Who was Stephen Hopkins, the Mayflower passenger who is Porter's 10th great-grandfather?

To me he was just one name out of 15,000 in my family tree database. But having proved his significant relationship to my husband, children, and grandchildren, I thought it best to learn a bit more about him.

Turns out he's quite a character.

It has long been known that he was a passenger on the Mayflower, but only recently has there been good evidence that this was not his first trip to the New World.

Stephen was born in Hampshire, England, in 1581. He married a woman named Mary, and by her he had three children: Elizabeth, Constance, and Giles. Constance is Porter's 9th great-grandmother.

In 1609, Stephen signed onto a ship called the Sea Venture, as a minister's clerk, for a voyage to Jamestown, Virginia. You may recall that the English had settled Jamestown in 1607; this ship was part of a fleet intended to bring settlers and much-needed supplies to the colony. However, the Sea Venture became separated from the fleet in a storm, and was wrecked on Bermuda. Food and fresh water were plentiful and the former passengers survived, led by Thomas Gates, who had been commissioned to become the new governor of Jamestown.

During his life as a castaway, Stephen Hopkins demonstrated the temper for which he was remembered in Porter's family, where outbursts of anger were met with the admonition, "You're behaving like Stephen Hopkins." Or perhaps it was less temper and more independent spirit. In any case, Stephen was vocal about his dissatisfaction with the leadership of Governor Gates, and questioned his authority, leading others to do the same. There's a name for that at sea: mutiny. He was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Thanks to his eloquent pleading and that of others, he was pardoned, and was wise enough in the future to keep his opinions about Governor Gates to himself.

If the name of the ship is familiar to you, you may be a fan of Shakespeare's plays. The fate of the Sea Venture was one of the inspirations for The Tempest, and some think the character Stephano in the play was modeled on Stephen Hopkins.

In May of 1610, having built themselves some new boats, the castaways finally arrived in Jamestown. There they found the colonists starving and dispirited, and determined to depart. Before they left, however, a ship arrived from England with supplies, more colonists, and a new governor. Stephen Hopkins stayed in Jamestown until recalled to England sometime after the death in 1613 of his wife, Mary. He married Elizabeth Fisher in 1617, and they had a daughter, Damaris.

In 1620, Stephen, Elizabeth, Damaris, Giles, and Constance boarded the Mayflower. (Stephen and Mary's other daughter, Elizabeth, had probably died or possibly was married by that time.) They were not Pilgrims, but what the Pilgrims called Strangers, having been recruited in London to assist with a new venture in Virginia. A son, Oceanus, was born to them on the voyage.  

As we all know, the Mayflower never made it to the sunny shores of Virginia. Stephen made the best of the situation, signed the Mayflower Compact,  and threw himself into the work of the Plymouth Colony, making himself particularly useful by virtue of his previous experience with Native Americans, exploring, and living off the land. When Samoset, an Abenaki Native, startled the colonists by walking into their settlement and speaking to them in English, he spent the night in the Hopkins home.

Stephen and Elizabeth had five more children, born in the Plymouth Colony: Caleb, Deborah, Damaris, Ruth, and Elizabeth. The repetition of names (Damaris, Elizabeth) is usually a good indication that the previous children of those names had died young. 

The courts were busy in those days with offenses major and minor, and genealogists are thankful for ancestors who got into a little bit of trouble, because they left records. Stephen Hopkins ran a tavern, and his name appears several times in the court records: for fighting (there's that temper again), for allowing drinking and game playing on Sunday, for allowing people to "drink excessively," and for selling goods for more than the customary price. Also, one of his servants was found to be pregnant by a man who subsequently was executed for having murdered a Native American. The court ruled that Stephen was financially responsible for her and the baby until her term of service was up; instead, he threw her out of the house. Another colonist saved the day by buying out her remaining two years of service and accepting responsibility for her and the child.

Adventuresome, resourceful, independent, competent, fractious, and of fiery temper—that's our Stephen Hopkins. If you wish to read more about him, here are some interesting links:

American Ancestors - Stephen Hopkins

MayflowerHistory.com - Stephen Hopkins

Jamestowne Society - Who Was Stephan Hopkins?

Wikipedia - Stephen Hopkins

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, November 9, 2019 at 7:42 am | Edit
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Quite a story! I'll e-mail you one of my own... No romance, I promise.

Posted by Diane Villafane on Saturday, November 09, 2019 at 12:33 pm

I feel in part responsible for the typo in your third link...

Posted by Stephan on Sunday, November 10, 2019 at 3:59 pm

Just for that, I'm leaving it. It happens every time and I have to go back and correct it. Neither can I ever type the word "heat" or the name "Jane" without having to go back and delete the last letter or three.

Posted by SursumCorda on Sunday, November 10, 2019 at 4:36 pm
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