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Robert Cushman (1578-1625)

Robert Cushman, a driving force behind the establishment of Plymouth Colony.


Lydia Cushman Descends from seven passengers on the Mayflower to Plymouth Colony, 1620. Following shows her line down from Robert Cushman, a major player in the voyage of the Mayflower (though he was not a passenger) and the establishment of Plymouth Colony.

1. ROBERT CUSHMAN b. 1578, England m. (1) Sarah Reder
2. THOMAS b. 8 Feb 1607, Canterbury, Eng. m. Mary Allerton*, daughter of Isaac Allerton* & Mary Norris*
3. THOMAS JR. b. 16 Sep 1637, Scituate, Ma. m. Ruth Howland daughter of John Howland* & Elizabeth Tilley*
Elizabeth was daughter of John Tilley* & Joan Hurst*
4. ROBERT II b. 4 Oct 1664, Kingston, Ma. m. Persis Lewis
5. JONATHAN b. 28 Jul 1712, Plymouth, Ma. m. Susanna Benson
6. EBENEZER b. 10 Jan 1748 Susana Holmes
7. LYDIA1 b. 25 Sep 1775, Kingston, Mass. m. Reuben Bisbee
*Mayflower

A Short History of the Founding of Plymouth Colony

Robert Cushman (#1 above) played a key roll in the founding of Plymouth Colony. To understand how and why, it is necessary to to review a bit of history. In 17th-Century England, there was a movement toward greater religious, and by extension, political freedom. Much of the British population believed that the Church of England was too wealthy, too Catholic, and too distant from the people it ministered. They questioned why congregants should not simply read the Bible and take it's meaning for themselves. They asked why it was necessary for clergy to dictate their religious and political beliefs? "Pilgrims" traveled annually to Canterbury to express their dissatisfaction with the church, their stories, in part, being chronicled by Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales.

Two distinct groups emerged from this movement: the Separatists who totally rejected the Church of England and its teachings; and the Puritans who remained loyal to the church, but strove to reform it from within. Over time, the Puritans became extreme in their views--overly judgmental and disapproving of all worldly pleasure. Separatists, on the other hand, while still demanding simple religious ceremonies, enjoyed their food and drink, colorful clothing, and the company of the opposite sex. Their rejection of the official church, and their demands for religious freedoms were seen as a threat to the monarchy. They were persecuted and often hounded out of England. One such group to flee from England was led to Leiden, Holland, by their pastor, John Robinson. Robinson's followers often referred to themselves as "Saints", because they thought anyone who tried to live up to their religious ideals and beliefs was truly a saint.

John Robinson's congregation dedicated itself to establishing a colony in America. Robert Cushman and John Carver were sent to London to arrange the lease of a ship, the Mayflower, and to purchase a second ship, the Speedwell. Because the congregation feared their numbers were not large enough to sustain a successful colony, they invited others from London to join them. These Londoners probably considered themselves loyal to the Church of England, and most had no driving religious motivations. They were simply looking for a better life and were willing to abide by the rules of the Saints, who referred to their invited companions as the "Strangers." After many delays, the Mayflower and the Speedwell finally set off for America in the fall of 1620. Almost immediately Speedwell began taking on water. With Robert Cushman aboard, Speedwell returned to port where it was decommissioned. Meanwhile, Mayflower continued on to "New England."

A common misperception is that Mayflower passengers to Plymouth were "Puritans." In fact, only two of them were Puritans, and neither left descendants. It is amusing to note that an early complaint among the first Pilgrims at Plymouth was that they had run out of spirits and beer and had nothing to drink but water!

Arriving off Cape Cod in the fall of the year 1620, the Saints and Strangers aboard the Mayflower were long on idealism and short on common sense. For example, they intended to catch fish to feed themselves, but nobody had remembered to bring fish hooks. As reflected in the Mayflower Compact, they determined to live collectively in the new colony, each man pledging to forsake his own selfish interests and work to the benefit of others. Predictably, the system became problematic. Open quarreling broke out as allegations of shirking and skimming began to fly. Lacking economic incentive for individuals to produce surplus goods, the Colonists nearly starved to death before they abandoned their Utopian ideals and granted themselves private property rights.

The Pilgrims did not know it then, but having cut themselves loose from the watchful eye of an ever-present monarchy, no longer stifled by an official church, and having learned the hard lessons of collectivism, they began to prosper and gradually accrued unprecedented individual freedoms. Their spirit of adventure and desire for freedom would eventually be expressed in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the U.S. Constitution.

Recommended reading:

Jonathan King, The Mayflower Miracle: The Pilgrim's Own Story of the Founding of America, David & Charles, London, 1987.
George F. Willison, Saints and Strangers, Time Life Books, 1964, reprinted, 1981.

Biographies of Some Ancestors of Lydia Cushman

Robert Cushman2

Robert Cushman (#1) descended from generations of Cushmans from Kent, England. He and John Carver (Plymouth's first governor) arranged to lease the Mayflower and purchase a companion ship, the Speedwell, to transport members of Robinson's congregation and others to the New World. They also put together a group of London investors, known as the Merchant Adventurers, who agreed to underwrite the voyage. Robert Cushman intended himself to travel aboard the Speedwell, which was then to remain with the colony for fishing and trade. Speedwell proved to be overloaded and unseaworthy. When it was decided not to sail it, Robert Cushman was asked to remain behind in London and look after its passengers until they could sail the following year.

In August 1621, Cushman sailed to Plymouth aboard the Fortune, taking with him his only son, Thomas (#2), and arriving there on 21 November. After a short stay in the colony, he left his son with the family of Governor Bradford and returned to England to manage the business affairs of the colonists. Before leaving, he gave a famous sermon in which he exhorted the colonists to put aside their selfish pursuits and work together for the good of the colony.

On the voyage home Robert was captured, plundered and detained briefly by the French. After 1621 he was the colony's London agent, responsible for arranging the transfer of the rest of the Leiden congregation to Plymouth. He also handled the sale of furs and fish sent to England by the colonists, and purchased supplies for them. It seems from the record that Robert Cushman fully intended to make a home for himself in the new colony, but he died in London in 1625, probably of the plague.

Robert's son, Thomas Cushman (#2), lived with Bradford who educated him and eventually adopted him. In 1636 Thomas married Mary Allerton, daughter of Isaac and Mary Norris Allerton, all passengers on the Mayflower. In 1644 Thomas succeeded William Brewster as Ruling Elder.

His son, Thomas Cushman, Jr. (#3), married Ruth Howland, whose parents, John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley were also Mayflower passengers. Thus, all of Thomas Cushman's line is descended from Mayflower passengers Isaac Allerton, John Tilley, and John Howland.

Note: Henry Wiles Cushman wrote what is considered by many to be the definitive work on the descendants of Robert Cushman, Historical and Biographical Genealogy of the Cushmans: The Descendants of Robert Cushman, The Puritan, From the year 1617 to 1855, published by Boston, Little, Brown & Co., 1885. There is a curious error in the title--Robert Cushman was a deacon in John Robinson's Leiden congregation. As previously discussed, he was a Separatist, and most certainly not a Puritan.

John Howland3

At age twenty-eight John Howland was recruited in England by John Carver to join his household and be his assistant in moving the Leiden congregation to America. Also included in Carver's household were a servant-girl Desire Minter (age fifteen), a servant-lad, William Lantham, and several other servants. During a storm in the crossing, John Howland was pitched overboard, but luckily was able to catch hold of a trailing halyard and was hauled back aboard the Mayflower. John was the thirteenth signer of the Mayflower Compact. While in Cape Cod Harbor, John Howland, John and Edward Tilley and others explored the New England coast for several days and chose Plymouth to begin a settlement.

Elizabeth Tilley's parents and aunt and uncle died in the winter of 1621. John Carver took Elizabeth in as one of his household. After John and Katherine Carver died in the spring of 1621, John Howland became the head of the household containing Elizabeth Tilley, Desire Minter, and William Lantham. The living arrangements for this household are unknown. After John married Elizabeth, he received four acres of land as the head of household in the 1623 Division of Land.

Isaac Allerton4

Isaac Allerton and his sister Sarah were members of John Robinson's congregation in Leiden in 1609. As time passed the congregation recognized the extraordinary organizational abilities of Isaac Allerton. By the time the congregation left Holland Isaac had become one of its prominent members. In 1620 Isaac, his wife Mary (Norris), and children Bartholomew, Remember and Mary arrived in Plymouth. Allerton's wife died during the first winter. When Governor John Carver died, Isaac was elected Assistant Governor to William Bradford. For several years Isaac was second only to Bradford. In 1623 Allerton married Fear Brewster, daughter of Ruling Elder William Brewster. They had a son Isaac in 1627. In 1625 Robert Cushman, the colony's London agent, died and Bradford appointed Allerton as their new London agent.

In 1627 the colony and the Merchant Adventurers in England created a group of individuals known as the Undertakers to assume the debt of the colony. Under the agreement the entire trade of the colony was bound to the Undertakers who would buy and sell products exchanged between the colony and England. The agreement allowed the Undertakers to exercise a monopoly on trade with the colony. The Undertakers gave the colonists supplies worth 50 pounds and with the profits from the colony's products repaid the Merchant Adventurers.

By 1630/1, the colonists became dissatisfied with Allerton's financial activities, which grew to disaffection and finally alienation. Bradford removed Allerton as London agent because Allerton had exceeded his authority. In 1633 Allerton moved to Salem where he established a fishing fleet. Because of his free-thinking attitudes and affiliation with Quakers and Roger Williams, Allerton was asked to leave Salem. He moved to New Amsterdam where he continued his trading business. In 1646 he moved to New Haven and continued his business with his son Isaac. Allerton died in 1659.



Notes:
  1. Henry Wiles Cushman, Historical and Biographical Genealogy of the Cushmans: The Descendants of Robert Cushman, The Puritan, From the year 1617 to 1855, Boston, Little, Brown & Co., 1885. Republished by Higginson books. Cushman mistakenly has Lydia Cushman (#7) as the daughter of another Ebenezer Cushman who was married to Rebecca Churchill.
  2. Robert Jennings Heinsohn, PhD, Society of Mayflower Descendants in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Robert Cushman: The Man Who Would Have Signed the Mayflower Compact But Couldn't. Online at www.sail1620.org.
  3. Robert Jennings Heinsohn, PhD, Society of Mayflower Descendants in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, John And Elizabeth Howland, Online at www.sail1620.org.
  4. Robert Jennings Heinsohn, PhD, Society of Mayflower Descendants in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Reflections on Isaac Allerton, online at www.sail1620.org

PlacePlymouth, Plymouth, Massachusetts
Latitude41.952751
Longitude-70.66996
Linked toIsaac Allerton; Lydia Cushman; Robert Cushman; John Howland; Mary Norris

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