Saturday, 23 July 2016

Our Immigrant Ancestors -- Stephen Hopkins

With thanks to Lorine McGuinnes Schulze of Olive Tree Genealogy for the idea, this post kicks off a weekly feature focusing on one of my many immigrant ancestors to North America. And who better to start with, than my first immigrant ancestor? I'm speaking of course of Mayflower passenger Stephen Hopkins (1581-1644), my 10th great grandfather.

It's true that the Mayflower reached what is now Plymouth on Cape Cod in 1620, but Stephen actually came earlier -- to Jamestown, the first and ill-fated settlement of the Virginia colony in 1610.

To say that Stephen led an interesting life is an understatement. Sailing to Jamestown aboard the Sea Venture in 1609 from England to Virginia, he was shipwrecked in a bad storm in Bermuda. You can more read about the Sea Venture here. Some say that Shakespeare's The Tempest is based on this event, but that may be a tall tale. He and his companions managed to make their way from Bermuda to Virginia almost a year later, finding the colony decimated by starvation. Some time after the 1613 death in England of his first wife, Stephen returned there, only to return in 1620 with his new wife and his blended family, including his son Giles, from whom I descend.

Noted Mayflower historian Caleb Johnson wrote a biography about my ancestor that's a fascinating read. Here's a bit of a synopsis of Here I Shall Die Ashore.

Stephen wasn't fleeing religious persecution when he signed on to the Mayflower. He was not a Puritan or a Separatist. He was on the Mayflower as a "stranger", someone interested in the potential economic opportunities that the New World might present. In other words, he was the first entrepreneur in my far-flung family. He was one of 41 men who signed the Mayflower Compact very soon after they reached shore. This was the first governing document in the New World. Read more.

Immigrant Ancestors, 1942 entry
Once settled in Plymouth, Stephen operated a tavern, but ran into problems with the authorities. Plymouth records indicate that he let "men drink in his house upon the Lords day".. "for suffering servants and others to sit drinking in his house" (contrary to Court orders) Also to play games "& such like misdemeanors, is therefore fined fourty shillings." And unscrupulous, with the Court having several charges against him "for selling wine, beere, strong waters, and nutmeggs at excessiue rates, is fyned." (source: Mayflower Quarterly, November 2011)

Last September, at the annual two-day meeting of the Nova Scotia Colony of Mayflower Descendants, I met "Stephen Hopkins", very convincingly interpreted in character, language and costume by professional colonial interpreter Chris Messier of Plimoth Plantation. It was a really wonderful experience.

The Nova Scotia Colony is a branch of the Canadian Society of Mayflower Descendants, which is a partner society of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. It is thanks to yet another internet cousin that I learned of my descent from Stephen Hopkins, a discovery that opened the doors to many other finds over the years. And yes, I'm a member of the Society.

I was so excited last year when the National Geographic Channel produced Saints and Strangers, that aired the week of American Thanksgiving. It chronicled the Mayflower passengers' earliest days. But the National Geographic Channel we get in Canada is licensed to another broadcaster who isn't bound to broadcast all of the American channel's programming. The things you learn when you ask why. Instead, they air mindless looped pseudo reality programming with titles like Airport Security: Colombia, Science of Stupid, and Border Security. I'm still waiting to see Saints and Strangers. I'm sure that one day I will.

This is a very abbreviated history of my 10th great grandfather, Stephen Hopkins. Much has been written about my ancestor. 

The never ending story continues....


  1. I've recently been going through all the old "stuff" I've collected. I can't believe how much I've forgotten! This was one of those little things that slipped my mind while I concentrated on the other Mayflower ancestors. I'm going to make a BIG note on his sheet to go back and see what else I can find.

  2. He's definitely one of the more interesting Mayflower passengers.

  3. Thanks for this informative article, I hope you will get most positive response specially for this post. . . .