Genealogists have a little checklist of ancestors they would like to have, however not everyone wants the same things. I could care a less if I am related to royalty, but think it would be great if I was related to one of the historical people who generated the legend of Robin Hood. I certainly wanted to have American Revolutionary and Civil War ancestors and I have found quite a few. It would be interesting to have a Colonial witch or early persecuted Quakers (I think I might have found the latter.) My mail order bride was a surprise and I didn’t even have her on the list. But, my Mayflower ancestor was a kind of “pie in the sky” wish. Considering there were 102 passengers who sailed on the Mayflower and half of them died the first winter, the odds were not in favor of me finding a link, but I was thrilled to be able to trace my line to George Soule.
If you have a Mayflower ancestor, you will be amazed at the volume of data that is available for early beginnings of settlement in America. Those Pilgrims and Puritans were good little record keepers and George Soule left a number of records behind that outline his life in Massachusetts. It also helps that the Mayflower Society and it’s members continue to research the lives of the Mayflower passengers and their descendants and have added much to the history.
There is quite a bit known about the life of George Soule in Massachusetts. He was born sometime between 1595 and 1602 and would have been around 18-25 when he arrived in Plymouth in 1620 as a servant to Edward Winslow. He was married to Mary by 1627 and many historians believe this to be Mary Buckett who arrived in Plymouth on the Ann in 1623. They had 9 children who lived to majority. He moved to Duxbury with his family in 1637. During his life, he served in various positions in government and accumulated a significant amount of property in Plymouth, Dartmouth and Duxbury. He died sometime between September 1677 and January 1679. (For more specific details regarding his life, please see sources listed below or the biography by Robert Charles Anderson on the American Ancestors website (New England Historical and Genealogical Society.)
Yet, despite all they know about George after his arrival in Plymouth, they still don’t know where George Soule came from. Was he from England or Leiden? Who were his parents? Why was he chosen to be on the 1st ship? The Mayflower Society is still trying to figure this out through family associations, land distribution, record searches in England and Leiden and of course DNA.
In the The Mayflower Quarterly (TMQ) March 2008, the author suggests potential linkages to families in Leiden who were from southeastern England. One of the possibilities is that George Soule came from John/Jean/Jan Soule/Sule/Solet (a Huguenot) of Canterbury. In the March 2009 TMQ, Caleb Johnson researched potential Soule origins in England. Through a process of elimination, he discards Soule’s in Eckington, Strensham, Berrow, Redmarly d’Abitot, Flitwick, Bedforshire and Westwell. In his final analysis he believes that Geoge Soule of Tingrith has the best potential, but no conclusive evidence was found. DNA seems like it is the going to be the only way to finally resolve the problem of where George actually came from.
Why does it matter to have a Mayflower ancestor?
As genealogists, we love a mystery, so many descendants would love to be the one to find a document that finally uncovers another line that no one else has been able to. That is true for me too for my other ancestors who are less “famous” than my Mayflower celebrity. I do love the hunt, but I like a path a little less followed….sharing the road with troop of adventurers sounds crowded and bit boring. So, I will leave the search for Soule’s parentage to other genealogists/historians and gratefully celebrate when they nail it down.
No, what I like about having George Soule in my family tree is that I think about the Mayflower, the Puritans, Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay Colonies differently now. I used to think these people who came in 1620 as single dimensioned as the cardboard pictures on the walls of my 1st grade class at Thanksgiving and who were so theologically fussy that couldn’t get along with anyone, they packed up in huff to go to the New World. They weren’t very real. When you find out that one of these Pilgrims actually “belongs” to you, it makes you want to know them at a deeper level. I have read about this part of history with an intensity and compassion to try to understand their motives, their struggles and their humanness. It is interesting reading, because I can see George, Mary and their children facing illness, building their homes and farms from very little, finally worshiping in relative peace and living amongst Native Americans in a tentative balance of cooperation and tension. I have become fascinated and slightly horrified to see how it all turned out. When I went to Boston and Cape Cod, I saw with their eyes how it must have looked. I saw how frightened and brave they must have been to cross the ocean and face the unknown and I was humbled.
Anderson, Robert Charles. 1995. The great migration begins: immigrants to New England, 1620-1633. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society.
Hotten, John Camden. 1962. The original lists of persons of quality, emigrants, religious exiles, political rebels, serving men sold for a term of years, apprentices, children stolen, maidens pressed, and others who went from Great Britain to the American plantations, 1600-1700; with their ages, the localities where they formerly lived in the mother country, the names of the ships in which they embarked, and other interesting particulars, from mss. preserved in the State Paper Department of Her Majesty’s Public Record Office, England. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co.
Johnson, Caleb. The Mayflower Quarterly March 2008, Caleb Johnson vol. 75 no.1.
New Plymouth Colony, Nathaniel Bradstreet Shurtleff, and David Pulsifer. 1968. Records of the colony of New Plymouth in New England: printed by order of the legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. New York: AMS Press.
Philbrick, Nathaniel. 2006. Mayflower: a story of courage, community, and war. New York: Viking.
Soule, John E., Milton E. Terry, and Louise Walsh Throop. 2003. George Soule of the Mayflower and his descendants in the fifth and sixth generations. Part three, Family numbers 465-551. Plymouth, MA: General Society of Mayflower Descendants.
Troop, Louise Walsh. The Mayflower Quarterly March 2009 vol. 74, no.1.