By Stacy B. C. Wood, Jr.
Degory, Degory Priest —
He died and missed the feast.
With no male heir,
His name is rare.
Poor Degory, Degory Priest
Yes, Degory did not attend the “first Thanksgiving” in 1621 because he died within months of the arrival of the Mayflower in Plymouth, New England, in the “great sickness” that took the lives of 31 of the 53 men who had been passengers.
Degory was about 40 years old and had made the voyage without his wife Sarah and two children, daughters Mary and Sarah. As you may know, because the ship Speedwell that was to accompany the Mayflower had to be left behind due to it having developed non-repairable leaks, many of the families and family members were left behind to await a future crossing. Degory’s wife and children were among them and they did not come over until she had remarried and accompanied her new husband hat maker Godbert Godbertson on the Anne in 1623.
Degory’s name is also recorded as Digory, Diggore Pryst, and Digerie. Words were normally spelled according to how they sounded to the writer and the writer often spelled the same word in different ways. Governor William Bradford’s history Of Plymouth Plantation is an example. Although an English language dictionary had been published as early as the 1580s, it wasn’t until Samuel Johnson published his in 1755 that users began to accept one spelling for a word. The first year of the Oxford English Dictionary was 1928. Of course even today the way Americans spell some words is not the same as they are spelled in England! An example is tire and tyre.
If you are a fan of the “Chronicles of Narnia” then you are aware of the major character Digory Kirke. Regardless of how you spell it, the name Degory is very rare. In the 31 pages of the Index of Persons in the Mayflower Society’s 5 generation publication for Degory Priest listing about 3,200 individuals not one chose to name a child Degory or one of its alternative spellings! There was a famous English historian Degory Wheare (1573-1647). Only three of our current PA Society members out of 760 members have proven descent from Degory Priest. A recent study of US phone books revealed only 12 listings of the first name Degory and 4 were in TX, 3 in MA, and 1 each in FL, GA, MO, NM, and TN. Caution: Before you think of naming a child Degory remember how some names just seem to beg being made fun of. Consider that there was an old radio show “The Life of Riley” in the 1940s with a character Digby O’Dell who was called “Digger O’Dell the friendly undertaker”!
Degory’s birth place is unknown. A Digorius Prust was baptized in Harland, Devonshire, England in 1582 but historians believe that it is unlikely that a Separatist would have been from there. The age difference could be a problem too. Degory Priest had fled to Holland and ended up in Leiden by 1611 when he married Sarah Vincent, a widowed sister of Pilgrim Isaac Allerton. He became a citizen of Leiden in November 1615 and his name appears numerous times in the Leiden town records there as a hat maker. He seems to have been a popular witness to affidavits. His signature was a mark indicating that he was probably illiterate. There is no known will or estate inventory. Of course the only portrait or image of a Pilgrim is that of Edward Winslow that hangs in Pilgrim Hall.
DEGORY PRIEST FACTOIDS
1. Degory was a signer of the “Mayflower Compact.”
2. With the exception of Bradford’s list of Mayflower passengers, Degory is not mentioned in the two early “prime sources” Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation or Mourt’s Relation.
3. Degory has at least one memorial in Plymouth. His name is included on the Sarcophagus on Cole’s Hill which may contain some of his bones along with others who died during the first winter.
4. Godbert Godbertson who came on the 1623 Anne and who had married Degory’s widow Sarah Allerton, in the 1623 land division, in addition to his own 2 acres, received 4 acres that would have been assigned to Degory had he lived, Sarah, and their two daughters. This land was “on the other side [i.e. south] of the town towards the Eel River.” Pilgrim Richard Warren also had land in this area and today’s living history museum, the 1627 Plimoth Plantation (www.plimoth.org), is on the north bank of Eel River.
5. The source for Degory and Sarah Allerton Priest’s descendants is Mayflower Families Through Five Generation: Descendants of the Pilgrims Who Landed at Plymouth, Mass., December 1620, Volume Eight, Second Edition — Family of Degory Priest. See: http://www.themayflowersociety.com.