Climbing My Family Tree, Part One

Immigrants Isaac Allerton, Mary Norris Allerton, and Mary Allerton Cushman

When you think of Plymouth Pilgrims, Mr. Isaac Allerton is frequently at the top of the list, undoubtedly the consequence of his surname beginning with the initial letter of the alphabet.

Isaac Allerton is my nine times great-grandfather. He arrived off the shores of Cape Cod aboard the Mayflower in November 1620, accompanied by his wife, Mary Norris Allerton (my nine times great-grandmother), his three children, Bartholomew, Remember, and Mary (my eight times great-grandmother). They also traveled with Isaac’s apprentice, John Hooke. 

Isaac Allerton was born in England, probably in 1586. Best research indicates he was born in or near Ipswich in Suffolk, some 60 miles northeast of London.

Although we tend to romanticize the Pilgrims today, their views at the time were considered quite radical. The Pilgrims were religious separatists—meaning they were separating themselves from the Church of England. They wished to remove themselves what they saw was the corrupt doctrine and practice of the official church of King James.

Worshiping outside the Church of England was considered an act of treason, and by definition, the Pilgrim Separatists were outlaws. At the same time, they remained fiercely loyal to England, and even to the Crown that sought to persecute them.

In 1607 many Pilgrims began to flee England for Holland in hope of finding religious freedom. First, they congregated in Amsterdam, later in Leiden. The king’s permission was required for them to depart from England, and such approval was not granted to religious dissenters, so the Pilgrims had to be subversive in their immigration to Holland.

We know Isaac Allerton and Mary Norris Allerton were in Leiden when they became betrothed on October 7, 1611. In 1614 Issac became a citizen of Leiden (one of only three Pilgrims to do so), living in Pieterskerkhof, near St. Peter’s Church. He was a tailor, and it is there he took on his apprentice in the year 1619.

Although the Pilgrims found freedom to worship as they wished in Holland, they faced other hardships. They began to lose their English identity while living among the Dutch. Many of their children, Mary Allerton Cushman among them, were born in Holland and grew up knowing little about their English heritage, while interacting with Dutch children. Life for the adults proved difficult. Many worked long hours in the cloth industry, a particularly arduous profession.

Isaac Allerton and the other Separatist leaders wanted something better for their congregation and their children. During their time in Holland they negotiated with a London stock company, The Merchant Adventurers, to finance a pilgrimage and a settlement in America. The Separatists contracted with the Adventurers, a group of some fifty English investors, who were willing to finance the Pilgrim’s venture in northern Virginia (their intended location) with the hope of making a profit from all the fur, fish, clapboards, and sassafras the colonists would send back to England.

Isaac Allerton was 34 years old when he boarded the Mayflower and immigrated to America. Mary Norris Allerton was 32, and Mary Allerton Cushman was but four years of age, her siblings were six and eight.

Mary Norris Allerton was pregnant with her fifth child during that stormy Mayflower voyage. She endured the hardships of the crossing only to deliver a stillborn child in December, 1620, while the ship was docked in Plymouth Harbor. I can only imagine what it must have been like to go through labor in such cramped, crowded, and unsanitary surroundings, let alone what it must have been like to bury the child of my nine times great-grandparents, most likely by dropping the body into the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean. It is one thing to read about it in history books, it is quite another to imagine the tears of anguish on my grandmother’s cheeks. It was the second baby the couple had lost, the first had been buried back in Leiden.

Apprentice John Hooke and Mary Norris Allerton both died that first cruel New England winter and Isaac, like so many of the others, was left to raise his children on his own. By April 1621, forty four—nearly half—of the Pilgrim immigrants were dead.

I imagine the Allerton family huddled together on the dirt floor of their Plymouth home, the cold wind whistling between the gaps of the clapboards, icy water dripping through gaps in the thatched roof. All the familiarity and relative conveniences of Europe existed a world away. Did they feel despair? Did they think coming to America was the wrong decision? Did they fear every last one of them would die?

Isaac was an early leader in the Plymouth community. In 1621 he was elected assistant to Governor Bradford, a position he held for more than a decade. As early as 1626 he made the first of at least five trips back to England as an official representative of the colony. The community was deep in debt and Isaac was charged with buying out their liability in return for the right to profit from the plantation. Unfortunately, Isaac used his trips to England for personal gain and while there he made unauthorized negotiations on behalf of the colony, including poor investments, which put the plantation even deeper in debt.

Isaac eventually left Plymouth to establish the town of Marblehead, Massachusetts. He later acquired a house and warehouse in New Amsterdam (later to be renamed New York). Perhaps he owned a wharf there as well. In 1627 he remarried. He wed Fear Brewster, daughter of Elder William Brewster and Mary Love Wentworth. They had two more children, Sarah and Isaac Jr.

After Fear died in 1634 Isaac moved to the colony in New Haven, Connecticut, where he was married for the third time to Joanna Swinnerton. Isaac died in New Haven in 1659 at the age of 73. Although he was considered wealthy throughout his life (one of the few given the title of “Mister”) upon his death he was found insolvent. He is believed to be buried in the old Burial Ground in New Haven, Connecticut.

What would we think of Pilgrims immigrants today? They were a radical group of Separatists, coming to America after fleeing their native country. They were a group that imposed their radical beliefs on others, forced others to worship as they did, and that usurped the land of native peoples without permission or compensation. In addition to their Christian beliefs they gave strong value to superstition and applied supernatural explanations to natural or man-made disasters.

And yet Isaac Allerton and Mary Norris Allerton came here for the same reasons and purpose most immigrants have come. They sought religious freedom to worship God in the way they believe he wanted. They endeavored for economic success. They wanted a community where their children could be better off than they were themselves. They sacrificed much for their beliefs. Mary and her child both died as a result of their mission.

In spite of his many personal flaws, Isaac Allerton played an important part in founding the nation we live in today. On November 11, 1620, he was the fifth signer of the Mayflower Compact, the first written framework of government in what is now the United States of America. The Compact became an influential document for the founding fathers as they envisioned and wrote the US Constitution.




My Family Tree:

  1. Isaac Allerton and Mary Norris Allerton


  1. Mary Allerton Cushman


  1. Isaac Cushman


  1. Fear Cushman Sturtevant


  1. Isaac Sturtevant


  1. Samuel Sturtevant


  1. Eliphalet Sturtevant


  1. William Sturtevant


  1. Pliny Sturtevant


  1. Electra Sturtevant King


  1. Patricia King deMeurers


  1. Me (Alan deMeurers)


Running count of my direct immigrants from Europe to North America = 3



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