Edward Winslow, born in England on October 18,1595, was the first born of five sons in a fairly well-to-do family. His father, Edward, worked in salt production. In 1613, at age seventeen, Winslow began an apprenticeship in a Stationers Company in London. However, before completing the apprenticeship, he moved to Holland – in 1617. Known as a printer from London, he joined the community of religious refugees living in Leiden. There he helped William Brewster publish illegal religious books and documents protesting the policies and practices of the Established Church of England. Others smuggled the publications back to England.
A year later, on April 17, 1618, Winslow married Elizabeth Barker. Two years later they joined a hundred others for the voyage on the Mayflower. Gilbert, Edward’s younger brother, traveled with them. Gilbert turned twenty during the crossing.
Widowed in His Twenties
Elizabeth was one of the last to die the first winter as a result of the brutal living conditions. Though the Wampanoags had lived in the region successfully for thousands of years before Europeans arrived, the English settlers struggled to survive. The first winter their diet consisted of what they found buried in Native communities, caught in the bay or hunted in the woods. Forty-five settlers died by spring 1621.
There was no time for romance. Two months later Edward remarried, on May 12, 1621. Newly appointed Governor William Bradford performed the wedding of Winslow and Widow Susanna (Jackson) White. Theirs was the first wedding in Plimoth Plantation. Suzanna was one of three pregnant women onboard the Mayflower. Her son, Peregrine, was born in 1620 aboard the ship while anchored in the harbor. The baby’s name refers to the fact they had come from a foreign country. The infant’s father, William, also died the first winter.
Less than a year after leaving Leiden, at age twenty-five, Edward Winslow’s household consisted of his second wife, her infant and young son Resolved, eight-year-old Ellen More, one of the four More unaccompanied minors sent on the trip by their investors, and two servants – George Soule and Elias Story. Given his brother Gilbert was not married, he likely lived with the Edward and Suzanna as well.
Even before the Mayflower sailed, Winslow proved himself a capable leader. He, along with William Bradford, Samuel Fuller, and Isaac Allerton corresponded with John Carver and Robert Cushman, when they traveled to London to make arrangements for their voyage.
Once established at Plimoth Plantation, Winslow continued a leadership role in the fledgling community. He joined other men on exploration trips around the Cape Cod region, wading through frigid water and marching over rough terrain, sometimes through rain or snow.
Meeting the Neighbors
In March 1621 Wampanoag Sachem Massasoit a hill stood overlooking the new settlement. He sent word to the settlers via Tisquantum, who spoke English, that he wanted to meet them. Afraid to send Governor John Carver, Edward Winslow agreed to go with Tisquantum to be presented to Massasoit and some sixty of his men. Governor Carver instructed Winslow to assure the Sachem they wanted only peace and to trade with them. Leaving Winslow with his brother, Quadequina, and his men, Massasoit and a few men crossed the brook and finally met these strange new people face to face. Massasoit, Governor Carver and several others from both cultures, worked out the details of a treaty. The treaty basically stated that neither would do harm to the other, and they would come to one another’s assistance should either need help.
Massasoit returned to where Winslow waited with the Natives. Then Quadequina left to meet the settlers, leaving Winslow with Massasoit. Quadequina came back and Winslow returned to the Plantation. Two days later Elizabeth died. Shortly after that, Governor John Carver died and the community appointed William Bradford as their new Governor. The community elected Bradford as Governor thirty-one times; but they also elected Winslow several times. When he wasn’t serving as Governor, he was serving as assistant to the Governor, or traveling internationally on their behalf.
Winslow also functioned as an ambassador between the English settlers and the Natives. In July he traveled with Stephen Hopkins to visit Massasoit’s home in Pokanoket, near modern Warren, Rhode Island. He recorded many of the activities of the settlers. Some of his recollections are recorded anonymously in Mourt’s Relation, which gives an account of the early explorations and encounters with the Wampanoags.
He frequently visited various Natives. On one of those trips he doctored Wampanoag Sachem Massasoit who’d become so ill it was reported he’d already died. Though still alive, Massasoit was quite ill when Winslow got to him. Apparently, the combination of Winslow’s chicken broth and some English dish he prepared nursed Massasoit back to health.
In his biography of Winslow Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs points out we can understand more about the Indians from Winslow than almost anyone else. “Notably, he was willing to re-assess his attitudes based on what he learned from the indigenous people he met. For example, in the first year, he thought they had no concept of religion at all. In the next year or two, though, he had a more elaborate idea of what they thought in philosophic and religious terms and he corrected what he said.”
Winslow the Diplomat
Winslow traveled back and forth across the Atlantic several time to represent the needs of both the Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay Colonies. On one of his trips he appealed to adversaries who denied their requests for permission to defend themselves from encroachments from the Dutch and French. English authorities detained him in jail for about four months, before releasing him to return to Plymouth.
In 1655 he left from England on an expedition to the West Indies. Oliver Cromwell commissioned him to go on a military expedition to reclaim Hispaniola and Jamaica. He died at sea May 8, 1655 near Jamaica, making Suzanna a widow for the second time. He and Suzanna had five children together: one who died in infancy and Edward, John, Josiah, and Elizabeth.
Winslow produced several significant writings, including a letter to a friend in Europe describing what little we actually know about the famous fall feast of 1621 between the English and the Wampanoag visitors.
Information for this blog comes in part from a November, 2016 Smithsonian article by John Hanc; The Mayflower and Her Passengers, Mayflower History web site, Mayflower.americanancestors.org and a Pilgrim Edward Winslow: New England’s First International Diplomat by Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs.
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