Robert Cushman

Robert CUSHMAN (1578 – 1625)  was a Pilgrim leader and made arrangements for the Leiden congregation to immigrate to North America. He preached the first recorded sermon in the New World. (Wikipedia) He was Alex’s 11th Grandfather; one of 4,096 in this generation of the Shaw line.

Robert Cushman was born in the village of Rolvenden in Kent, England, and was baptized in the parish church there on 9 Feb 1577/78. His parents were Thomas CUSHMAN and Elinor HUBBARD. He spent part of his early life in Canterbury on Sun Street. In 1620 he returned to Canterbury and at 59 Palace Street arranged the leasing of the Mayflower for the Pilgrims to use on their voyage to America.

Oddly enough for such a religious group, there was no ordained minister among the American Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony Robert Cushman, a deacon, was the nearest thing. To settle the jealousies and animosities among the settlers, he preached a sermon on 9 Dec 1621.

He married Sarah REDER on 31 July 1606 in St. Alphege, Canterbury, Kent, England.  Sarah Reder  lived in the precincts of the Cathedral at Canterbury and died in 1616 in Leiden, Holland and was buried on 11 Oct 1616 in St. Peter’s, Leiden, Holland.

Robert was excommunicated for not recognizing the official church and as a consequence spent time in a cell of Canterbury’s West Gate Towers. In 1611 he was one of a group of Pilgrims who fled to Holland because of differences with the official church over their practise of religion.

After Sarah died, he married Mark Clark on 5 Jun 1617 in Leiden, Holland before Andries Hasperson van Vesanevelt and Jacob Paedts, Sheriggs, Mary Clark is listed on her marriage record as “Mary Shingelton from Sandwich in England, widow of Thomas Shingelton”. Mary died before 1621 in Leiden, Holland. Anderson claims that she was “apparently dead” before this time since there is no evidence that she came to Plymouth with her husband and stepson.

Robert did not complete the initial trip to the New World with the other Pilgrims on board the Mayflower, as the ship he was travelling on, the Speedwell, developed leaks and had to return to England. He instead took a different ship to the New World.

Robert sailed to Plymouth, Massachusetts in the fall of 1621 aboard the Fortune, but returned shortly thereafter to England to promote the colony’s interests. There, he published an essay concerning the Lawfulness of Plantations, which was appended to Mourt’s Relation. This document is of interest to modern scholars because of its treatment of the economic reasons for emigration.

Unfortunately, before he could return to the New World, he succumbed to an outbreak of plague in London, in the spring of 1625; as a result, the site of his grave is unknown. The book Saints and Strangers by George F. Willisonrecounts his story.

Robert Cushman’s last request of William Bradford. “Have a care of my son as of your son ” was generously fulfilled, (and thus we find this son in the Bradford family) and so worthy was the result that Thomas CUSHMAN was chosen as Brewster’s immediate successor as ruling elder of the Plymouth Pilgrims.

Sarah Reder was born in 1585 in Canterbury, Kent, England. Sarah died 11 Oct 1616 in Leyden, Holland.

Cushman’s Memorial on Burial Hill

This is a granite column, twenty-five feet high, and it is by far the most conspicuous monument on the hill. It reads:

Fellow exile with the Pilgrims in Holland,
Afterwards their chief agent in England,
Arrived here IX November, MDCXXI,
With Thomas Cushman his son:
Preached IX-. December,
His memorable sermon on “the Danger of self-love
And the sweetness of true friendship:”
Returned to England XIII December,
To vindicate tho enterprise of Christian emigration;
And there remained in the service of the Colony Till MDCXXV,
When, having prepared to make Plymouth His permanent home.

West side: —

He died, lamented by the forefathers
as “their ancient friend, – who was
as their right hand with their friends
the adventurers, and for divers years
had done and agitated all their business
with them to their great advantage.”

“And you, my loving friends, the adventurers
to this plantation, as your care has been first
to settle religion here before either profit
or popularity, so, I play you, go on. —
I rejoice — that you thus honor God
with your riches, and I trust you shall be repaid
again double and treble in this world, yea,
and the memory of this action shall never die.”

South side: —


Son of Robert, died X December, MDCXCI,
Aged neatly LXXXIV years.
For more than XLII years he was
Ruling Elder oú the First Church in Plymouth,
By whom a tablet was placed to mark his grave on this spot,
Now consecrated anew by a more enduring memorial.


widow of Elder Cushman, and daughter of Isaac Allerton,
Died XXVIII November, MDCXCIX, aged about XC years,
The last survivor of the first comers in the Mayflower.

East side:

Erected by
The descendants of
Robert Cushman
In memory of their Pilgrim Ancestors,

His son, Thomas CUSHMAN (ca. 1607/08 – 1691), who accompanied him on the Fortune, was raised in the family of Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford (1590-1657), and served as Ruling Elder of the Plymouth church from 1649, until his death in 1691. He was buried on New Plymouth Hill. Thomas married Mary ALLERTON who died in 1699. She was the last survivor of the original Mayflower passengers.

Children of Robert and Sarah:

Name Born Married Departed
1. Thomas CUSHMAN Sr. 8 Feb 1607/08, Canterbury, Kent, England Mary ALLERTON 1636 Plymouth, Mass. 10 Dec 1691
Plymouth Colony, Mass.
2. Child Cushman betw. 1611 and 1614 1616 Leiden, Holland
3. Sarah Cushman 1615
Leiden, Holland
William Hoskins
2 Nov 1636 Plymouth, Mass
Plymouth, Mass

During his years in Leiden, Cushman demonstrated unusual organizational skill such that in 1617 Cushman (age 40) and John Carver (age 51), deacons of the Leiden congregation, were chosen to travel to London to make arrangements for the congregation to immigrate to North America.

Initially Carver and Cushman sought a patent from the Virginia Company for a colony on the James River. The company was interested but King James refused to allow the Pilgrims to practice their religion as they wished. Next, Cushman and Carver approached wealthy Puritans in London. Sir Edwin Sandys, member of Parliament and Governor/Treasurer of the Virginia Company, and Thomas Weston a wealthy London ironmonger agreed to contact London colleagues to explore investing in a joint stock company with the Pilgrims to produce goods to sell in London. Eventually about 70 men of varying occupations, religious beliefs and positions in society invested in the company. The London men were called Merchant Adventurers. King James agreed not be persecute Pilgrims providing they behaved quietly and were faithful subjects of the King. Negotiations with the Merchant Adventurers were tedious. In the spring of 1620 a revised agreement with Thomas Weston was negotiated, and Carver and Cushman returned to Leiden to present the agreement to John Robinson and the congregation. Disagreement remained which lead to further negotiation. Eventually a set of 10 articles of agreement emerged. Cushman returned to London to lease of the Mayflower and Carver remained in Holland to purchase the Speedwell. The plan was to retain the Speedwell in America for fishing and coastal trade.

Because the voyage and land clearing would be strenuous, it was decided that only strong men and women and their children would make the voyage. During the summer of 1620, the Merchant Adventurers assembled a pool of money and the Pilgrims who were chosen to sail sold their homes and belongings to pay for the voyage. It has been estimated that the cost of the voyage was approximately 1500 pounds. It became clear that additional people would be needed, and single men, and whole families of women and children were recruited in England. The new members were called “Strangers” while members of the Lieden congregation were called “Saints”. Some Separatists never left England and had no close relationship with members of the Leiden congregation. On the eve of the voyage individuals were asked to sign the 10 articles of agreement. The articles had not changed since they were presented earlier and some displeased individuals withdrew from the voyage. Even though the agreement was unsigned, the remaining Separatists decided to sail and settle the issue at a later time. The Separatists selected a leader, “Governor”, for each ship. To pacify the restive Strangers, one of their members, Christropher Martin was chosen governor of the Mayflower. Martin was an abusive person and disliked by everyone. Robert Cushman was chosen assistant governor to ensure harmony.

Christopher Martin, a Puritan, had been named expedition treasurer. He could not get along with the Leyden agents, Deacons Robert CUSHMAN and John Carver. And they were having trouble getting along with each other. There was little cooperation in buying provisions and, as a result, the Mayflower was stocked with two tons of butter, hardly any guns, and little to use in trade with the Indians.

Thomas Weston, the London adventurer, was denounced as a “bloodsucker” for changing the terms of his agreement and he stomped off to London when the Leyden leaders refused to sign the new agreements. He vowed the Pilgrims would not get another cent from the Merchants and Adventurers. That was a heavy blow because the Speedwell captain refused to sail until the vessel’s rigging was changed and that would cost money.

Pleas for help were sent to Weston but he kept his word and sent the Pilgrims nothing. To clear port they had to sell some of their provisions, including most of their butter, leaving them short of supplies.

On August 15th the Mayflower and Speedwell put to sea with the passengers on the two ships totaling about 120. They sailed rapidly for two days before a stiff wind. Then the Speedwell, its captain said, became “open and leakie as a sieve.” The ships put back to Dartmouth where the Speedwell was dry-docked for nearly three weeks. The passengers on the Mayflower were so unhappy that Christopher Martin, acting as governor on that ship, refused to let anyone ashore for fear they would not return. Toward the end of August, Mayflower and Speedwell put to sea again. They were more than 300 miles out when the Speedwell reported it was leaking and “must bear up or sink at sea.”

This time the ships put in to Plymouth, England, where it was decided to go on without the Speedwell.

During this period Robert Cushman became seriously ill. In a letter to Edward Southworth in August 1620 he thought he was close to death. When it was decided not to sail the Speedwell, Cushman was asked to remain in London to look after its passengers until they could sail the next year. The Mayflower sailed from Southampton alone on September 16, 1620. Cushman recovered and looked after the affairs of the passengers and purchased supplies for the voyage of the Fortune in 1621.

In April 1621 the Mayflower left Plymouth and arrived in England on May 6, 1621. Only then did the London Separatists learn of the arduous voyage, harsh conditions in Plymouth, the deaths of nearly one-half the Mayflower passengers, and that Christopher Martin died and John Carver had been elected Governor. The London Separatists were unaware that Carver had died shortly after the Mayflower left Plymouth.

The Fortune with Cushman and his son Thomas (age 14) sailed for Plymouth on August 9, 1621 with 35 new colonists but very few supplies. The Fortune arrived in Cape Cod harbor on 9 November 1621. The Plymouth colonists were downcast. Their beloved Governor John Carver had died the previous spring. The fall harvest had not been good, and the Fortune brought them only meager supplies. With 35 new mouths to feed, the winter looked bleak.

The compelling task facing Robert Cushman was to secure the colonists’ signatures to the 10 articles of agreement that were not signed the year before. The continued support of the Merchant Adventurers depended on it. On December 9, 1621, the first anniversary Sunday of the Pilgrim landing in Plymouth, Robert Cushman gave a sermon, which along with Robinson’s farewell sermon in Leiden, are quintessential statements of Pilgrim belief. Cushman’s sermon entitled “The Sin and Danger of Self-Love” was based on 1 Corinthians 10:24, Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth. Cushman’s pious prose is verbose by today’s standard but the sermon speaks to us today as powerfully as it must have in the bleak winter of 1621. Cushman’s remarks were a heart-felt plea for the Pilgrims to cooperate unselfishly for common good without regard for personal gain.  It is not an exaggeration to draw a parallel between John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address in 1960 in which he said, “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do your country” and Cushman’s sermon. During the previous 12 months the hardships the Pilgrims endured softened the strongly-held opinions they and John Robinson embraced before they sailed for New England. They realized their marginal existence in Plymouth depended on supplies from England and they signed the 10 articles of agreement.

Robert quoted Paul’s words to the quarreling Corinthians as an example for the disgruntled settlers. Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth (1 Corinthians 10:24). “The occasion of these words of the Apostle Paul, was because of the abuses which were in the Church of Corinth. Which abuses arose chiefly through swelling pride, self-love and conceitedness..”

“…it is lawful sometimes for men to gather wealth, and grow rich, even as there was a time for Joseph to store up corn, but a godly and sincere Christian will see when this time is, and will not hoard up when he seeth others of his brethren and associates to want, but then is a time, if he have anything to fetch out and disperse it..”

“…you must seek still the wealth of one another..” he reminded them and pointed out that it was in their self interest to do so, for, “Even as we deal with others, ourselves and others shall be dealt withal.. for it is the merciful that shall obtain mercy..”

The settlers listened to Robert. Not only did they sign the despised articles, but they filled the Fortune with wood and furs. Robert sailed for England. Unfortunately, the ship was seized by French privateers, who stripped it of everything of value. Robert was freed, but the colony would not pay for itself for a while yet.

SERMON Preached at Plymouth, in New England, 1621, BY ROBERT CUSHMAN.

1 CORINTHIANS, 10. 24.


The occasion of these words of the Apostle Paul, was because of the abuses which were in the Church of Corinth. Which abuses arose chiefly through swelling pride, self-love and conceitedness, for although this church was planted by Paul and watered by Apollos, and much increased by the Lord ; yet the sower of tares was not wanting to stir up evil workers and fleshly minded hypocrites, under a shew of godliness, and with angel-like holiness in appearance, to creep in amongst them to disturb their peace, try their soundness, and prove their constancy.

And this the Apostle complains of very often : as first, in their carnal divisions, chap. 1. then in their extolling their eloquent teachers, and despising Paul, chap. 4. Then in their offensive going to Law, before the heathen judges, chap. 6. Then in eating things offered to idols, to the destroying of the tender consciences of their brethren, chap. 8.

Then in their insatiable love feasts, in the time and place of their church meetings, the rich which could together feed to fulness, despising and contemning the poor, that had not to lay it on as they had, chap. 11. Finally in both the epistles, he very often nippeth them in their pride, and self-love, straitness and censoriousness, so that in the last chapter he willeth them again and again to prove, try and examine themselves, to see whether Christ were in them or not, for howsoever many of them seemeth, as thousands do at this day to soar aloft, and go with full sail to Heaven : yet as men that row in boats, set their faces one way, when yet their whole body goeth apace another way : so there are many which set such a face upon religion, and have their mouth full of great swelling words, as if they would even blow open the doors of heaven, despising all humble minded and broken-hearted people, as weak, simple, sottish, &c. -when yet notwithstanding, these blusterers, which seem to go so fast, and leave all others behind them, if like these glosing Corinthians, they carry affectedly their Own glory with them, and seem thus to stand for the glory of God. What do they else but join flesh to spirit, serving not God for nought, but for wages, and so serving their bellies, whose end will be damnation, except a speedy and sound remedy be thought of, which remedy is even that which our Saviour teacheth the rich young gallant, and which Paul here prescribeth, in willing them not to seek their own, but every man another’s wealth, which physic is as terrible to carnal professors, as abstinence from drink is to a man that hath the dropsy ; and it is a sure note, that a man is sick of this disease of self-love, if this be grievous to him, as appeareth in the man whom Christ bid sell that he had, and he went away very sorrowful, yet surely this vein must be pricked, and this humor let out, else it will spoil all, it will infect both soul and body, yea, and the contagion of it is such (as we shall see anon) as will even hazard the welfare of that society where self seekers and self-lovers are.

As God then did direct this Apostle to lay down this brief direction as a remedy for that evil in Corinth, so you may think it is by God’s special providence that I am now to speak unto you from this text : and say in your hearts, surely something is amiss this way : let us know it and amend it.

The parts of this text are two. 1. A Dehortation. 2. An Exhoxtation. The Dehortation, Let no man seek his own. Thev Exhortation, But every man another’s wealth.

In handling of which, I will first, open the words. Secondly, gather the doctrine. Thirdly, illustrate the doctrine by scriptures, experience and reasons. Fourthly, apply the same, to every one his portion.

The proper drift of the Apostle here is not to tax the Corinthians, for seeking their own evil ends in evil actions, but for aiming at themselves, and their own benefits in actions lawful, and that appeareth in the former verse, where he saith. All things are lawful, tf-c. viz. all such things as now we speak of, to eat any of God’s creatures, offered to idols or not, to feast and be merry together, to shew love and kindness to this or that person, &c. but when by such means we seek ourselves, and have not a charitable, loving and reverent regard of others, then they are unexpedient, unprofitable, yea unlawful, and must be forborne, and he that hath not learned to deny himself even the very use of lawful things, when it tendeth to the contempt, reproach, grief, offence and shame of his other brethren and associates, hatli learned nothing aright, but is, apparently, a man that seeks himself, and against -whom the Apostle here dealeth most properly…..

The writing of Cushman, Bradford and other Pilgrims shows that they had an excellent command of the English language. Except for William BREWSTER, [our ancestor too] few (if any) of the Leiden men were educated formally. Nevertheless all were literate and wrote, and presumably spoke with facility. Since the Pilgrims read and quoted the bible frequently, their command of language is not surprising. The Bible is poetic, eloquent and has a cadence that influenced English-speakers for centuries.

Creating the Undertakers in 1626 began a process that reversed Cushman’s 1621 advice sermon and transformed the colony’s fundamental beliefs. At no time was there a deliberate effort to repudiate Cushman’s advice. Rather, economic conditions altered the Pilgrims concept of community. Ostensibly, creating the Undertakers simply transferred the colony’s debt to familiar hands; inadvertently, the decision set into motion actions that made acceptable the pursuit of private gain.

Thomas Cushman remained in Plymouth under the care of Governor Bradford and his father returned to England on the Fortune on 13 Dec 1621. Carried on the Fortune were beaver pelts and other furs worth approximately 500 pounds obtained from trade with the Indians for corn. The cargo was the first shipment of goods to the Merchant Adventurers and important for their continued support. As luck would have it as the Fortune approached the English coast, French privateers stole its cargo and the passenger’s belongings. Cushman and the crew were imprisoned in France but returned to England in Feb 1622. Luckily the signed articles of agreement and the manuscript of Mourt’s Relation were not lost. Mourt’s Relation [published by our ancestor George MORTON] was written to assure the Merchant Adventurers of the success of the colony and to interest others to emigrate.

After 1621 Robert Cushman was the colony’s London agent arranging the transfer of remaining members of the Leiden congregation to Plymouth. As London agent, Cushman arranged the sale of furs and fish sent by the colonists to the Merchant Adventures purchased supplies for the colonists. When Miles Standish visited London in April 1626 he discovered that Robert Cushman had died (at age 48) during the spring of 1625.

Robert Cushman demonstrated enormous organizational ability. He was the principal person negotiating agreements with the crown and London investors, organizing the logistics to transport over a hundred people across the Atlantic, and lastly managing the finances to provision the colony and sell its products. His keen leadership was most evident when he persuaded the colonists to sign the articles of agreement they had strongly rejected the year before. Sadly he died before he could move to Plymouth and share the remainder of his life with associates who held him in such high esteem.
If the Speedwell had been seaworthy, and Robert Cushman not been ill and able to sail on the Mayflower, he would have been one of the first signers of the Compact along with John Carver, William Brewster and William Bradford.


1. Thomas CUSHMAN Sr. (See his page)

2. Child

Robert Cushman's child is included in the Leiden Pilgrim Burials

Robert Cushman’s child is included in the Leiden Pilgrim Burials

3. Sarah Cushman

Sarah’s husband William Hoskins was born 1613, Cork, Ireland. After Sarah died, he married 31 Dec 1638, Plymouth, Plymouth, MA, to Ann Hinds. William died 7 Sep 1695, Plymouth, Plymouth, MA

William Hoskins was one of the freeman in 1635. He married Sarah Cushman, and as a second wife, Ann Hynes, or Hinds. There is but little doubt that upon the incorporation of Middleboro as a town, in 1669, he was chosen town clerk, and continued in that office until 1693, although there is no official record of his election before May 24, 1681. At that time he was unanimously chosen to that office. His first election cannot be verified, as all of the town records were destroyed during King Philip’s War. He lived in Middleboro before the War, in the house of William Clark, and kept the original deed and records of the Prince and Coombs Purchase, and probably the records of the town. He is one of the soldiers “from Middleboro” who took part in the war, and was promised a grant of land for his services at Narragansett.

William’s  name is on the list of those who, on June 3, 1662, applied to the General Court at Plymouth in reference to a grant to be made to them as being the first-born children of this government, and for disposing of two several tracts of land lately purchased, the one by Major Winslow and the other by Captain Southworth. He was on the jury with John Tomson and Sergeant Ephraim Tinkham to try an Indian for murder in 1674. February 6, 1665, he was appointed administrator of the estate of Nicholas Hodgis, alias Miller, deceased. He had received a grant of land in Lakenham.

He was one of the men in the Twenty-six Men’s Purchase and also in the Purchade Purchase, but at the breaking out of the war he does not appear to have been an owner in any portion of that land. His name is among the former proprietors of the liberties of Middleboro, but before 1677 his interest therein passed to George Vaughan, Sr. He lived in Scituate, Plymouth, and Taunton, and in 1680 was “grown old and feeble.”
His children were Sarah, born Sep  16, 1636; William, born Nov 30, 1647; Samuel, born Aug  8, 1654.


Cushman, H. W., “Historical and Biographical Genealogy of the Cushmans: Robert Cushman the Puritan From the year 1617 to 1855”, Little, Brown, and Company, Boston, MA, 1855
French E., “Cushman, Genealogical Research in England”, NEHGR, 68:181, 1914
Cushman, M. L., “Pilgrims of the Fruitbelt A Cushman Genealogy”, Heritage Press, Lansing, MI, 1980
Cushman, R. E. and Cole F. P., “Robert Cushman of Kent”, General Society of Mayflower Descendents, Plymouth, MA, 1995
Stratton, E. A., “Plymouth Colony, Its History & People 1620-1691”, Ancestry Publishing, Salt Lake City, UT, 1986

A Historical and biographical genealogy of the Cushmans: the descendants of Robert Cushman, the Puritan, from the year 1617 to 1855 (1855) by Cushman, Henry Wyles, 1805-1863

This entry was posted in 13th Generation, Artistic Representation, Dissenter, First Comer, Immigrant - England, Line - Shaw, Storied, Wikipedia Famous and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Robert Cushman

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  7. Charles R. Donaldson says:

    I am told that I am descendant of Mary Allerton so I like to review the personal history of my ancestors for today, Thanksgiving, as I prepare for the festivities.
    Because of these ancestors I am here and for 70 years had a very fortunate life.

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  14. Tricia Baxter Canterbury Branch Secretary of Kent Family History Society. says:

    correction …
    Robert was married to Sarah Reder in St Alphege Church Canterbury Kent England. Plymouth is in Devon England and has no church dedicated to St Alphege.

    • markeminer says:

      Tricia, thank you for correcting that mistake. Every genealogist should know that Canterbury is not near Plymouth and certainly not IN Plymouth. I must have cut and paste – lol

      thanks again,

  15. Janine Bridges says:

    Dear Mark, in the 5th paragraph you state that “after Sarah died he married MARK Clark”! Gotta fix that! Janine Bridges, a cousin many times over. I appreciate your writings very much! Thanks!

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