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John Alden (c.1599—1687) John Alden was a crew member on the historic 1620 voyage of the Pilgrim ship Mayflower. Rather than return to England with the ship, he stayed at Plymouth, and can be considered a passenger. He was hired in Southampton, England, as the ship's cooper, responsible for maintaining the ship's barrels. He was a signatory to the Mayflower Compact. He married fellow Mayflower passenger Priscilla Mullins, whose entire family perished in the first winter. He served in a number of important government positions such as Assistant Governor, Duxbury Deputy to the General Court of Plymouth, Captain Myles Standish's Duxbury militia company, a member of the Council of War, Treasurer of Plymouth Colony, and Commissioner to Yarmouth.
His origins are largely subject to speculation, but it is currently believed that he was from the Alden family of Harwich in Essex, England. Harwich is an ancient North Sea port, northeast of London, which was the homeport of the Pilgrim ship Mayflower and home of its captain, Christopher Jones. The Alden family of Harwich had distant connections to Jones, residing there in the 17th century and possibly related to him by marriage. The only certainty about his English background were Bradford's words that Alden “was hired for a cooper, (barrel maker) at Southampton, where the ship victuled; and being a hopeful young man, was much desired, but left to his owne liking to go or stay when he came here; but he stayed, and maryed here.” Banks states that the employment of Alden “at Southhampton” does not necessarily mean that he was a resident of the seaport and may have only been there to work temporarily when the Mayflower arrived. Author Charles Banks notes a young John Alden about the same age as the Mayflower passenger was a seafarer in Harwich in the early 17th century.
Banks also reports that John Alden, said to have been born in 1599, residing in Southampton in 1620, may have been the son of George Alden the fletcher (arrow maker), who disappeared – probably dying in that year – leaving John, an orphan, free to take overseas employment. Jane, the widow, may have been his mother and Richard and Avys his grandparents. Records providing information from the tax list of Holyrood Ward in 1602 list the names of George Alden and John's future father-in-law William Mullins.
The Mayflower departed Plymouth, England, on September 6/16, 1620. The small, 100-foot ship had 102 passengers and a crew of about 30-40 in extremely cramped conditions. By the second month out, the ship was being buffeted by strong westerly gales, causing the ship‘s timbers to be badly shaken with caulking failing to keep out sea water, and with passengers, even in their berths, lying wet and ill. This, combined with a lack of proper rations and unsanitary conditions for several months, attributed to what would be fatal for many, especially the majority of women and children. On the way there were two deaths, a crew member and a passenger, but the worst was yet to come after arriving at their destination when, in the space of several months, almost half the passengers perished in the cold, harsh, unfamiliar New England winter.
On November 9/19, 1620, after about 3 months at sea, including a month of delays in England, they spotted land, which was the Cape Cod Hook, now called Provincetown Harbor. After several days of trying to get south to their planned destination of the Colony of Virginia, strong winter seas forced them to return to the harbor at Cape Cod hook, where they anchored on November 11/21. The Mayflower Compact was signed that day.
John Alden was among the original settlers of the Plymouth Colony. Although not himself a Separatist he had been hired to repair Mayflower while she lay off Southampton, England, and decided to journey when she set sail, perhaps with the hope of becoming prosperous in the New World. Alden's engagement with rivaling Indians who plotted to kill newcomers is told elaborately in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, The Courtship of Miles Standish.
From 1633 until 1675, he was assistant to the governor of the Plymouth Colony, frequently serving as acting governor and also on many juries.
In 1634, Alden was jailed, in Boston, for a fight at Kenebeck in Maine between members of the Plymouth Colony and the Massachusetts Bay Colony. While Alden did not participate in the fight (which left one person dead) he was the highest-ranking member from Plymouth that the Massachusetts Bay colonists found to arrest. It was only through the intervention of Bradford that he was eventually released.
John Alden married Priscilla Mullins on May 12, 1622. She was the only survivor of the Mayflower Mullins family. They had ten children. Priscilla died in Duxbury between 1651 and her husband's death in 1687. Both were buried in the Myles Standish Burial Ground in Duxbury, Massachusetts.
John Alden was the last male survivor of the signers of the Mayflower Compact. He died at Duxbury on September 12, 1687. He left no will, having disposed most of his real estate during his lifetime. Both he and his wife Priscilla lie buried in the Myles Standish Burial Ground.
The Alden residence is also in Duxbury, on the north side of the village, on a farm which is still in possession of their descendants of the seventh generation. He made no will, having distributed the greater part of his estate among his children during his lifetime.
John Alden's House, now a National Historic Landmark, was built in 1653 and is open to the public as a museum. It is run by the Alden Kindred of America, an organization which provides historical information about him and his home, including genealogical records of his descendants. John and Priscilla had the following children who survived to adulthood: Elizabeth, John (accused during the Salem witch trials), Joseph, Priscilla, Robert, Jonathan, Sarah, Ruth, Mary, Rebecca, and David. They have the most descendants today of all the pilgrim families.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Alden, John.|