Only about a third of the Mayflower passengers were part of the religious refugees who fled England to live in the more tolerant Holland before sailing on the famous ship. Stephen Hopkins and his second wife, Elizabeth were among those who sailed for other reasons. His biography is amazing.
He was born in 1581 in Upper Clatford, Hampshire, England. By 1604 he was living in Hursley, Hampshire and married to Mary. Their first child was daughter Elizabeth. The next child was also a daughter, Constance, followed by their son, Giles. We know he was still in England when the Separatists refugees fled for the Netherlands because he was fined in May 1608 in England, though for what we do not know.
A New Career and a Long Voyage
About that time Pastor Richard Buck with the Virginia Company hired him to serve as his clerk and do the readings for Sunday Services. Accepting the position meant leaving Mary and three young children behind in England. He sailed for the Jamestown Colony from Plymouth, England in June 1609.
People in England had heard that after two only years the settlers in Jamestown faced famine, Indian attacks, and mismanagement. Understandably, people were discouraged and some refused to work. The Virginia Company sent a fleet of seven ships and two small pinnaces to assist them. Thomas Gates, the newly appointed Jamestown Governor, was one of the passengers.
After about six weeks at sea the ships encountered a ferocious storm. The ships in the fleet got separated. Hopkins, Governor Gates, and the fleet’s Admiral George Summers sailed the Sea Venture, along with about 140 other men and ten women. Sea Venture Captain Christopher Newport had delivered the first settlers to Jamestown in 1607.
Way Off Course
For nearly a week the storm raged about them, threatening to swamp the ship. Men worked in shifts, bailing water for an hour, sleeping for an hour, and returning to bail water for another hour. Finally, when things seem most desperate and hopeless, Admiral Summers called out, “Land!”
The crew put up full sails and ran the ship aground. Using the ship’s longboat, they moved everyone safely to shore, where they remained shipwrecked in the Bermuda’s, on an island known as “Isle of the Devils.” In September two men left to go for help from Jamestown. They never returned.
Discontentment spread like a contagious disease. In January Hopkins was charged with mutiny for insisting that, since they were not in Virginia Company territory, they were not obligated to obey the Virginia Company authorities. Though he apologized, he was none-the-less sentenced to death. He threw himself on the mercy of the Governor and the court, begging for mercy for the sake of his wife and children left behind in England. He lived to see other adventures.
On the Sea Again
By April 1610, nine months after they shipwrecked, they had two pinnaces ready to sail – appropriately named Deliverance and Patience. They arrived in Jamestown on May 21 to discover those still alive were desperate. No one had planted any crops. Their food supplies were nearly gone. Relationships with the Natives had degenerated to the point they were afraid to leave the fort. Governor Gates was preparing to lead them all north to Newfoundland and from there, back to England on a fishing vessel. Before they left, an English ship sailed into the harbor, carrying Lord de la Warr and fresh supplies and labor.
Hopkins stayed in the colony several years, but stories about their horrific shipwreck made it back to England. William Shakespeare told the story in “The Tempest,” which premiered in November 1611.
Mary kept the family going back in England, working as a shopkeeper; and perhaps with help from some of Hopkins’ wages from his position as clerk to the colony’s pastor. She died in May 1613. Word of her death didn’t reach Jamestown until September 1614. Hopkins returned to London to assume care of his orphaned children.
A Second Hopkins Family
In February 1617/18 he married Elizabeth Fisher. Their daughter, Damaris was born about a year later. The harrowing experiences of his first trip to North America did not dissuade him from wanting to return. When he learned a group of Pilgrims planned to establish another colony in Northern Virginia, he decided to go with them. This time he took his entire family, which now consisted of his children Constance and Giles born to his first wife, Mary; his second wife Elizabeth, their daughter Damaris, and two servants, Edward Doty and Edward Leister. His daughter Elizabeth died before this opportunity came along. His wife Elizabeth was pregnant with another child.
Though several of the crew had traveled to the New World before, Hopkins was the only passenger with prior knowledge of the place. His knowledge of both the inhabitants and the land must have fascinated the other Mayflower passengers on the long journey. Elizabeth gave birth to a son while the ship was still at sea. The Hopkins named the child Oceanus, in honor of his birthplace.
Though Hopkins was not a member of the Separatist community, he was an integral part of the community that formed when the Mayflower arrived in Cape Cod, 400 miles north of her intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. He went on exploration trips to find a suitable place to create Plymouth Plantation. When the Wampanoag Sachem Ousamequin (Massasoit) called on the new settlers in March 1621, Hopkins opened his new house to some of them. Later he traveled with settlers to visit the Natives in their community.
Apparently the community considered him a respected leader, given he served as an assistant to the governor through 1636. That year he got in a fight and wounded his opponent. The next year he was fined for allowing people to drink and play shuffleboard on the Sabbath. In 1638 and 1639 he was fined for selling things at double the normal cost.
He had a maidservant who was impregnated by Arthur Perch in 1638. The community executed Perch for murdering a Native, as per the terms of the 1621 treaty between the Plymouth Plantation settlers and the Wampanoag leaders. The Plymouth Court declared Hopkins financially responsible for his servant until she completed her term of service to him in two years. He refused and threw her out of the house. The situation was resolved when someone else purchased the servant’s remaining time from Hopkins.
Stephen Hopkins’ adventures and troubles ended when he died in 1644 and was buried next to his wife, Elizabeth, in Cove Burying Ground in Eastham, MA.
Information for this blog comes in part from The Mayflower and Her Passengers, by Caleb Johnson, Mayflower History web site, and Mayflower.americanancestors.org. If you’d like to know more about the adventures of Stephen Hopkins you can read all about it in Caleb Johnson’s Here Shall I Die Ashore. You may also enjoy reading Pilgrim and Native Peace Talks or Mayflower Governor John Carver.
Thank you for taking time to read about Stephen Hopkins’ amazing adventures. I hope you found it interesting and inspiring. How about sharing it with a friend? If you got this from a friend, you can get your own FREE subscription at HowWiseThen. I’m currently giving away tips for recognizing and coping with dementia in memory and honor of my older brother who passed away recently after struggling with dementia issues for several years.