for storage, but also as a table surface, seat, or even bed.

The dark reddish-brown paint is probably original. Iron straps reinforce the chest and it has inside hinges, typical of the era. The six-board form dates from the 16th century.

Brewster, Barnstable, Mass

Brewster, Mass was first settled in 1656 as a northeastern parish of the town of Harwich, Massachusetts. The town separated from Harwich as the northern, more wealthy parish of Harwich in 1693, and was officially incorporated as its own town in 1803 when the less wealthy citizens of Harwich were upset that the town’s institutions were all on Brewster’s main street (Route 6A), including the town hall and churches. Brewster was named in honor of Elder William Brewster, the first religious leader of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony. The town’s history grew around Stony Brook, where the first water-powered grist and woolen mill in the country was founded in the late 17th century. There were also many rich sea captains in the town, who built many of the mansions and stately homes which now constitute the town’s inns and bed-and-breakfasts

William Brewster Inventory


1. Jonathan Brewster

Jonathan’s wife Lucretia Oldham was born 14 Jan 1600 in Derby, Derbyshire, England.  Her parents were William Oldham and Philippa Sowter. Her brother was Captain John Oldham, whose slaying led to the Pequot Indian war.  Lucretia died 4 Mar 1679 in Preston, New London, CT.

Lucretia Brewster re-enactor and her father-in-law, William, prepare mussels and other food for a 17th-century-style meal. (Photos by Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)

Lucretia Brewster re-enactor and her father-in-law, William, prepare mussels and other food for a 17th-century-style meal.

Brewster did not join his family on the Mayflower in 1620, however. He stayed behind in Leiden instead with his wife, who died soon after, and their infant son, who also died. Brewster would have been 27 at the time. Brewster came to America on the ship Fortune in 1621.

John Oldham was born in Derbyshire, England in 1592, and was baptized at the Church of All Saints in Derby on July 15, 1592. A follower of the Puritans from an early age, he emigrated to Plymouth Colony with his wife, children, and sister Lucretia in July 1623 aboard the Anne.

Oldham is proof that relations among the Pilgrims were not always harmonious. Over half of those who sailed on the Mayflower had come for economic opportunity, rather than religious motivations.  In 1624, Rev. John Lyford came over to America, and was welcomed at first, but soon disgruntled members of the group who wanted to worship as they had in England, gravitated to him. Lyford gave them encouragement and met with them in secret. Oldham was a supporter of Lyford, and the two of them were looked upon by Pilgrim leader William Bradford as trying to destroy the colony.

Oldham and Lyford wrote letters back to England, disparaging the Pilgrim authorities. Bradford intercepted some of these letters and read them, which greatly angered Oldham. Oldham then refused to stand guard, and argued with the Pilgrims’ military advisor, Miles Standish. Standish had a reputation among the Pilgrims as being argumentative and having a hot temper. A short man (he had to cut six inches off his rapier so it wouldn’t drag on the ground when he walked), he was described by Puritan historian William Hubbard as “A little chimney is soon fired.”

Drawing his knife on Standish, Oldham angrily denounced him as a “Rascall! Beggarly rascal!” Lyford and Oldham were put on trial for “plotting against them and disturbing their peace, both in respects of their civil and church state.” As a result, they were banished from Plymouth – an extreme punishment in this wild frontier.

Oldham recovered nicely though. He grew rich in coastal trade and trading with the Indians. He became a representative to the General Court of Massachusetts from 1632 to 1634. He was the overseer of shot and powder for Massachusetts Bay Colony. Oldham’s company granted ten acres in assignment of lands in 1623 presumably for each person in Oldham’s family and for the following:Conant, Roger, Penn, and Christian,

In the aftermath of the expulsion of Lyford and Oldham, others who were disaffected left as well. The colony lost about a quarter of its residents, with some going to live at Oldham’s settlement at Nantasket, and some going to Virginia or back to England.

As a trader, Captain Oldham sailed to Virginia and England, but by 1630 he was back in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

He took up residence on an island in the Charles River and was a member of the church at Watertown. Oldham represented Watertown in the colony’s first General Court or assembly in 1634. He continued in the Indian trade, sailing the coast from Maine toNew Amsterdam.

In 1633 or 1634, Oldham led a group of ten men (which included Captain Robert Seeley), along the Old Connecticut Path to establish Wethersfield, Connecticut, the first English settlement on the Connecticut River.

In July 1636 he was on a voyage to trade with Indians on Block Island. On July 20 he was boarded by hostile Indians, presumed to be Pequots. He and five of his crew were killed, and two young boys with him were captured. The ship’s cargo was looted. A fishing vessel rescued the boys and tried to tow his sloop to port. When adverse winds affected them, they scuttled the ship but brought the two boys home.

The Bay Colony was outraged at this latest incident, and sent John Endicott to Block Island with a force to retaliate, leading to the PEQUOT WAR.

2. Patience BREWSTER (See Gov Thomas PRENCE‘s page)

3. Fear Brewster (See Isaac ALLERTON‘s page)

4. Love Brewster (wiki)

Love’s wife Sarah Collier was baptized 30 APR 1616 in St Olave, Southwark, Surrey, England.  Her parents were William COLLIER and Jane CLARKE.  After Love died, she married Richard Parke 1 Sep 1656 Duxbury, Plymouth, MassSarah died 26 Apr 1691
Plymouth, Mass.

Love’s servant Thomas Granger,  (1625? – September 8, 1642) was the first person hanged in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (the first hanged in any of the colonies of New England being John Billington) [Our family relationship  to Billington isn’t especially close, he was Richard MARTIN’s  daughter-in-law’s grandfather, but the first Englishman to be convicted of murder in what would become the United States is a noteworthy black sheep.]

Granger the first known juvenile to be sentenced to death and executed in the territory of today’s United States.   Graunger, at the age of 16 or 17, was convicted of “buggery with a mare, a cowe, two goats, divers sheepe, two calves, and a turkey”, according to court records of 7 September 1642

Graunger confessed to his crimes in court privately to local magistrates, and upon indictment, publicly to ministers and the jury, being sentenced to “death by hanging until he was dead”. He was hanged on September 8, 1642. Before Graunger’s execution, following the laws set down in Leviticus 20:15 (“And if a man shall lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast”), the animals involved were slaughtered before his face and thrown into a large pit dug for their disposal, no use being made of any part of them  .An account of Graunger’s acts is recorded in Gov. William Bradford‘s diary Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647.

Click here for Love Brewster’s Last Will and Testament


William Brewster in 17th century documents


Wikipedia – William Brewster (pilgrim)

A genealogical profile of William Brewster




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24 Responses to Elder William Brewster

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  21. Gunnar says:

    Very interesting article! One small gripe though regarding the photo of “Lucretia Brewster” preparing a meal. The table is covered with a Turkey carpet, which a person of social standing might have owned in the 17th century. “Great rooms”, which functioned as kitchen, dining room and bedroom, all in one, didn’t have counters at that time, so dining tables (except in homes of the rich) usually did double duty as food preparation tables. Such a carpet would have been covered with a doubled over linen cloth when meals were served, and it would have been removed entirely – if the table was used for food preparation, yet time and again I’ve seen food served or prepared directly on them, in period reenacting settings.

  22. Rich Bowen says:

    I am also 11th gen. ex Elder Wm. Brewster ,,,Via Steadmans of mid 1600s New London CT. who later went to New Brunswick, then after a few generations, back to Maine/Mass.

  23. Donald Wright says:

    I am years late finding your site. Very informative. My wife is the former Fay N. Kimble.(born New London, CT), Her mother was Starr. Fay’s 3rd great grandparents were James Madison Starr/Elizabeth “Betsey” O. Miner. Fay’s 8th great grandparents were Samuel Starr/Hannah Brewster. (Fay has her Mayflower certificate). Her 10th great grandparents are Thomas Miner/Grace Palmer via Clement Miner line.

    Fay knew artist Edgar O. Miner (1915-2003) and has one of his paintings.

    I am slowing reading through your vast amount of information 🙂 Great job.

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