Tag Archives: William Bassett

True Stories: Pilgrim Ancestors

Here comes Thanksgiving, and of course I’m thinking about my Pilgrim and Puritan ancestors.

Here are three stories from the past:

Plimouth Plantation

Modern reproduction village: Plimouth Plantation. Photo by Nancy, licensed under GNU Free license, Wikimedia

My naughty pilgrim ancestors. What a heritage!

My Pilgrim Ancestor missed the boat–or the boat was delayed by “mechanical difficulties.”

Being a Woman on the day of the First Thanksgiving. The story of Susannah Fuller White.


William Bassett Missed Thanksgiving

William Bassett 1600-1667

What an anti-climax!

I started this series on my Pilgrim Bassett ancestors to lead up to Thanksgiving.

But the “first comer”, William Bassett, my 9th Great Grandfather, totally missed the event we call the first Thanksgiving.

Plimouth Plantation

Modern reproduction village: Plimouth Plantation. Photo by Nancy, licensed under GNU Free license, Wikimedia

We have piles of information about William Bassett, and the offices he held in the communities of Plymouth, Duxbury and Bridgewater, because the Pilgrims, being partly a religious colony and partly a business arrangement, kept meticulous records. Today I will concentrate on his arrival in America.

We know with certainty that William arrived on the Fortune on November 9, 1621, and with probability that he was twenty years old, having been born in Middlesex, England in Stepney Green. The Fortune was an even smaller ship than the Mayflower.

Merchant Ship

17th century merchantman by User Musphot on Wikimedia Commons

It is not William’s fault that he missed what we think of as the first Thanksgiving, which was held well before we hold Thanksgiving toward the end of November. Rather, their three-day Thanksgiving feast was in early October. Not only that, but it was called a Harvest Festival–not a Thanksgiving. The first Thanksgiving was in 1623.

Whatever the party was called, it was not his fault that he was late, because he had originally set sail on the companion ship to the Mayflower, the Speedwell , which turned back to England because of structural problems.  It took a year for the financiers of the expedition to decide to send more settlers.

When they did outfit the Fortune, thirty-five people were aboard, picked for their likelihood of survival and their fitness for hard labor.  William was a blacksmith, a skill that probably was much needed in the new colony. He must also have had a strong sense of adventure to hang around for a year waiting for this ship and then to set sail under difficult circumstances.

He may already have been married  to his first wife Elizabeth (whose maiden name we do not know) when he arrived. If so, their honeymoon was a bummer. The information is murky.  Did Elizabeth and William marry in Holland? Did they perhaps marry in England after his first ship was turned back there in 1620? Did Elizabeth travel on the ship as a single woman? If so, did they marry in the colony?

We know  they were married by 1623 when they each received land. And in 1627 when the Pilgrims divided cattle based on family members, Elizabeth and William had two children, their namesakes Elizabeth and William.

Book Cover

Book Cover: Of Plymouth Plantation

In Of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford writes about the arrival of the Fortune.  The original settlers from the Mayflower had been reduced almost in half by illness and injury to 53 from 102 , so they were eager to have reinforcements–both people and supplies. Other ships had brought messages and some goods from time to time, but this was the first to arrive with more people to join their tiny band. Unfortunately, the supplies did not show up–just more mouths to feed.

In November, about that time twelvemonth that themselves came (Note: Bradford means the original Pilgrims, himself included) there came a small ship to them unexpected or looked for in which came Mr. Cushman and with him, 35 persons to remain and live in the plantation; which did not a little rejoice them. And they, when they came ashore and found all well and saw plenty of victuals in every house, wer no less glad, for most of them were lusty young men, and many of them wild enough, who little considered whither or about what they went till they came into harbor at Cape Cod and there saw nothing but a naked and barren place…

Perhaps, given his history in the Plymouth colony, William was not quite as “lusty” and “wild” as Bradford is labeling these newcomers.  But they must have been a sad sight–dressed in rags, and unlike the Mayflower Pilgrims, not carrying supplies of food, seeds, blankets, clothing and utensils.

Pilgrim kettle

Standish kettle, artifact from the Pilgrim Hall Museum.

So they all landed; but there was not so much as a biscuitcake or any other victuals for them, neither had they any bedding but some sorry things they had in their cabins; nor pot, or pan to dress any meat in; nor overmany clothes. But there was sent over some Birching Lane suits*

*Birching Lane was a street in London where cheap, ready-made clothes were sold.

You can almost hear William Bradford sigh, as he looks at this irresponsible, ragged bunch. Note to my relatives–Bradford says the new guys were lower class, which is what I have always suspected of William Bassett.

The plantation was glad for this addition of strength but they could have wished that many of them had been of better class, and all of them better furnished with provisions. But that could not now be helped.

Perhaps Edward Winslow was thinking of the passengers on the Fortune, when he later wrote back to his fellow Leiden Pilgrims with a packing list for the trip.

As it turns out, as ragged and unprepared as he was (although I suspect he may have brought his blacksmith tools–the ones he willed to his younger son Joseph ( my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather), and as wild as some of his children were, William Bassett did very well in his life, building wealth in the new Colony to the point where he paid the 4th highest taxes by 1663.

In the long run, his contributions to Plymouth Colony and his hard work meant much more than missing one little celebration in his youth. Thanks, William. We’re glad you’re an ancestor.

How I Am Related

  •  My maternal grandmother, Vera Stout Anderson, was the daughter of
  • Hattie Stout Morgan, the daughter of
  • Mary Bassett Platt Morgan, the daughter of
  • William Bassett the son of
  • Samuel Bassett, the son of
  • William Bassett, Jr., the son of
  • William L. Bassett, the son of
  • William Bassett, the son of
  • Joseph Bassett, the son of, and Mary Lapham Bassett, the step-daughter of
  • William Bassett, the Pilgrim.

Notes on Research

You also should know that I am an Amazon affililiate. If you purchase anything by using my links to Amazon (like the link to the book cover above) I earn a few cents. Thanks for doing your shopping Amazon through my links.


My Bassett Ancestors–Naughty Pilgrims


My forefather, Pilgrim William Bassett’s children and in-laws were quite naughty. Their misdeeds ranged from talking in church to outright scandalous.

Pilgrim Punishment

So you thought all Pilgrims were stuffily pious?  Impious describes the behavior of the 2nd generation of Bassetts in America and some of their spouses. But the worst of them managed to have a very famous descendent.

Joseph Bassett, (my direct ancestor) the youngest, and perhaps the favorite of his father since he seems to have been the good child in this 2nd generation American Puritan family, had several brothers and sisters who acted up. Including our family’s proud claim to the first divorce in the Pilgrim colony.

 NATHANIEL BASSETT’S sins were rather minor, and he went on to become a community leader. When he was about 22 years old he was sentenced to pay 20 shillings fine or be bound to a post in a public place with a paper on his head explaining his crime–disturbing the church of Duxbury.

WILLIAM BASSETT JR. moved from his father’s town of Bridgewater to Sandwich, where he joined  some people who were stirring up dissent against the church. Two were fined for “deriding, wild speeches about God’s word.” William and another also paid fines–misdeed unspecified.

SARAH BASSETT WHITE  married Peregrine White, the famous first child to be born in New Engalnd. I am going to write more about  Sarah and her famous husband, but I need to mention here that in March 1648/49, they were fined at Marshfield, Massachusetts for “fornication before marriage.”


Now we come to a truly sexy couple–Elizabeth and her first husband Thomas Burgess.

In June 1661, Elizabeth asked for a divorce after the town brought her husband, Thomas Burgess, to court in Sandwich Massachusetts, “for an act of uncleanliness with Lydia Gaunt.” Elizabeth and Thomas had been married thirteen years when he strayed.

The Court agreed to a divorce and gave Elizabeth one third of Thomas’ property and 40s [shillings] worth of bed and bedding “that are at William Bassetts.” It was the first divorce in Plymouth Colony. Shocking!

But what amuses me is what happened next.  They both remarried, and Elizabeth was the first at the altar with William Hatch in the same year as the divorce. The speed of her remarriage makes me a little suspicious about her motives for the landmark divorce.

Thomas marryied Lydia Gaunt a year and a half later.  However, the embarrassment must have driven him out of Plymouth Colony. He and Lydia moved to Newport, Rhode Island.

Ruth Bassett Sprague Thomas

Elizabeth may have had a straying husband, but at least he wasn’t the complete rascal that her sister Ruth’s husband turned out to be.

Ruth Basset’s husband John Sprague, was born in 1633 in Duxbury, where the Bassett children also spent their childhood [Francis Sprague was John’s father].

2 Jan. 1637/38 – Francis Sprague was fined 6 shillings & 8 pence for beating William Halloway (fined 5 shillings), late servant of William Basset. Witness: William Halloway.”

According to a source named Goodwin but not further identified in Miner Descent,

“Francis Sprague was licensed as an inn-holder in Duxbury. He continued to be so until 1666, though often before the court. He killed Hatherly’s mare, beat Bassett’s servant, drank “overmuch,” sold liquor illegally, etc. In 1669 he was succeeded by his son who was much like him.
17th century tavern

Tavern Scene-1658-David Teniers II, Public Domain, Displayed at National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. USA
Although this is a Flemish tavern, the early New England taverns would have been similar.

Whoops! Son John follows in father Francis’ footsteps.That sounds like a formula for disaster. And indeed, John’s time in court had not ended. Drunken revelery, including leading his horse into a friend’s parlour got him in trouble once more.

John spent hours in the stocks for “highly misdemeaning himself in the house of James Cole of Plymouth, near unto or on the evening before the Sabbath Day, in drinking gameing, and uncivill reveling, to the dishonor of God and the offense of the govment, by his gameing and bringing his mare uncivilly into the parlour of James Cole aforesaid.”

So when John and Ruth were hauled into court for fornication–is this charge getting to be a family badge of honor?–one wonders whether Ruth was complicit or coerced.

At the 6 Jun 1655 Court at Plymouth, John Sprague and Ruth Bassett, of Duxbury, were presented for fornication before they were married and paid a fine.

Whatever they were doing in 1655 before marriage, their first child, named for his father, was not born until 1656. Presumably, they were married by then, although I do not have a record of their marriage.

Despite the fact that his daughter was marrying the son of the man who beat William’s servant, and a man who carries on drunkenly himself, William sold John Sprague four lots in Duxbury after his marriage to Ruth.

John was not an innkeeper for long.  On 26 March , 1676, he was killed at Nine Men’s Misery, Pawtucket, Rhode Island. That was a particularly horrible and bloody battle in King Philip’s War. The dead fighters were identified as “Friends”, so perhaps the quick-to-drink-and-fight Spragues were Quakers? If you should want to visit the spot, here’s a description, pointing out that it includes the oldest monument to veterans in the United States.

Pequot Wars

Pequot War. Charles Stanley Reinhart drawing circa 1890. from a July 2007 exhibit by the East Hampton Historical Society on Gardiner’s Island. Licensed under Public domain

After John died, Ruth (Basset) Sprague remarried a Thomas.  I just hope he was a bit mellower in disposition than her first husband.


And here is the surprise–it is alleged that among Ruth and John’s descendents was a prominent Englishman whose mother was an American– Winston Churchill, it seems, was a distant cousin of mine.  Wonder what he thought about his rabble-rousing American ancestors?

How I Am Related to Elizabeth and Ruth

  • My maternal grandmother, Vera Stout Anderson, was the daughter of
  • Hattie Stout Morgan, the daughter of
  • Mary Bassett Platt Morgan, the daughter of
  • William Bassett the son of
  • Samuel Bassett, the son of
  • William Bassett, Jr., the son of
  • William L. Bassett, the son of
  • William Bassett, the son of
  • Joseph Bassett, the son of, and Mary Lapham Bassett, the step-daughter of
  • William Bassett, the Pilgrim, also father of
  • my 8th great-grand uncles and aunts, Elizabeth, William, Nathaniel, Sarah and Ruth.


  • Much of the information here is from a website called Miner Descent, which cites references. Unfortunately, the references are not tied directly to the facts and quotes, and most references used are secondary sources.
  • Birth, death and Marriage records gleaned from Massachusetts town records, particularly U. S. New England Marriages Prior to 1700  found at Ancestry.com
  • The New England Historic and Genealogical Register, 1847-2011, Vol 002 (1848) (1854)  available through Ancestry, and other Internet sources.
  • FindaGrave often contains valuable hints about relationships, however the information is rarely sourced, so it is only a starting point.
  • New England,The Great Migration and The Great Migration Begins, 1620-1635 by Robert Charles Anderson, contains information about the early English immigrants. Accessed through Ancestry.com
  • www.Bassettbranches.org  Because this is compilations of individuals family trees and does not contain original sources, it is only a starting point.
  • History of the Early Settlement of Bridgewater in Plymouth County, Massachusetts(1840, reprinted 1897,Gateway Press 1970; Heritage Books 1983; Higgeson Books 1992)