Henry Samson, the Teenager on the Mayflower

Was He In Leiden?

Leiden - 1600

View of Leiden, ca. 1600. Image courtesy Dr. Bangs.

A Letter from Jeremy Bangs to Stacy Wood

The Separatists who came to be know as the "Pilgrims" left England in 1608 in search of religious freedom and took refuge in Holland, first in Amsterdam, then "for some 11 or 12 years" in Leiden. Their pastor in Leiden was John Robinson. In 1620, with Robinson's blessing, a portion of the congregation departed on the Speedwell and, stopping at Southamption, England, where they found the Mayflower waiting to accommodate them, set sail for the New World. Others who—like John Alden, apparently—never liked in Leiden joined them in England for the voyage across the Atlantic. Who, then, of the Mayflower passengers was in Leiden? Who was not? Can we always know with comfortable certitude?

The question came to the fore with Stacy B. C. Wood, Jr., wishing to start a family association for passenger Henry Samson (1604-84), wrote to Dr. Jeremy D. Bangs asking whether in his opinion young "Henery" was ever in Leiden. There is, after all, no direct evidence that he was. We are pleased to print Dr. Banks' reply for its methodological value, which is great, not to mention the interesting caveat on John Alden.

Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs, Ph.D. (Leiden, 1976), is director of the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, former curator of the Leiden Pilgrims Documents Center, former chief curator of Plimoth Plantation, editor of Seventeenth-Century Records of the Town of Situate, Massachusetts (3 vols., 1997, 1999, 2001), editor of Indian Deeds: Land Transactions in Plymouth Colony, 1620-1691 (2002), author of Pilgrim Edward Winslow, New England's First International Diplomat (2004) and of numerous articles in the NEHGRegister and Mayflower Quarterly on the Pilgrims. His column illuminating "Pilgrim Life" appears regularly in New England Ancestors, the magazine of NEGHS. In 2001 Dr. Bangs received the Pennsylvania Society's "Award for Distinguished Mayflower Scholarship." (See his two articles on our website, Thanksgiving on the Net: Roast Bull with Cranberry Sauce and 1621: A Historian Looks Anew at Thanksgiving.

 Stacy B. C. Wood, Jr., Governor of the Society of Mayflower Descendants in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 2001-03, known widely as an educator in the area of the Pilgrims and Plymouth history produces "The Junior Pennsylvania Mayflower." Both he and Dr. Bangs are Fellows of the Pilgrim Society in Plymouth.

 [Leiden, February 21, 2005]

"Hi Stacy,

"In the preparations for emigration, John Robinson wrote that the Pilgrims had four hundred families willing to move to America, most of them in Leiden but a smaller number in England. We are unable to account for such numbers as emigrants to America from Leiden. If one supposes that roughly three-quarters of these families were in Leiden, then we'd have to assume that around three hundred families from Leiden moved to Plymouth Colony. Even taking it a nor more than around half, there should be two hundred families who were in Leiden who emigrated to Leiden, by around 1630 or so. We cannot provide documentation in Leiden corresponding with the names of that many people among the recorded colonists. This statement of Robinson's has significance when anyone starts supposing that they can decide whether or not any particular immigrant in Plymouth Colony had lived in Leiden. Robinson's statement suggests that one should probably assume that someone was in Leiden, rather than beginning with the assumption that someone was not in Leiden.

"I published the discovery that confirms the presence of Edward Tillie in Leiden in my NEGHGRegister article in 1989. I don't recall any documentary indication that John Tillie was here. Nonetheless, Robinson's statement suggests that there is more reason to suppose that John Tillie, like other Pilgrims for whom similarly no documentary evidence has been found, was also in Leiden, than to assume that the absence of a specific documentary reference is sufficient to deny that he was born here. Because husbands did not live separately from their wives, in the absence of any contradictory evidence, it can be safely assumed that their wives lived with them in Leiden. That is obviously stronger in the case of Edward than of John.

"It seems to me that your formulation of the information, or lack of it, about Henry Samson, implies a set of erroneous assumptions and conclusions about evidence. I', not sure that the implied conclusions are intended, so I'll try to dissect it to show where it may be that the argument goes wrong. You write: 'Am I correct when I say [...] that there is no evidence that Henry Samson (who is listed with Humility Cooper and the Edward Tillies by Bradford in his passenger list) was ever in Leiden?' [and] 'I understand that Humility Cooper was in Leiden. In other words, Henry Samson apparently joined the Edward Tillies in Southampton?'

"It seems to me that the implication is that there exists a body of evidence that contains such a range of detailed name references that the mere absence of someone's name in that archival evidence is sufficient to support the presumption that the person was never in Leiden. This is not true. The series of documents were created for specific purposes that did not include registering the presence of everyone in town. There was not even a census taken between 1609 and 1620. It is not correct to assume that the mere absence of a documentary record in Leiden's archive proves that some particular person was not in Leiden. A good example of that is provided by the case of James Chilton. George Willison [in Saints and Strangers (New York, 1945)] places him among the group Willison calls "strangers'—by which he means people who had not been in Leiden and were not members of Leiden's Pilgrim congregation. In 1985 I published the information that James Chilton was attacked on his way home on Sunday, April 28, 1619, in Leiden. His attackers thought inaccurately that we was returning from a conventicle of Remonstrants. Instead he must have been returning from the Pilgrim services. Willison's assumption is thus incorrect, and it is based on nothing more than the fact that as far as Willison knew James Chilton was not mentioned in any Leiden documents. But the very peculiarity of the document shows that Chilton was in Leiden is enough to point out that other Pilgrims, who were not mistakenly thought to be Remonstrants and who therefore were not attacked, may have been in Leiden. If James Chilton had not been the victim of a freak occurrence, his presence in Leiden would have gone unrecorded.

"That Bradford lists Humility Cooper and Henry Samson as having been part of Edward Tillie's family group (whatever their cousin relationship) is a strong reason for supposing that both children were in Leiden with Edward Tillie's family. It might even imply that their parents (through whom the cousin relationship existed) were also in Leiden, but we do not know their names. Kuyper (the Dutch spelling of Cooper) and Samson are names that are found in Leiden's archive. The alternative speculation can be expressed that relatives in England, learning of the intention of Edward's family to emigrate, may have contacted him about taking his cousins along, but there is slightly less in favor of that speculation than in favor of the assumption that these cousins were with the group in Leiden. To move beyond the level of speculation (any such thing is imaginable), a definite documentary proof would be required. An analogous case is seen when Bradford lists John Hooke as a servant of Isaac Allerton's. I published the document recording John Hooke's apprenticeship to Allerton, in my 1989 article. If I had not discovered that document, someone might have argued that the absence of any documentary record of John Hooke in Leiden was sufficient to presume that he was hired by Allerton in London or Southampton.

"[...] If you do not have some explicit documentary indication that Henry Samson joined the group at Southampton, then I do not think that the speculation that Henry Samson joined the group in Southamption has a firm basis. That speculation cannot be derived in any way from the fact that we do not know of any documentary reference to Henry Samson in Leiden's records. Most children would not have been mentioned in archival documents, other than baptismal records. The baptismal records of the Pilgrim congregation presumably were among the documents destroyed with the first section of Bradford's  letter book, which starts on page 361 (if I remember correctly). As for Southamption, John Alden was hired there to be a cooper for the voyage, and later he decided to stay in the colony. Even in his case, which seems so clear-cut, there may be more to it. We don't know that he came from Southamption, only that he was hired there. I don't think anything has yet been discovered as to his place of birth, and even if that were discovered, it wouldn't by itself exclude a visit to Leiden. As I pointed out in my 1989 article, although John is not documented there, a Stephen Alden was one of the deacons of Leiden's English Reformed Church when the Pilgrims were their neighbors. It's not a common name, so Stephen and John Alden might have been related. It is just possible that John Alden visited Leiden and had some previous contact with the Pilgrims before the 1620 voyage. An example of such a visit is provided by William Aspinwall, the Boston notary, who recalled having attended a service in the Leiden Pilgrim congregation; another is John Durie, who may years later was in contact with Edwaard Winslow; and others could be mentioned. Nothing is proven about whether John Alden had previous acquaintance with the Pilgrims, but that is a bit different from the dogmatic assumption that he was picked up on the wharf as an unknown job-seeker.

"I hope that this clarifies the issue. [...]

"With best wishes,