The Stephen Hopkins Family traveled to Plymouth, MA on the Mayflower in 1620. Stephen and Elizabeth are one of the more famous and fascinating pair among the eighteen couples on board. Stephen traveled with his second wife, Elizabeth Fisher Hopkins, and three children. Elizabeth was pregnant with a fourth child when they boarded the ship.
This was Stephen’s second cross-Atlantic voyage; all the more impressive considering he was shipwrecked for ten months on his first trip. He did not return to England for several years. Mary, his first wife, died while he was away.
Stephen was from Hampshire, England. He and Mary lived in the parish of Hursley, Hampshire where their three children were born and baptized. Two of their children, Constance, and Giles, accompanied Stephen and his second wife, Elizabeth, on the Mayflower crossing. Stephen and Mary had another daughter, also an Elizabeth, who did not travel with her father. She may have died by 1620. Stephen and his second wife Elizabeth had a daughter Damaris, born in 1618, who also traveled with them.
Who was Elizabeth Hopkins?
As is typical for women’s history, we know little about Elizabeth other than she married Stephen and traveled with him on his second voyage. She is perhaps best known for delivering a baby as they sailed across the ocean. Babies are born when they’re ready to be born, unless medical intervention alters the birth date. There was no medical intervention available for Elizabeth. She delivered her son on the ship, in deplorable living conditions, with no privacy and few of the comforts typically offered birthing mothers. Miraculously, the child was born healthy and Elizabeth lived to raise him. They named the child Oceanus.
Elizabeth’s maiden name was Fisher, but evidence as to which Fisher family raised her is inconclusive. She and Stephen married on 19 February 1617/8. Dates for historical events in this time period fluctuate, depending on whether one uses the Julian calendar, in use until 1752, or the Gregorian calendar, the one used today. Elizabeth was one of only four women who survived the settlers’ first winter in their new home.
Stephen Hopkins’ Shipwreck Story
While Stephen was still married to Mary, he went to work as a clerk for Pastor Richard Buck and traveled with him on the Sea Venture toward Jamestown in 1609. Hopkins signed on for a three-year-term as an indentured servant to the Virginia Company, leaving Mary and three young children behind.
The Sea Venture traveled with a fleet of ships, but got separated from them in a violent storm. The ship blew off course and shipwrecked in the “Isle of Devils” in Bermuda. The stranded men survived for ten months, living on wildlife. Stephen was part of an organized mutiny against the governor and sentenced to death for his part in it. However, he begged for mercy on behalf of his wife and children back in England and his life was spared. He and the others built two small ships, the Deliverance and Patience. Stephen sailed to Jamestown on the Deliverance.
The Jamestown colonists’ situation was desperate. No one had planted a garden, their food supply was nearly gone, and they had so alienated the Indigenous people that they were afraid to leave the fort to hunt for food. Hopkins stayed at Jamestown until September 1614. When he got the news that his wife Mary had died in May 1613, he returned to England to assume care of his minor children and then married Elizabeth.
On the Sea Again
I would have loved to have overheard the conversation when Stephen told Elizabeth he wanted to join the others on the Mayflower voyage. He must have been a persuasive talker. Or Elizabeth was an obedient and compliant wife. Perhaps going struck her as the best of two unappealing options. No doubt she would have dreaded being left behind, caring for her new husband’s motherless children, and their own daughter, plus the baby she was carrying. She must have known Mary died while Stephen was away and may have feared the same fate. Given the circumstances, sailing on the Mayflower probably seemed the better option. After all, the ship was supposed to sail in July, giving them plenty of time to arrive in the New World and perhaps even build their own shelter before the baby was born.
The Mayflower did not sail in July. Or August. It left England after two delayed departures September 6. Though we know little about Elizabeth, I think it safe to conclude she must have been a resilient and hearty woman. She survived a storm that nearly capsized the ship, gave birth while sailing, and lived through the first winter, when most of the other women did not. Stephen and Elizabeth had five more children in Plymouth: Caleb, Deborah, Damaris, Ruth, and Elizabeth. Stephen had two daughters named Elizabeth, one mothered by Mary who apparently died before 1620, and one by his second wife, Elizabeth. Stephen and Elizabeth named their first daughter Damaris. She died in childhood and they gave another daughter the same name.
Life in Plymouth
Stephen played a fairly active part among the Separatists when they first arrived in Cape Cod. He went on the early explorations in search of the best place to establish their colony. He’d encountered Indigenous people before and thus presented himself as the resident expert on them. He and Elizabeth hosted Samoset for a night when the Native visited the new Plantation in the spring of 1621.
When the Pokanoket leader, Massasoit Ousa Mequin called on the English to work out a treaty, Hopkins offered up their home as a meeting place for the negotiations. He later accompanied other Englishmen on trips to visit the Pokanoket people. He served as an assistant to the governor through 1636.
Stephen was brave, but also prone to getting into trouble with the Plymouth authorities. In 1636 he got into a fight with John Tisdale and seriously wounded him. The next year he was fined for allowing people to drink and play shuffleboard on the Sabbath in his house. In each of the next two years he was again fined; once for selling beer at an inflated price and a second time for charging double what a looking glass should have cost.
It makes sense that a man skilled enough to survive a shipwreck, help build a new ship, and convince his wife to sail far from home, with three children and another one on the way, would be equally capable of taking risks that sometimes ended with him in trouble. His troubles ended in 1644 when he died and was interred next to his wife Elizabeth in Cove Burying Ground in Eastham, MA. Her death in Plymouth is calculated to have been between 1638 and 1644.
The photo of the Deliverance is the property of Caleb Johnson and used with his permission. More details about Stephen Hopkins is available at Mayflower History and in Johnson’s book about the man, Here Shall I Die Ashore. You may also enjoy reading Pilgrim and Native Peace Talks.