John Clark

John CLARK (1575 – 1623) was Alex’s 11th Great Grandfather; one of 4,096 in this generation in the Shaw line.  He was the pilot of the Mayflower and while the Pilgrims were exploring Cape Cod and Plymouth Harbor in their shallop, he brought them safely ashore at an Island, which is to this day known as Clark’s Island.  There the Pilgrims celebrated their first Sabbath.  Click for Google Map’s Satellite View of Clark’s Island  

We have more unrelated Clark families in our tree than any other surname.  In addition to John CLARK (Plymouth)  our Clark family founders are: John CLARK (Hingham) (1560 – 1615), Arthur CLARK (Boston) (1620 – 1665) and Lt. William CLARKE (Northampton) (1610 – 1690)

In a strange coincidence, another ancestor, John PARKER Sr., was also pilot for the Plymouth Company.   He was a mate on the 1607 voyage to found the Popham Colony, a short-lived English colonial settlement in North America loccated in the present-day town of Phippsburg, Maine, making him our first ancestor to arrive in North America.   For a long time historians believed John Parker came over to New England as mate on the Mayflower. But here one of our earliest historians was guilty of a false assumption that has been so often repeated by later writers that it has assumed the quality of being factual. He based this on a deposition found in the Mass. Superior Court files. It was sworn to by John Phillips 3rd of Charlestown on Nov. 20, 1750 stating that John Parker, his father’s uncle “was mate of the first ship that came from England with Plymouth people. “That historian concluded that “Plymouth People” were the Pilgrims and the first ship was the Mayflower. But it actually was referring to the town of Plymouth in England and the Plymouth Company ships in 1607.

John Clark - Coat of Arms

John Clark was born 26 Mar 1575 in Redriffe (Rotherhithe) Surrey, England.  His parents were William CLARKE (1553 – 1624) and Margaret WALKER (1553 – 1601). He married Mary MORTON on 19 Feb 1599 in Stepney, Middlesex, England.  John died in 1623 in Jamestown, Virginia.

After Mary died, he may have married Sybil Farrar on 18 Apr 1610 in St. Mary Morton, Stepney Parish, London, England.  My feeling is that a different John Clark married Sybil.

Rotherhithe (pronounced /ˈrɔðəhaɪð/) is a residential district in inner southeast London, England and part of the London Borough of Southwark. It is located on a peninsula on the south bank of the Thames, facing Wapping and the Isle of Dogs on the north bank, and is a part of the Docklands area.

Rotherhithe was a port from the 12th century or earlier until the 20th century, and has been a shipyard since Elizabethan times. With the arrival of the Jubilee line in 1999, the area is now rapidly gentrifying.

Mary Morton (Woton) was born in 1577 in St. Elins, London, England. Mary died in 1603 in of Westhorpe or St Dunstons, Stephney Parish, Suffolk, England.

Sybil Farrar (Ferron or Farr) was born Abt 1575 in Thriploe, Cambridge, England.

Children of John and Mary:

Name Born Married Departed
1. Deacon Thomas CLARK 8 Mar 1599/1600 in St. Dunstan’s, Stepney, London , England Susanna RING, before Jul 1631 in Plymouth Colony
Alice Hallet Nichols
of Boston
Prenuptial agreement signed 20 Jan 1664.
24 Mar 1697
His gravestone, one of the oldest extant on Burial Hill in Plymouth

John had a number of children, Susannah, Edward, Katherine, Thomas and George, but records about them are spotty.

John Clark’s son, Edward Clark, 1590-1630 remained in England, and Edward was the father of Michael Clark 1610-1678.   Alternatively, Edward was born about 1603 and was the son of John Clarke and Sybil Farr.  He married Diana Hayward (Haywood) Child of Edward Clarke is  Michael Clark, born Abt. 1625 in England; died October 05, 1678 in Christ Church, Barbadoes, West Indies; married Margaret [__?__] Bef. 1648 in England.

John’s father,William Clark, was born 1553 in Stevenage, Hertsfordshire, England. He is said to be the son of Sir Thomas Clarke. He married Margaret Walker on 22 January 1570 in Foulmere. Children of William Clark and Margaret Walker were:

1. John Clarke (see below)
2. Agnes Clarke
3. Susan Clarke
4. William Clarke
5. Katheryn Clarke
6. Thomas Clarke

John Insley Coddington argued forcefully that Thomas Clark was the son of John Clark, pilot of the Mayflower, and that he was identical with the “Thomas son of John Clarke of Ratliff” who was baptized 8 March 1599/1600 at St. Dunstan’s, Stepney, Middlesex [TAG 42:201-02]. The hypothesis is very attractive, and was accepted by Jacobus [TAG 47:3], but remains underproven.

Glazier, (“John Clarke, Mate of the ‘Mayflower’ in 1620” by Prentiss Glazier, Sr. in Detroit Society for Genealogical Research Magazine, 47:42) however, says the TAG 42 article “erroneously assumed that the Mate had been the John Clarke of Ratcliff who married Mary Morton at St. Dunstan’s in Stepney, Middlesex, in 1599, becoming parents of a son Thomas christened there 8 March 1599/1600, just eight weeks before the Rotherhithe Thomas Clarke. This mistake is understandable, since the churches are within sight of each other, just across the Thames from each other. It should be pointed out, however, that St. Dunstan’s records (Memorials of Stepney Parish p. 199) show that ‘Mr. John Clarke was chosen warden for Ratcliffe in 1627.’ The mate had died in 1623. The error was unintentionally included in the 1973 Thomas Clark Family by Mr. and Mrs. Arthur H. Radasch.”

From Mayflower – Master’s Mate: John Clark

John Clark was perhaps the John Clark baptized on 26 March 1575 in Rotherhithe, Surrey, England.  He first went to Jamestown, Virginia in March 1610 as a ship’s pilot.  There, at Point Comfort, he was captured by the Spanish in June 1611.  He was taken captive to Havana, Cuba, where he was interrogated, and then sent to Seville, Spain, and then on to Madrid in 1613.  He was held as a prisoner until he was exchanged for a Spanish prisoner held by the English in 1616.  He immediately went back to his occupation as a ship’s pilot, and took a shipment of cattle to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 under some-time pirate Thomas Jones.  In 1620, he was hired to be the master’s mate and pilot of the Mayflower, on its intended voyage to Northern Virginia.  While the Pilgrims were exploring Cape Cod and Plymouth Harbor, the shallop was caught in a storm and Clark brought them safely ashore at an Island, which is to this day known as Clark’s Island.  After returning, John Clark decided to settle in Virginia himself.  He went to Jamestown in 1623 on the ship Providence, with the intention of settling there, but died not too long after his arrival.

Much of John Clarke’s biographical history is known, but his genealogical history is less certain.  He is possibly the John Clarke who was baptized in Redriffe (Rotherhithe), Surrey, England on 26 Mar 1575, and may have been the father of Thomas Clarke, an early Plymouth settler.   A baptism for Thomas Clark, son of John Clark of Rotherhithe is found on 8 Mar 1599/1600 at St. Dunstans, Stepney, Middlesex, England. He may be the John Clarke who married Sibil Farron 18 Apr 1610 in Rotherhithe, or the John Clarke who married Mary Morton on 18 Feb 1598/9 in Stepney, Middlesex–or perhaps he was married twice.

John Clarke had made several trips to Jamestown, Virginia, as well as to New England.  According to his depositions, he began sailing in about 1603 and was a pilot by 1607.  He was in Malaga in 1609 and in March of 1611, made his first voyage to America with Sir Thomas Dale, coming to the English Colony of Jamestown.  He sailed as pilot of a small squadon of merchant ships.  He had visited Virginia only once before, or so he said.  One wonders how he got the job based on that rather slim experience.  But there weren’t many English mariners experienced on the coasts of America, so Clark’s voyage may not have been out of the ordinary.

There were three ships bound for the four year old colony.  THe cargo was 600 barreles of flour, fifty tons of gunpower and a consignment of arquebusses, 17th C handguns.  In addition 100 cows, 200 pigs, 100 goats, 17 mares and 300 soldiers were crowded into the vessels.  In mid June, after an uneventful crossing, the soldiers were off loaded at Fort Algernon on Point Comfort, just inside the Chesapeake Bay and the supplies were taken upriver to Jamestown.

John was in Jamestown for several months when a Spanish ship was caught by the English making observations of the colony.

Tensions between England and Spain were high.  When Don Pedro de Cuniga, the Spanish ambassador in London sent word to Madrid of the Virginia Company’s plan to send 2,000 more setters to Jamestown the Spanish King Philip was alarmed about the threat the English settlers might pose to the Spanish treasure ships.   Tow English Jesuit priests from the Catholic English seminary at Seville, loyal to Spain were dispatched to stake out Jamestown, spy on the fortifications and report back to Madrid.

On Jun 14, 1610, as Jamestown recovered from a winter famine, a new Spanish ambassador in London, Don Alonso de Velasco, reported back to Madrid that the colony was in trouble and “it would be easy to undo it completely by sending a few ships to finish off the survivors.”  Instead, Captain Diego de Molina and his ensign, Marco Antonio de Perez were sent on a spy mission, departing from Lisbon harbor  April 13, 1611 on the caravel La Nuestra Senora del Rosario bound for Havana.

Their cover story was that they were going to recover the artillery of a wrecked ship.  Their real job, however, was to reconnoiter Jamestown.  If there was any diplomatic fallout, the Spanish would deny it and blame their renegade Florida governor for overstepping his authority.  Also aboard the Nuestra was a confidente, an Englishman who was a Spanish spy.  Some mystery still shrouds his identiy, but he was known as James Limry or Limrick.

The story of what happened when the Nuestra sailed into Chesapeake Bay varies depending on whether you read the English or Spanish accounts.   According to the account Clark later gave to his Spanish interrogators, Molina, posing as a sailor, ensign Marco Antonio de Perez and Francisco Lembri, their English pilot-interpreter came ashore at Point Comfort from the ship’s boat and were met in all civility by Clarke, Captain James Davis and English troops.  Later, Clarke says they all sat down for a meal.  The caraval, the boat and the crews remained offshore.

Modern day Fort Monroe on Old Point Comfort is much more imposing than Fort Algernon was in 1611 when Clark was taken prisoner by the Spanish

Old Point Comfort is a point of land located in the city of Hampton. It lies at the extreme tip of the Virginia Peninsula at the mouth of Hampton Roads in the United States. It formed the beginning of the boundary of colonial Virginia.

After eating, Davis suggested the caravel be brought into a safe anchorage for the night and Clark was ordered to help pilot the Nuestra into position.  But when Clark was safely aboard the Spanish vessel, the crew thought he was trying to move the ship into better range of an English attack for seizure.  They refused to budge and Clark became a Spanish prisoner.

In Clark’s report, it was the Spanish who had started it all.  The Nuestra’s captain said that it was the “dirty English” who had double-crossed them by taking Molida, Perez and their interpreter prisoner and that Clark was trying to lure the Spanish ship into danger.  They claimed Clark was made captive by the Spanish crew when they discovered that their leaders were being held by the English.  The captain of the La Nuestra upped anchor and escaped back to Havana, leaving behind the two Spaniards and the English spy as prisoners of the Virginians.

King Philip instructed his ambassador to appeal to King James “to procure the liberty” of the two Spaniards and to insist that the Nuestra had been on a search for a lost vessel, not spying.  All the Spaniards had to show for the mission was John Clark, or Juan Clerg as he is named in the transcripts.  From the record of his interview of July 23, 1611 it is obvious that Clark told the Spanish what they wanted to hear.  He drew charts of the bay showing the fathoms.  He described the fortifications in detail, the placement and sizes of the guns, the number of men and boats.  He explained how the colonists grew corn and gathered walnuts for food and sometimes there was fish and sometimes there was not.

Clark expanded on the truth which might have saved his life.  He said a hundred leagues into the mountains, there was gold in Virginia.  Hearing that his ambassador in London was arranging  atransfer of prisoners, King Philip ordered that Clark be shipped from Cuba and “brought henceforth to the prison of the Casa de la Contratacion in Madrid,” and treated well.    He was then taken to Seville, Spain, and then to Madrid where there exists a record of his  18 Feb 1613 examination.  Little changed in his account, except that this time he said he was forty years old and a Roman Catholic.

He calls himself 35 years old in his 1611 deposition, and calls himself 40 years old in 1613, giving his residence as London. He was released to the English in 1616, in a prisoner exchange between England and Spain.  Alternatively, he was ransomed by King James I of England.

The records of the Virginia Company allege a Spanish effort to “turn” John Clark into a double agent.  They say

he was carried to Spayne and there deteyned fower years thinkinge to have made him an instrument to betray the Plantacion

Clark was still in Madrid under house arrest in 1616, four years after his arrival.  The Council of War saw to it that his keepers maintained him “in good custody and guard, givng him good entertainment and comforts” and paid the prison charges as well as his food and lodging.

Finally, the spy-swap deal was done.  For the release of John Clark in Madrid, Captain Molina was the only prisoner handed over to the Spanish ambassador in London.  Ensign Perez died in captivity and it was reported that the traitorous English spy was hanged by Sr Thomas Dale, Virginia’s governor.

John Clarke is mentioned in a letter written by [our ancestor and the Pilgrim’s business agent] Robert CUSHMAN on 11 Jun 1620:

“We have hired another pilot here, one Mr. Clarke, who went last year to Virginia with a ship of kine.”

This 1619 trip was to deliver another cargo of cattle to Virginia with Captain Thomas Jones of the Falcon, a some-time pirate.

John piloted a Shallop like this one during the Pilgrim early explorations

John was the Masters Mate and pilot of the Mayflower, although he did not sign the Mayflower Compact.  He accompanied the Pilgrims on many of the exploring parties, piloting the shallop.  Clarks Island in Duxbury Bay is named after him, because he miraculously brought the shallop ashore during a strong storm on one of these expeditions.

While the Pilgrims were exploring Cape Cod and Plymouth Harbor, the shallop was caught in a storm and Clark brought them safely ashore at an Island, which is to this day known as Clark’s Island.

John Clarke was hired to be the Masters Mate on the Mayflower by the Virginia Company and the Merchant Adventurers because he had been to the American coast on several prior occasions.

The Mayflower was used primarily as a cargo ship, involved in active trade of goods (often wine) between England and other European countries, (principally France, but also Norway, Germany, and Spain). Like many ships of the time, the Mayflower was most likely a carrack with three masts, square-rigged on the foremast and mainmast but lateen-rigged on the mizzenmast. At least between 1609 and 1622, it was mastered by Christopher Jones, who would command the ship on the famous transatlantic voyage, and based in John Clarks hometown, Rotherhithe, London, England.Details of the ships dimensions are unknown, but estimates based on its load weight and the typical size of 180 ton merchant ships of its day suggest an estimated length of 90–110 feet and a width of about 25 feet.  The ship had a crew of twenty-five to thirty,  along with other hired personnel; however, the names of only five are known.

Mayflower Timeline

August 15, 1620   Sailed from Southampton, England.
September 16.   Sailed from Plymouth, England.
November 16.   William Butten died at sea.
Nov 19.   First sighted Cape Cod.
Nov 21.   Signed “The Compact.” Anchored in Cape Cod Harbor and went ashore.
Nov 23.   Took the shallop ashore for repairs.
Nov 25.   First exploring party set out by land.
Nov 26.   Discovered Truro Springs, Pamet River, Cornhill
December 7.   Second exploring party set out with the shallop.


The new First Encounter Monument reads: NEAR THIS SITE


Dec 12.   Found the wigwams, graves, etc.
Dec 14.   Edward Thomson died. The first death after reaching Cape Cod.
December 16.   Third exploring party set out with the shallop. Jasper More died.
Dec 17.   Dorothy (May) Bradford died.
Dec 18.   James Chilton died. First encounter with the Indians. Reached Clarks Island at night.    [Due to our ancestors extraordinary piloting skills!
Sat. Dec. 19   Spent on Clark’s Island
Dec 20.   Third exploring party spent the Sabbath on Clark’s Island.
Dec 21.    FOREFATHERS DAY.Third exploring party landed on Plymouth Rock, and explored the coast.
Dec 25.  The Mayflower set sail from Cape Cod for Plymouth, but was driven back by a change in the wind.
Dec 26.   The Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Harbor.

First Sabbath Service of the Pilgrims - 20 Dec 1620 "The next day, the Sabbath, the men returned to an immense rock at the center of Clarks Island and gave God thanks for his mercies in their manifold deliverances."

During the winter the passengers remained on board the Mayflower, suffering an outbreak of a contagious disease described as a mixture of scurvy, pneumonia and tuberculosis. When it ended, there were only 53 passengers, just more than half, still alive. Likewise, half of the crew died as well.  On March 21/31, 1621, all surviving passengers, who had inhabited the ship during the winter, moved ashore at Plymouth, and on April 5/15, the Mayflower, a privately commissioned vessel, returned to England.

On 13 February 1622, the Virginia Company records state:

Mr. Deputy acquainted the court, that one Mr. John Clarke beinge taken from Virginia long since by a Spanish ship that came to discover that plantation; that forasmuch as he hath since that time done the companie good service in many voyages to Virginia, and of late went into Ireland for transportation of cattle to Virginia, he was an humble suitor to this court, that he might be admitted a free brother of the companie, and have some shares of land bestowed upon him.

John was given two shares in the Virginia Company for his service. He sailed to Virginia on 10 April 1623 in Daniel Gookin’s ship, the Providence, and died shortly after he arrived.

According to The First Republic in America: An Account of the Origin of this Nation, by Alexander Brown, the colonists Clarke brought over were among the men who fell at the Indian Massacre of 1622 in Jamestown. The massacre was orchestrated by the Powhatan Confederacy as a warning to other settlers. John Smith wrote that the Powhatan “came unarmed into our houses with deer, turkeys, fish, fruits, and other provisions to sell us.” It was absolutely ruthless – all men, women and children were killed and their crops burned to the ground

A day or so after [14 Apr 1622] Mr. Gookin’s ship, the Providence, with John Clarke as pilot, arrived at New Port Newce with forty men for him and thirty passengers besides. Which ship had also been long out and suffered extremely in her passage.

“Of all Mr Gookin’s men which he sent out the last year we found but seven — the rest being all killed by the Indians, and his plantation ready to fall to decay.” After the arrival of these ships the colonists appealed ” to God to send us some ships with provisions”


Massachuetts Historical Society Proceedings, 3d series, 54 (1920):61-77, “John Clark of the Mayflower”. 

American Historical Review 25:448-479, “Spanish Policy toward Virginia, 1606-1612; Jamestown, Ecija, and John Clark of the Mayflower”. 

The American Genealogist 42:201-202, 47:3-16 

Of Plymouth Plantation, by William Bradford, written 1630-1654 

The Genesis of the United States, by Alexander Brown, 1964, pages 854-855. 

Records of the Virginia Company

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16 Responses to John Clark

  1. Pingback: Thomas Clarke | Miner Descent

  2. lewis clark says:

    i have learned a lot about john clark my 11th great grandfather by reading this and now want to visit clarks island

    — Lewis (alex) Clark —

    • Erinn Swan says:

      I am related to John Clark and Mary Morton. I had thought this marriage to not be right because cold not find any data to historically clear it. What other historical evidence is there. Just trying to be vigilant. I am also related to Arthur Howland Sr. and Jr. via Elizabeth Prence who married Arthur Jr. It is said that Thomas was married to Mary Collier and had five daughters according to his will I printed. Jane,Mary,Sarah, Elizabeth, and Judith. I know Thomas was married nine times and had more daughters and one son Thomas correct who died young. So all the Prences come from women ancestors correct. I am looking for more. I know now I most be related to a lot of other pilgrims through sisters and half sisters.

      • michael clark says:

        You are correct; John’s son, Thomas I, born 1599, had his first son with Susan Ring; Thomas Clarke (2)
        Birth LATE 1629 OR EARLY 1630 OF A COMMON LAW WEDLOCK VOW OFTEN DONE IN PLYMOUTH COLONY, • Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States

        Death 1651 VERY SHORTLY AFTER THE BIRTH OF HIS SON JOSEPH • Plymouth, Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States

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  8. LClark says:

    So John CLark and Lt. Willam Clark (1609-1690- Northampton) arent related?

  9. Pingback: Lt. William Clarke | Miner Descent

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  11. Mike Clark..
    John Clark is my 9th Great Grandfather..

  12. Pingback: Favorite Posts 2013 | Miner Descent

  13. Wayne Rasmussen says:

    John Edward Clarke, b 1575 d 1623, is my 11th great grandfather. Listed on the “Living and Dead in Virginia” under living at Jordan’s Journey is an Edward Clark with a wife and child. Edward and family are absent on the 1624/5 Muster for Jordan’s Journey. If John Edward Clarke arrived sick it would make sense that he would stay with Sybil Farrar’s relative, William Farrar, my 9th great grandfather, who was living at Jordan’s Journey. If this is true John Edward Clarkes body may be the second older male recovered from the site. Do you know if DNA was recovered from the Jordan’s Journey body? Can anyone debunk this theory?

  14. Joe rigdon says:


    John Clarke’s 1619 voyage from Ireland to Virginia on the ‘Falcon’ was on behalf of Danial Gookin. John also returned to Virginia in December 1621 accompanied by Danial Gookin and on Gookin’s ship ‘Providence’. Gookin’s plantation had a large number of settlers at the time of the March 22, 1622 Indian attacks and most of them (“over 50”) were killed and only 7 survived. Gookin abandoned his Virginia plantation after that and moved to (IIRC) Maryland. I feel strongly that John was probably killed at Gookin’s plantation during, or due to, the Indian attacks but there is no direct record since there were so few survivors. FWIW an unsourced record claims that John died on the 10th of April. If true then he probably died due to wounds inflicted during the attack. FYI due to inaccuaracies in the Julian calender, the 10 of April was AFTER the solar new year so actually in the year 1623 but the previous March 22 was in 1622!

    I am also descended from the Jordans and I have closely studied that family and Jordan’s Journey and their other holdings but I have never seen any mention of any connection between John Clarke and any of the Jordans or the Farrars*.

    *There was a John Clarke that was the Master of the flyboat ‘Roe Buck’ in 1585 and was part of the settling of the 2nd colony of Roanoke. At the time the ‘Roe Buck’ was owned by Sir Walter Raleigh. There were “Ferrers” that were long involved with Sir Walter Raleigh and his exploration of the Caribbean and his raids on the Spanish there. Is Ferrer the same as Farrar? Is that John Clarke the same John Clarke that was at Jamestown beginning in 1608 and died there in 1622? I haven’t done any research yet on the first question but the answer to the second would seem to be yes.

    I think that there was a close connection between John Clarke, Daniel Gookin and some of the Puriitans and Pilgrims that has never been researched. Even Daniel Gookin’s history has never been adequately researched. His Virginia plantation seems to have been settled mostly by English and Irish religious dissenters but there is little record of them. FYI there are at least three other Clarkes that are closely associated with the Pilgrims, and other Clarke (William) that was associated with the plot that Sir Walter Raleigh was executed for, and another Clarke that was associated with the exploration of Newfoundland with Sir Humprey Gilbert. Gilbert was the step brother of Sir Walter Raleigh! But how are all of these Clarkes related? Also associated with Sir Walter Raleigh and his voyages to the Caribbean in the late 1500s were George Somers, Christopher Newport and Thomas West. All of them would soon play important roles in the founding of Jamestown. A lot of research needs to be done to explain all of these connections.

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