Edit, February 2018: A recent discovery by Michael Paulick and Robert Cushman shows Robert Cushman died in Benenden, Kent, in May 1625. I discuss their recent NEHG Register article here.
I’ve barely scratched the surface in learning about Robert
Cushman, due in part to there not being enough free hours in the day to do
research, but thought I would share what I have learned so far. We are snowed
in today, so what better time for genealogy?!
Robert Cushman (his last name is spelled in quite a variety
of ways including Coachman and Couchman) is my 12th great-grandfather on my
grandfather Arthur Washburn Davis’ side of the family. He did not come to Plymouth on the Mayflower
but was one of the group’s leaders at Leiden, Holland. Robert was
chosen Governor of the Speedwell, the
ship that was making the journey to Virginia
with the Mayflower, but it was not
sea worthy and had to turn back. When it could not be satisfactorily repaired,
some of the passengers were crowded onto the Mayflower, but Robert stayed behind. It is believed that his
declining health was the main reason. In a letter to Edward Southworth in August 1620 he wrote
that he thought he was close to death.
Robert came to Plymouth
with his 14 year old son Thomas on board the Fortune in
1621 and was a Deacon of the church. In 1623 Robert Cochman is included in the
division of land at Plymouth,
receiving one acre as a passenger on the Mayflower.
He was not a passenger on the ship but since he stayed behind because of the issues
with the Speedwell, the leaders must
have felt him deserving of the land. It seems his primary reason for the brief trip to Plymouth was to obtain
signatures on articles of agreement that the Pilgrims had refused to sign the
year before, which showed his excellent leadership skills. He also was to accompany
goods on the return trip to give to the Merchant Adventurers as part of the
agreement to finance the settlement. Perhaps he also went to make sure Thomas
was amongst the Pilgrims given his father’s poor health. He also gave a sermon
on the first anniversary of the Pilgrim’s landing. There is more about that
He was baptized at Rolvenden, Kent, England on 9 February 1577/78, the
son of Thomas and Elinor (Hubbard) Couchman.
|St. Mary's Rolvenden Church, Kent|
Robert married, first, at St. Alphege Church, Canterbury, Kent
on 31 July 1606, Sarah Reader/Reder, daughter of Thomas.
Robert and Sarah had three children:
Thomas b. St. Andrew, Canterbury,
Child, buried St. Peter's, Leiden, 11 March 1616
Child, buried St. Peter's, Leiden, 24 October 1616
Sarah was buried St. Peter's, Leiden, on 11 October 1616. Perhaps she died
in childbirth as she had a child buried 13 days later.
I descend from Robert’s son Thomas, whom I wrote about here.
My direct line from
Robert and Sarah is:
Cushman 1577/78 - 1625
Reder - 1616
Cushman 1607/08 - 1691
Allerton 1616 - 1699
Cushman 1637 - 1726
Howland 1646 - 1672
Cushman 1664 - 1757
Lewis 1670/71 - 1743/44
Cushman 1700 -
Perkins 1695 -
Perkins 1720 -
Davis 1724/25 -
Perkins 1752 - 1799
Pierce 1747 - 1824
Pierce 1773 - 1820
Nye 1771 - 1858
Nye Pierce 1809 - 1896
Sturtevant Bumpus 1804 - 1853
Briggs Bumpus 1840 - 1916
Washburn 1828 - 1921
Francis Washburn 1857 - 1941
Maria Benson 1861 - 1914
Clyfton Washburn 1896 - 1974
Brewster Smith 1895 - 1913
Elmer Washburn Davis 1913 - 1976
Louise Booth 1917 - 1999
Davis Rollins 1934 - 2005
+Marie Frances Johnson
Robert married, second, at Leiden
5 June 1617, Mary (Clarke) Shingelton from Sandwich England, widow of Thomas
Shingelton. She apparently died before 1621 as there is no evidence she came to
Plymouth or any
mention of children.
Robert was a grocer in Canterbury
and a woolcomber at Leiden.
He was clearly a well-educated man, as seen by his literate and businesslike
letters to John Carver, Edward Southworth, William Bradford and the Leiden congregation, as
well as in his role with the Separatists.
Canterbury Cathedral Archives contain records of libels
involving Robert Cushman from 1603. Libels were derogatory verses posted on
church doors throughout Canterbury, County Kent.
A push to identify and arrest the persons responsible resulted in Robert
Cushman, who had been apprenticed as a grocer to George Masters since 1596, to
be deposed regarding his involvement in the libels. It seems that Robert
Cushman wrote several libels and delivered them to Peter Masters, son of George
the grocer. Peter then took them to Helkiah Reader, son of Thomas Reader, to
post on church doors. Others accused of being involved in the scandal included
Thomas Hunt, Nicholas Gibson and Joseph Tilden. Hunt, Reader and Cushman were
imprisoned in the Westgate Prison in Canterbury.
Tilden was Robert's step-brother, through his father's marriage to Ellen
(Cowchman) Evernden. A couple of years after the depositions, on 31 July 1606,
Robert Cushman married Sara Reader/Reder, sister of Helkiah Reader, and
daughter of Thomas Reader.
Robert was excommunicated for not recognizing the Church of
England and spent time in a cell of Canterbury’s
West Gate Towers.
He later fled to Holland.
|Westgate Towers houses a museum|
Beginning in 1617 and continuing until his death, Robert
spent much time in London and vicinity
negotiating on behalf of the Leiden congregation
and later on behalf of the settlers in Plymouth.
He, John Carver and William Brewster labored constantly in their dealings with
a number of London
merchants, arranging for the shipping and provisions for the Mayflower and the Speedwell in 1620.
About 1619 Robert Cushman, then the Pilgrims' agent in London for the Mayflower voyage, wrote a 63 page book
called The Cry of a Stone. It was not
printed until 1642, about 17 years after his death, but it was probably read by
others in manuscript form during his life. It provides a unique first-hand
account of the Leiden
years. He viewed his membership in the Pilgrim Church
as "the neerest fellowship that the Saints can have in this world, and
most resembleth heaven." Cushman probably first joined the Pilgrim Church
in Leiden about
1609. His name on the title page is spelled Coachman.
Robert did not stay long in Plymouth. He returned to England on the Fortune on December 13, 1621. On the voyage home, the vessel was
captured by the French and plundered. Robert was take to France and after two weeks he was released and
returned to England
where he acted as a financial agent for the Pilgrims.Fortunately, the signed articles of agreement and the
manuscript of Mourt's Relation, which was written to assure the Merchant
Adventurers of the success of the colony and attract new settlers, were not
In London around 1621, he
published a pamphlet on Emigration to America, in which he highlighted the
advantages of the new country. In 1622 he printed the first sermon he preached
in Plymouth in December
1621 on "Sin and Danger of Self-Love." This sermon was reprinted in Boston in 1724, in 1780
and in 1785. Interestingly the principal intent of the sermon was to convince
the Pilgrims to accept the terms offered by the London merchants, and was therefore more of
an economic than a theological nature. Also in 1622 he published an eloquent
vindication of the colonial enterprise and an appeal for missions to the North
In 1623 in connection with Edward Winslow, he obtained a
grant for the territory of Cape Ann in Massachusetts
from Lord Sheffield and there a group made the first permanent settlement in
Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Documents in the High Court of Admiralty Case of Stevens and
Fell vs. the Little James, 1624 includes testimony from Robert Cushman of
Rosemary Lane, London, yeoman, aged 45 or thereabouts.
|Robert Cushman's signature, source Mayflower Descendant Spring 2011|
Robert Cushman died in London in the spring of 1625 after contracting the plague. In early 1626
Myles Standish returned from a trip to England and "brought them
notice of the death of their ancient friend Mr. Cushman, whom the Lord took
away also this year."Robert requested that William Bradford “Have a care of
my son as of your son,” which Bradford
accomplished as Thomas grew up to become the ruling elder of the church.
Although he is buried half a world away, there is a monument in his honor erected at Burial Hill in Plymouth.
|Cushman family monument at Burial Hill, 2012|
The monument to Robert reads:
Fellow exile with the Pilgrims in Holland,
Afterwards their chief agent in England,
Arrived here IX November, MDCXXI,
With Thomas Cushman his son:
Preached IX-. December,
His memorable sermon on “the Danger of self-love
And the sweetness of true friendship:”
Returned to England XIII December,
To vindicate tho enterprise of Christian emigration;
And there remained in the service of the Colony Till MDCXXV,
When, having prepared to make Plymouth
His permanent home.
West side: –
He died, lamented by the forefathers
as “their ancient friend, – who was
as their right hand with their friends
the adventurers, and for divers years
had done and agitated all their business
with them to their great advantage.”
“And you, my loving friends, the adventurers
to this plantation, as your care has been first
to settle religion here before either profit
or popularity, so, I play you, go on. –
I rejoice — that you thus honor God
with your riches, and I trust you shall be repaid
again double and treble in this world, yea,
and the memory of this action shall never die.”
Dedication of the Sermon
A book Cushman ancestors would be interested in is Robert
Cushman of Kent, by Robert E. Cushman and Franklin E. Cole. I purchased it last year and it is in my pile of books to read!
You can also download Robert’s sermon on The Sin and Danger
of Self-Love through googlebooks.
Sources Not Listed
Mary Sherwood, Pilgrim:
A Biography of William Brewster, 1982
Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration Begins,
Michael R. Paulick, "Pilgrim Robert Cushman's Book, The
Cry of a Stone," and "Canterbury
Cathedral Archives, Robert Cushman's Libels of 1603," Mayflower Descendant, Vol 60, Issue 1, Spring 2011
Caleb H. Johnson, “Documents in the High Court of Admiralty
Case of Stevens and Fell vs. the Little James, 1624,” Mayflower Descendant, Vol 60, Issue 1, Spring 2011