Matriarch Mary Brewster

Vacation is over for now. It it time for me to turn my attention to Matriarch Mary Brewster.  Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures is bobbing along peacefully on the book sales seas. The book stores I visited on our August trip either already had my historical fiction  or eagerly agreed to stock it. This past Tuesday I had the chance to chat with Pastor Kathleen Panning on her Aflame Ministry radio show about how life in Plimoth Plantation can inform  immigration issues today.

I’ve been avoiding the excessive Texas heat to stay inside learning and writing about Matriarch Mary Brewster. Though we know little about her, we know a lot about where she went and what she encountered in England, Holland and Plimoth Plantation. Her biography encourages me when I feel overwhelmed by circumstances beyond my control. Most current circumstances are beyond my control.

This great – very great – grandmother of mine faced plenty of tough times beyond her control. Today I’m giving you a sample of her fictional biography. It is coming out (I hope) next March for Women’s History Month. The children in this excerpt are her actual children. She also gave birth to a stillborn child; history does not indicate if it was a male or female. The theories about how the children’s names were chosen are speculation, based on what we know about the Brewsters and the times in which they lived.

Matriarch Mary Brewster’s Children

Now that we are all safely settled together here in Plimoth, I thought I should write of our adventures so you will know where our family has come from. This planation by the sea is so unlike my growing up years in Nottinghamshire. I can hardly believe the life I have lived.

I shall start with how we choose each of your names. On a warm spring day your father and I sat on a stone wall talking. I knew I was nurturing a child within my womb. The thrill of feeling the baby kick and stretch made my heart skip. When you were born, we were thrilled to have a darling baby boy. Your father had already presumed our first child would be a boy, and as was often the case, he got what he wanted.

Jonathan Brewster

I asked your father what name he would propose, presuming he would say “William,” after himself, and his father before him. I should not have been surprised that he proposed an entirely different idea. I remember his words all these years later. He said, “I have thought much about that. A name is so important for setting the course of a child’s life. What do you think about Jonathan? Was another Jonathon not the brave son of King Saul? Was he not the most loyal friend to mighty King David?”

I loved it. That is how you are named Jonathon. We welcomed you with such grateful hearts in August 1593.

Some Patience Required

Patience, we chose your name for it required great patience of us as we waited for you. For six long years I thought perhaps Jonathan would be our only child. Month after agonizing month passed with new evidence the time for another baby had not yet come. But then, in the oddest way that life sometimes does unfold, the waiting was over. We were barely into the promise of a new century when we rejoiced to bring you into our little family. So, we chose for you the name that recorded what was required of us to wait for you – Patience.

The Fear of the Lord

Fear – though some assume we chose your name for the circumstances of our lives at the time of your birth – that was not the case. Our circumstances were certainly fraught with many concerns by 1605. Your father’s faith led him and many others to realize there was need for much mending in the fabric of the Church. They sought a truer path by separating from what they believed could not be purified.

The fear of the Lord compelled your father and others to defy those blinded by power. When it came time to provide a name for you, it was natural to select Fear. You became a living reminder that within our community, our lives revolved around the fear of the Lord.

Finding Love in a New Land

Dear Love, by the time the Lord blessed my womb with another child we lived far away from the harm that drove us out of England. In 1609 we settled into the most pleasant city of Leyden, where we were surrounded by friends as dear to us as our own family. All who had need of anything were soon enough aided by others in our fellowship. Though we knew hardships, we never lacked for care and companionship.

When we first arrived in Leyden we had to bury one precious tiny soul. The poor babe never drew a single breath. I thought perhaps three children should be my allotment. I’ve never forgotten about Baby William. His tiny corpse lies buried in Leyden. His spirit lives deep within my heart.

Glad and grateful was I for the three I had. Yet, what joy I had when I experienced the familiar signs that another baby was growing safely within my aging womb. We were so surrounded by love that we decided to give you a name that would capture the essence of our fellowship of Separatists.

A Season of Decisions

My dearest Wrestling, you shall always remind us that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be His name. As wonderful as our congregation had become, we had our challenges. Some grew restless and weary of the hardships living as guests in a place so different from home. There was constant talk about this strange new place across the great ocean. More than a few among our fellowship began to dream of seeing it for themselves.

I thought my childbearing years were over. Then much as the Lord surprised Sarah with a child well beyond her fertile years, I was delighted to learn we would soon add one more child to our family. I was 47 years old! I can well imagine how Sarah must have felt when at her advanced age she learned she would bear Abraham a child from her own womb. By the time you were born, the men seriously wrestled with the notion of leaving to establish a new settlement across the sea. It was only natural we should name you Wrestling.

Matriarch Mary Brewster

The biography I am preparing will be fictional, based on what we know about the life of Elder William Brewster and others at Plimoth Plantation, and what we know about the lot of women in the sixteenth and seventeenth century.  The woman in the photo with this post is Emma J. Brewster, the Great x 9 granddaughter of Mary Brewster and my great grandmother.


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