Elder William and Mary Brewster

I discipline churchgoers with godly lessons and sharp words if they do not change their ways. My goal is to open their hearts so that they seek forgiveness.  (William Brewster)

William and Mary Brewster are my great x 12 grandparents. While doing research for the two historical novels I wrote with them as the main characters, I spent as much time in the 16th and 17th centuries as I did in the 21st one. The more I learned about them the more I concluded they were truly an amazing couple. Now both Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures and Mary Brewster’s Love Life: Matriarch of the Mayflower are published and available in print and eBook formats. Mayflower Chronicles is also available in audiobook format.  

I am in awe of the Brewsters and the others who made the dangerous journeys from their peaceful Scrooby village in Northern England to Leiden, and on to the Mayflower.

Most people pick up the Pilgrim story with the arrival of the Mayflower in Cape Cod in 1620 and drop the story after what is widely claimed to be the first Thanksgiving. The story starts much earlier than 1620 and has repercussions that are still unfolding today. In recent years the descendants of those whose land and way of life were devastated by the arrival of thousands of Europeans have been more organized and vocal in telling us the rest of the story. We need to listen. However, for this blog, let me introduce you to this remarkable couple.

William at Peterhouse, Cambridge University

William was the only Mayflower passenger with any college education. He studied briefly at Peterhouse in Cambridge University but did not graduate. Historians do not know why, but I suspect he returned home to help his father as his mother was nearing the end of her life.

William and Mary married at St. James (Later renamed St. Wilfred) in Scrooby. We do not know with any certainty which family Mary comes from; though genealogists and historians have been trying to figure that out for years. One popular theory (it is only a theory) is that she was the daughter of Thomas Wentworth, who was the Bailiff and Postmaster at Scrooby until his death.

William’s father assumed that position after Thomas Wentworth died. When the senior William Brewster died, our Pilgrim William Brewster, Jr. assumed the role.

Before taking over his father’s role at Scrooby Manor, young William was a secretary or administrative assistant to William Davison, who was in diplomatic service to Queen Elizabeth I. She appointed him to her Privy Council. He served Her Majesty as Ambassador to the Netherlands and was named her Secretary of State. Pilgrim Brewster accompanied Davison on many of his court visits trips to the Netherlands on her behalf.

Mother Mary Brewster

William and Mary had five children, and one stillborn infant. Jonathan, Patience, and Fear were born while they lived in Scrooby. Fear’s rather unusual name is based on their commitment to rely on their fear of the Lord rather than the dictates of the Established Church. By the time Fear was born, her parents were deeply involved in the highly controversial Separatist movement. The term ‘fear’ does not mean to be afraid, though their defiance of the Established Church was certainly cause for fear. Rather the term means to be in awe or wonder at the mysterious ways in which God provides.

Two more sons were born after they emigrated to Leiden in Holland. Love was so named because the Separatists in Leiden felt such close kinship with one another they were as one large extended family. Wrestling’s name may be because when he was born, the Leiden community was contemplating migrating to the New World. Such a move was obviously very bold and precarious. They wrestled with the possibility for several years before committing to take their chances.

William the Underground Printer

The decision to take their chances in the New World was solidified when Dutch authorities, under directives from King James, confiscated Brewster’s printing business. Like Martin Luther a century earlier, Brewster printed pamphlets and books that criticized the Established Church. Others smuggled them back to England. Authorities eventually traced them to Brewster’s garret workshop on the top floor of his home in Leiden.

To avoid arrest, William hid for most of the year before the families going to the New World boarded the ship for the voyage. The majority of the passengers were strangers to their close-knit congregational friends. They referred to them as Strangers. The Adventurers, businessmen who financed the trip, insisted they join the Leiden folks. Given their extreme devotion to their religious convictions, they were sometimes called the Saints. Together they made up the English settlers who established Plimoth Plantation on the site of a deserted native village Patuxet along Cape Cod Bay.

Mary said goodbye to her three older children – Jonathan, Patience, and Fear – when she left Holland. She traveled to Southampton with her two younger sons to meet up with William and the other settlers. She and William were eventually reunited with three older children – Jonathan a year later; and the daughters two years later. By the 1600s European ships crossed the Atlantic frequently.

In addition to her own two young sons, Mary assumed responsibility for two of the four More children sent on the journey. History is unclear why these children were sent; one theory being their parents separated and the father didn’t want them to have access to his estate. Again, only a theory.

Survival of the Fittest

As more and more passengers died from extreme hardships, Mary assumed responsibility for newly orphaned children and young adults.  Being one of the older women in the group, she functioned basically as the colony Matriarch. History has recorded very little about her life, in spite of the major role she must have played nursing the sick, raising orphaned children, feeding family and friends, and other chores necessary for survival in the strange new world,

Mary Brewster was one of only five adult women to survive the first winter. She was one of four still alive for what we consider the “First Thanksgiving.” It really wasn’t, since many cultures set aside a time to give thanks for a successful harvest. But there was a three-day feast in the fall of 1621 and the local Indigenous people were in attendance. Mary died on April 17, 1627, the day after the birth of a granddaughter, also named Mary. William died peacefully in his own bed and surrounded by his family and friends on April 10, 1644.

Sources: http://www.bbc.co.uk/legacies, Pilgrim: A Biography of William Brewster by Mary B. Sherwood (Great Oak Press of Virginia, Falls Church, Virginia), and William Brewster: The Making of a Pilgrim by Sue Allan.

Thank you for taking the time to read about the Brewsters and some of the story behind our traditional Thanksgiving. Share it with a friend or sign up for your own free subscription at HowWiseThen. I will not sell your information.

Mary Brewster’s Love Life and Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures: available wherever books are sold. Bookshop.org/Mayflower; Mary BrewsterAmazon.com/Mary Brewster’s Love Life
Autographed copies are available on my website.


  1. Dear Kathy. i am also the 10 x Great Grandaughter of William and Mary Brewster. I want to Thank You for this information as it is so very interesting ! Patience Brewstet is my 9 x Great Grandmother. !! Thank You again and please feel free to contact me.

  2. Well I guess that makes us – what – about 12th cousins? Thanks for reaching out to me. I’m publishing about the Mayflower in historic fiction format through the lives of William AND Mary Brewster. He gets all the attention, but he couldn’t have done what he did without her help. She’s an amazing woman – even if we don’t know much about her before when she married William.

  3. Hi Kathy, looks like we’re very distant cousins. Mary Brewster was my 14th cousin. Thank you for writing this. I know that some of what has been written about Mary, they state that they do not know her maiden name. In case you didnt know, Mary’s full name is Mary Love Wentworth Brewster

  4. Hi Cousin – Part of why I’m writing these is to meet people like you. My brother and I had reservations for the Brewster reunion in Plymouth in September. Of all the 2020 things that had to cancel because of COVID, that is the one I miss the most. I live in Texas. Where are you located?

  5. Danielle Phillips

    I recently discovered that William and Mary Brewster are my 11th Great Grandparents! Their son Jonathan is my 10th Great Grandfather. I descend from his daughter Mary, who married John Turner… and so on and so on. I’m really enjoying researching my ancestors. Thank you for publishing this!

  6. Rosalyn Owens Finnegan

    I, too, have just discovered that William Brewster is my 11th great-grandfather. I look forward to reading more. Than you for your efforts in such an endeavor!
    Rosalyn Owens Finnegan

  7. Sherry Anne Blumer Gettys

    William Brewster is my 11th great-grandfather. My four siblings and I are descendants of his son Jonathan. Thank you so much for the information. I live in South Carolina; siblings are in Georgia and North Carolina.

  8. Cheryl J Doubrava

    William Brewster is also my 10th Great Grandfather I found out this month. I have been trying to find out if he is my 10th, is he my childrens 11th great grandfather? He comes from my father’s side of my family who settled in Main, NH and Mass way back when.
    Any reply would be welcomed,
    Cheryl Jones Doubrava
    I want to surprise my two children at Thanksgiving on Thursday

  9. William & Mary Brewster are my 13th Great Grandparents on my mother’s side of the family.

    Me > My Mother > Betty Ingram Noth, my maternal grandmother > Mary Florence Gregory Ingram, my great-maternal grandmother > Mary Frances Singleton Gregory, my 2nd great grandmother > Millie Susan Selena Hill Singleton, my 3rd great grandmother > Mary Hollowell Hill, my 4th great grandmother > Jane Dodd Hollowell, my 5th great grandmother > Henryetta Gross Weaver Dodd, my 6th great grandmother > Freeman Gross, II, my 7th great grandfather > Freeman Gross, I, my 8th great grandfather > Experience Freeman, my 9th great grandmother > Edmund Freeman, my 10th great grandfather > Mary Prence Freeman, my 11th great grandfather > Patience Brewster Prence, my 12th great grandmother > WILLIAM & MARY BREWSTER – my 13th Great Grandparents

  10. Someone has been doing a lot of genealogy work! I’m 12 generations removed from Elder Brewster and his wife Mary. I am hoping to attend a Brewster reunion in Plymouth later this year; if they go forward with one.

  11. Cynthia Mallinak

    I too am in the lineage, this bravely devout couple are my 10 th GGranparents. . Thank you for the info.

  12. Hi Cynthia – The more I learn about the Brewsters of the Mayflower the more impressed I am with them. I’m now doing research on Mary Brewster. There isn’t nearly as much information about her as her famous husband, but enough to write a biography about her.

  13. Kirsten Inderbitzin

    I just found out through ancestry.com that William and Mary Brewster are my 11x grandparents on my mother’s side. I’m very intrigued by their story and the family history.

  14. Hello Cousin Kirsten. The more I learn about these ancestors, the more impressed I am with them; and amazed they lived to pass their heritage onto another generation. I’m working on a biography now about Mary Brewster. Did you know her granddaughter, also named Mary, was born the day before the older Mary died? this family is absolutely amazing.

  15. Michelle Forbes

    I have always thought I was just a mutt. But it appears thru Ancestry, William IV & Mary Brewster are also my 11th great-grandparents, via their son Jonathan (Lucretia). I’m dumbfounded. Thank you so much for sharing your research!

  16. The more I delve into the history of William and Mary Brewster, the more amazed I am about all they did and endured. They are amazing relatives.

  17. PS: If you don’t already have a copy of Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures, I’m offering a year-end special rate of $16.20 through the end of the year. You can order your copy by contacting me through my website.

  18. Bobby haupt rose

    Amazing work!! I love everything I can learn about my grandparents!!! William b was my grandpa too!! I find this so amazing!!!
    I am an enrolled Makah Indian. I live in neah bay Washington. I am a gram n great gram to 21 kids n counting!!!! Hahha
    Thank u for all ur hard work!!

  19. Garrison Lawton

    wow recently received a copy of family tree I never knew existed(im57) Floored was my reaction.Im 13x PATIENCE Brewster Prence and 13x fellow pilgrim Stephen Hopkins daughter Constance

  20. Hello, Kathy!! Thank you for your extensive work on your book “The tale of Two Cultures”. I would like info. to buy it. l am 11x granddaughter to William and Mary Brewster through Jonathan and Lucretia!!! I only learned of this a year ago, so still learning more each day!! I am fascinated with Mary being only 1 of the 4 women who survived the 1st winter in Plimoth!!!! So excited to read your new book about Mary when it’s published!! Thank you for all you do, dear cousin!!!

  21. Virginia M Finsterwald

    Just finished the Mary Brewster book and it has renewed my interest in my genealogy (also a Brewster descendant) and really has me looking forward to my upcoming visit to Plymouth with my cousin (also a Brewster descendant) this August. Thank you for such an enjoyable read based on real lives.

  22. Hello Virginia – I’m so pleased you found the book helpful in rekindling your interest in learning more about our amazing very great grandmother. Be sure to stop by Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth, and if you have time, Plymoth Patuxet. Both are goldmines of interesting information about that chapter of history and our mutual ancestor.

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