Welcome! I really enjoy exchanging information with people and love that this blog helps with that. I consider much of my research as a work in progress, so please let me know if you have conflicting information. Some of the surnames I'm researching:

Many old Cape families including Kelley, Eldredge/idge, Howes, Baker, Mayo, Bangs, Snow, Chase, Ryder/Rider, Freeman, Cole, Sears, Wixon, Nickerson.
Many old Plymouth County families including Washburn, Bumpus, Lucas, Cobb, Benson.
Johnson (England to MA)
Corey (Correia?) (Azores to MA)
Booth, Jones, Taylor, Heatherington (N. Ireland to Quebec)
O'Connor (Ireland to MA)
My male Mayflower ancestors (only first two have been submitted/approved by the Mayflower Society):
Francis Cooke, William Brewster, George Soule, Isaac Allerton, John Billington, Richard Warren, Peter Browne, Francis Eaton, Samuel Fuller, James Chilton, John Tilley, Stephen Hopkins, and John Howland.
Female Mayflower ancestors: Mary Norris Allerton, Eleanor Billington, Mary Brewster, Mrs. James Chilton, Sarah Eaton, and Joan Hurst Tilley.
Child Mayflower ancestors: Giles Hopkins, (possibly) Constance Hopkins, Mary Allerton, Francis Billington, Love Brewster, Mary Chilton, Samuel Eaton, and Elizabeth Tilley.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Francis Billington 1606-1684, England>Plymouth>Middleboro Mass.

Francis Billington was born ca 1606 in England, possibly the Lincolnshire area, the son of John and Eleanor (______) Billington. He was a boy of about 14 when he came to America on the Mayflower with his parents and younger brother John. I’m quite taken by the Billingtons’ colorful ways—they were a raucous family by Pilgrim standards, sometimes referred to as America’s first dysfunctional family, and caused a lot of headaches for the leaders. Every group needs some rabble rousers to question authority!

Gov. William Bradford referred to them as profane and father John was often at odds with the settlement leaders. He was obviously one of the “strangers” on the voyage—rather than part of the “saints” who settled Plymouth for religious freedom. John’s journey to the new world ended when he was executed for murder in 1630. I wrote about John here.
Site where the John Billington family lived in Plymouth

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, as Francis developed an early reputation as a troublemaker. When the Mayflower was anchored off Provincetown, he fired off a musket in his family's cabin that nearly ignited a barrel of gunpowder which would have destroyed the ship and everyone aboard.

When the group landed at Plymouth, Francis Billington climbed a tree on Fort Hill and saw what appeared to be a great sea. No one seemed to take his claim seriously, but eventually one of the ship's crew accompanied him to take a look. What they found wasn’t the sea, but a lake of about five miles in circumference, which to this day is called the Billington Sea.  The lake, with its vast amount of fish and fowl, must have been a great help to the settlement.
Billington Sea Postcard

Francis’s brother John also gave the Pilgrim leaders some headaches. In July 1621, the 16 year old lost his way in the woods. For five days he wandered aimlessly until he stumbled on the Indian village of Manomet, some 20 miles from Plymouth. He was passed onto the Nausets of Cape Cod, who had attacked the Pilgrims during the first encounter back in December and from whom the Pilgrims had taken corn and disturbed graves. When he heard of the news, Bradford ordered a party of 10 men to go for the boy with Squanto and another Indian as guides. They met with the Nausets in present day Eastham and promised to replenish their corn. More than 100 warriors armed with bows and arrows watched the discussion and John was carried in one of the men's arms, looking none the worse for wear, wearing a string of shell beads around his neck. The Nauset sachem Aspinet was presented with a knife and peace was declared.
First Encounter Beach, Eastham
 Francis married at Plymouth, in July 1634, Christian (Penn) Eaton (widow of Francis Eaton of the Mayflower). Christian was born in England about 1607, the daughter of George and Elizabeth (_____) Penn. She came to Plymouth in 1623 on the ship Anne.

Their children were all born at Plymouth:
Elizabeth b. 10 July 1635, married Richard Bullock, Robert Beere (killed during King Philip’s War), Thomas Patey (drowned on Seekonk River).
Joseph b. before 2 Feb 1636/7, married Grace _____.
Martha b ca 1638, m. Samuel Eaton, Robert Crossman.
 Mary b. ca 1640, m. Samuel Sabin.
Isaac b. ca 1644, m. Hannah Glass.
 Child b. ___ and died young.
 Rebecca b. 8 June 1648 and evidently died young.
Dorcas b. ca 1650, m. Edward May.
Mercy prob. as an unnamed daughter 25 Feb 1651/2, m. John Martin.

I have two Billington lines, one through their daughter Martha (and first husband Samuel Eaton) and another through son Isaac.

When Francis married Christian, he took responsibility for the three Eaton children, one of whom Gov. Bradford described as "an idiot," but who lived until 1651, presumably at home.

Francis was not made a Freeman at Plymouth. Possibly he never joined the church or paid the price for his family’s undesirability.

In 1642 Francis and Christian Billington "put Elizabeth, their daughter, apprentice to John Barnes and Mary, his wife, to dwell with them and to do their services until she shall accomplish the age of twenty-three years (she being now seven years of age...)" Their son Joseph was already living with John Cooke and in trouble with the court because he kept running away and going home. The court ordered that for every time he did this, Francis and Christian would be put in the stocks. Also, if 14 year old Benjamin Eaton (Christian's child from first marriage) enticed Joseph to run away, he would be put in stocks also. Their daughters Mary and Martha may have also been put out to other families.

This practice of putting out children occurred on a fairly regular basis in Plymouth. In part it may have roots in an English custom that dated back at least to the 16th century, when children were brought up in families other then their own due to the belief that they would learn better manners than at home. It also may have had to do with economic hardship of many families and the shortage of cheap labor. Children were apprenticed to learn a trade, obtain a general education in the household, or were simply servants. Some children put out were from reasonably well-off, educated famlies, some were orphans, others from homes where economic hardship necessitated it.

Francis received land from his mother, Eleanor Billington, widow, on 8 Jan 1637/8 for "natural love I bear unto Francis Billington my natural son." She conveyed to him all her land at Plain Dealing in New Plymouth, reserving enough of the land for her own use during her lifetime.

Francis and Christian lived at Plymouth until 1669, when they moved to Middleboro and occupied land granted to Francis as one of the "First Comers." They lived there until their deaths, except for a few years during King Philip's War when the family fled to Plymouth for safety.

Francis died at Middleborough in Plymouth Colony on 3 December 1684. The Middleborough records state he was 80 years of age, but an earlier deposition gives him a birth year of 1606, so he would have died at 78.  Christian likely died the same year.

In his old age Francis was dependent on his son Isaac for support and died intestate. No probate record appears, although son Isaac petitioned the court in 1703/4 for title to all his father's Middleboro lands, stating he had, for seven years, sole care of his parents in their old age, which indicates Francis and Christian died around the same time.

A Plymouth County Court case of Sept 1722 brought by Isaac's daughter Desire (Billington) Bonney and her husband, James, shows that Francis died leaving issue of two sons and five daughters, viz sons Joseph and Isaac, daughters Elizabeth, Mary, Dorcas, Mercy and Martha. There was a total of 8 shares in the estate, with a double portion for Joseph as the eldest son. A 1719 quitclaim deed from Francis's grandson Francis Billington, reading "my father Francis and grandfather (unnamed) Billington" seems to imply a son Francis Jr, but in the absence of any mention of such a son in Plymouth records, it appears the deed was a clerical error. Original must have read "my father Joseph and grandfather Francis Billington." Indications are that the seven children named in the Bonney suit and their progeny were the only survivors of Francis.

Sources Not Listed Above:

Eugene Stratton, Plymouth Colony, It's People and History, 1986

Mourt’s Relation, 1622

James and Patricia Scott Deetz , The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love and Death in Plymouth Colony, 2001

Harriet Hodge, Mayflower Families Through Five Generations," Volume Five, Edward Winslow and John Billington, published by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1997

Nathaniel Philbrick, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War, 2006


  1. Excellent article about our Billington ancestors. Famous for their frequent difficulties with the law and colony rules, their exploits have documented their lives to a much greater extent than if they were simple solid citizens.

  2. Black sheep ancestors are the best! They leave wonderful paper trails, and make fun reading. The Billingtons always look like they are having the most fun at our Mayflower meetings, too.

  3. Enjoyed your very ineresting story and learning something new. We share a few Mayflower Pilgrims.

  4. Thanks everyone for your comments. So true about black sheep ancestors. I can just see the serious leaders of the colony tearing their hair out. Glad to know the Billingtons still know how to enjoy themselves!

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I saw the name Billington and hoped this post might shed some light on the parents of Richard Bullock's 3rd wife, Elizabeth Billington. This was way more than I could have hoped for!

    1. Thank you for your kinds words. I'm glad you found the post helpful. Chris

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. This kind of explains why I wasn't too eagerly greeted on Mayflower family group page, lol. Thanks for your writing about our Billington ancestors :)

    1. Haha! The Billington family mis so entertaining to research! Chris

  7. Is it known where Francis and Christian lived in Middleboro? Were they buried at Nemasket Hill?

  8. I just found this connection to Richard Bullock whom it appears I am descended....never thought I could connect back this far! Thanks for the info on why their children were scattered out amongst the community...great site!

  9. Wow I was so excited to find out I had ancestors that were on the Mayflower. Francis Billington and Christian Penn.(my 9th Great Grandparents on my Mother's father's side. I am still proud of them no matter if they were black sheep ancestors. I also have famous ancestors, Lewis Cass and Daniel Webster, and Even Barbara Bush, my 8 th Great Aunt! Many Great Grandparents that were founders of town in America.

    1. Charleen, I think the black sheep ancestors are always interesting and that their behavior made the visible in the records is an added bonus! Chris

  10. I'm tickled to learn that I am a decent of America's First Dysfunctional Family.

    1. My apologies for never responding to this; Blogger hasn't been consistently notifying me of comments left here. I like the way you think!!

  11. Trying to find out more about my Billington connection - Ichabod Billington.


I'm now moderating comments on this blog. My apologies for any ensuing delays, but the large number of "spam" comments have made this necessary. ~Chris