Historians believe Mother Mary Brewster was probably born in 1569, most likely in Northern England. We do not know her last name prior to becoming Mrs. William Brewster. Genealogists are fairly certain she married William in 1591 in a small country church in Scrooby. She became Mother Mary Brewster with the birth of Jonathan, born on August 12, 1593. Confirming the value placed on the firstborn male child, his birthdate is the only Brewster child whose birthdate is so clearly documented.
Eventually, Mary had at least five more children. One was either stillborn or died in early childhood. Her next two babies were daughters, born when the family still lived in England. Her two younger sons were born when the family lived in exile in Leiden. They lived there from 1609 until William, Mary, and the two younger sons joined the others on the perilous Mayflower voyage as English colonists.
My Launch into Motherhood
On October 7 – a few decades ago – I joined the ranks of motherhood when daughter Carol joined the family. A couple of years later, Karen joined us. Today both daughters are grown, each with their own three children. Though I grew up knowing we are related to William Brewster, I knew very little about Mary until I started digging into the story behind the story of the Mayflower to write Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures. As the mother of two daughters, I was stunned at what I discovered about our ancestor.
My mother was a reference librarian. She spent many hours in her early retirement years documenting our family’s connection to William and Mary Brewster. The Brewster surname in our branch of the family ends in Duncan Falls, Ohio. Several generations of Brewsters lived and died in this community a few miles southeast of Columbus. The last one to bear the Brewster last name was my great-grandmother, Emma J. Brewster, who married a Ross. Their son, George Ross, is my mother’s father and our link to the Mayflower story.
Tracing Family History
In March 2017, my brother and I, accompanied by one of my granddaughters, made a pilgrimage to England to fill out the Brewster story a bit more. The pilgrimage took us to Scrooby, England, where the Brewster family played a role in the oversight of Scrooby Manor, an important communication link between London, England, and Edinburgh, Scotland.
I already knew that William and Mary Brewster, and the other Mayflower passengers, owed their lives to the Native Americans who first greeted the new settlers. In my research, I learned it went well for about fifty years, thanks primarily to the treaty between the two cultures initiated by Massasoit Ousa Mequin.
What I did not know prior to doing the research was that Mother Mary Brewster left both her daughters behind with friends in Leiden when the Mayflower sailed. My heart ached when I learned that. I cannot imagine leaving Carol and Karen behind, not knowing if I’d ever see them again. We currently live in Texas, Nebraska, and Ohio and only see one another occasionally. However, between e-mails, texts, phone calls, and zoom capabilities, we easily stay current on one another’s daily lives.
It was not so for Mother Mary Brewster. She did not know if she would ever see her daughters again. Letters were the only means of communication, and the delivery time for a letter back then was measured in months, if not years. Her daughters, Patience and Fear, did eventually come to Plimoth Plantation, so that chapter of Mary’s life had a happy ending.
From Generation to Generation
This new-to-me family history is what prompted me to write a follow-up story to Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures. This one, Mary Brewster’s Love Life: Matriarch of the Mayflower, is also historical fiction. Since history recorded so little about Mary Brewster, I’ve had to imagine how I might have reacted if faced with the choices and circumstances she encountered. The book has a tentative publication date of March 2023.
As I reflect on what I was doing that October 7 when our family welcomed Carol into the world, I am thankful for the efforts my mother made to document these connections. Historians, librarians, and genealogists use their skills to enrich our lives by helping us find our roots. Happy Birthday, Carol. Thanks, Mom, for all those hours you spent in libraries and for being the keeper of our family’s history.
Thanks for taking the time to learn a little bit about Mary Brewster. If you aren’t already receiving my monthly HowWiseThen newsletter, sign up, so you’ll be informed about the progress of Mary’s fictional biography, which is due out next spring. Register at HowWiseThen.
Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures covers the Pilgrim’s escape from England and their interactions with the Pokanoket people. Available wherever books are sold in paperback, eBook, and audio.
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