From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article
Robert Cushman (1578 – 1625) Robert Cutchman or Cushman was baptized at Rolvenden, Kent, England, February 9, 1577/8 (i.e. the February immediately preceding 25 March 1578, which at that time was the first day of the calendar year). He served as the Chief Agent for the Separatist Leiden contingent and that of Plymouth Colony from 1617 until his death in the spring of 1625.
Although the name was spelled differently, the Couchmans of England had their ancestry in Kent, around Cranbrook. The people were predominantly cloth makers, Flemish in origin, who with other countrymen came to several regions of England at the invitation of King Edward III around the year 1336. (From Thomas Fuller, Church History of England, 1837).
In 1603, at about age 26, he was living in Canterbury in Kent, as an assistant to grocer George Masters. In November 1603, while an apprentice, he was brought before the church court for saying, he will not come to his parish church, because he cannot be edified and saith he can and will defend it by the word of God. He was excommunicated but eventually was granted absolution. In 1606, he opened his own store and became a freeman of Canterbury.
Robert Cushman and his family emigrated to Leiden, Holland, sometime before November 4, 1611, where he was a woolcomber. In the year 1616, the year before his appointment as agent of the Leiden (Leyden) Church, Robert Cushman had three family losses. His wife Sarah died early in the year - exact date unknown. One of their children had died in March and another in October.
Beginning in September 1617, Cushman spent much of his time in England, working on preparations for the voyage to the new colony He, along with John Carver, became an agent of the Leiden (Leyden) Holland congregation for doing business in England. With Elder William Brewster in hiding, being searched for by men of James VI and I for Brewster's distribution of religious tracts criticizing the king and his bishops, the Separatists looked to John Carver and Robert Cushman to carry on negotiations with officials in London regarding a voyage to America. By June 1619 Carver and Cushman had secured a patent from the Virginia Company for the Separatists. Cushman and Carver, as purchasing agents for the Leiden congregation, began to secure supplies and provisions in London and Canterbury.
In or about 1619 or 1620, Cushman produced his important work, The Cry of the Stone.
As the Separatists gathered in London, they were joined by the More children, who were placed under the care of Weston, Cushman, and Carver. John Carver and Robert Cushman had jointly agreed to find them guardians among the passengers. The children were sent to the Mayflower by Samuel More, the husband of their mother Katherine, after an admission of her adultery. The children were to be indentured servants to certain passengers: Elinor, age eight, to Edward and Elizabeth Winslow; Jasper, seven, to the Carvers; and both Richard, five, and Mary, four, to William and Mary Brewster. All of the children except Richard died in the first winter of 1620.
When it was time to leave Southampton, Cushman made sure he joined his friends aboard the Speedwell. But the ship was not seaworthy. Cushman stated: "(S)he is as open and leaky as a sieve". Soon after Mayflower and Speedwell cleared the coast, they put in for repairs at Dartmouth, a port 75 miles west of Southampton. The repairs were completed on August 17, but they were forced to remain in Dartmouth due to lack of wind. By then half their food had been eaten. In his writings Cushman was very concerned about this. Many of the passengers wanted to abandon the voyage, even though, to many, it meant losing everything they possessed. Cushman stated that the Mayflower captain refused to let them off. "(H)e will not hear them, nor suffer them to go ashore," Cushman stated, "lest they should run away." The months of tension had caught up with Cushman and he began to suffer a searing pain in his chest - "a bundle of lead as it were, crushing my heart." He felt he was going to die.  The two ships left Dartmouth and sailed more than 300 miles, but then they again had to turn back, this time to Plymouth in Devon, because of trouble on the Speedwell. The Speedwell had to be abandoned because she would never have survived the voyage. The trade-off for a safer passage was the reduction of the 120 passengers to about 100, who then had to be squeezed aboard a single ship. Among those from the Speedwell who did not board the Mayflower was the family of Cushman, who stated he expected at any moment to become meate for ye fishes. After the decision to abandon the Speedwell, Cushman and his family had priority to sail on the Mayflower but they declined - probably because of Robert's illness.
Robert Cushman and his son, Thomas, traveled to Plymouth Colony aboard the Fortune in 1621. Cushman carried with him a patent to the New Plymouth colony in the name of Mr John Pierce of London, one of the Merchant Adventurers.
Robert Cushman was to remain but a few weeks. His mission was to convince the settlers to accept the terms of their contract imposed by Thomas Weston and the London investors. This contract had incurred the resentment and anger of the Leiden contingent and which they had angrily rejected on August 5, 1620, the date of departure from Portsmouth. But Cushman found at Plymouth that the settlers had finally come to realize their situation and their need for assistance from London. Cushman did complete his mission, but left Plymouth on December 13, 1621, having already spent four months at sea, and left his son Thomas in the care of Governor Bradford. Bradford later reported on Cushman's visit to Plymouth: "stayed not above fourteen days" and that the ship Fortune was "speedily dispatched away laden with (cargo) estimated to be worth near 500£."
On the voyage back to England, the Fortune was attacked by French pirates and was robbed of its valuable cargo along with the possessions of crew and passengers.
Cushman arrived back in London, February 17, 1622. He was carrying with him a valuable document known as the Bradford-Winslow “Relation” - (or historically known as ‘Mourt’s Relation’) the detailed journal-account, that is, day-to-day written record of the exploration of areas of Cape Cod and Plymouth bay and harbor. The “Relation” is the single most important historical document of its kind in early American history.
When Robert Cushman arrived in London at the end of February, 1622, he hurried to have printed and disseminated ‘Mourt’s Relation’ as quickly and widely as possible, which was obviously meant as propaganda for the colony.
The mission of Cushman in aid of the new Plymouth colony was much advanced by his return and arrival in London, February 17, 1622, with the signed approval of the terms of the Adventurers with him. It had been certified by the signatures of the leadership now led by Governor Bradford, successor to John Carver. This document had renewed the relationship between the colonist and the London investors and the investors were also relieved of ingratitude and culpable impropriety.
Cushman served as agent of the New Plymouth Colony and representative of the colony with the company of Merchant Adventurers of London until he died in London of the plague in the spring of 1625. The place and date of his death and burial, also in Kent, are unknown.
His son, Thomas Cushman (ca.1607/08-1691), at age fourteen, was left behind at New Plymouth in the charge of the governor, William Bradford, after his father, Robert, returned to England. Thomas married Mary Allerton, daughter of Isaac Allerton, about the year 1636. They had eight children between 1637 and 1662 and a great many persons with the Cushman surname in America are their descendants. Thomas Cushman became Ruling Elder of the Plymouth Church in 1649, and remained in that office forty-two years until his death in 1691.
Robert Cushman's first marriage, in the parish of St Alphege, Canterbury, July 11, 1606, was to Sara Reder, who lived in the precincts of the cathedral and whose parentage has not been discovered. Sara Cushman died in Leiden, Holland, and was buried on October 11, 1616. Two of her three children died that year also.
The children of Robert Cushman and his wife Sara:
Robert Cushman married secondly at Leiden, Holland, June 5, 1617, Mary (Clarke) Shingleton, widow of Thomas Shingleton, a shoemaker from Sandwich, Kent.
Robert Cushman seems to be one of the earlier carriers of the name “Cushman”, which over many years, per Kent parish records of the 16th and 17th centuries, derived from such surnames as Cuchiman, Cutchman, Cuchman, Cowchman, Cowcheman, etc.
Although Robert Cushman was buried in England, in 1858 a 25 foot (8 metres) granite memorial column was erected in his family’s honor on Burial Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The column commemorates the Robert Cushman family - he as a fellow exile in Holland and as the Pilgrim Chief Agent in England, and his son Elder Thomas Cushman, as well as Thomas's wife Mary, daughter of Pilgrim Isaac Allerton.