Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mayflower Ancestors

Almost 400 years ago, my ancestors came over to this country, among the first pilgrims to try to tame a living out of its land. Sir Francis Eaton, a carpenter, his wife Sarah and their son Samuel, a baby. They came with the pilgrims, members of the congregation of Leyden separatists fleeing the jailors of England for the right to practice their religion to Holland, and then to the New World in 1620.

I wonder what Sarah, in her early twenties, thought when Francis, 23, told her he was taking their still suckling child on a voyage across the ocean to live in a new and uncivilized wilderness. As far as it is documented, it is believed that the voices of the wives and women of the congregation held no weight in vote of whether or not to partake in the venture to move to this unknown place. I wonder who among them saw it as a blessing and sanctuary. Did Sarah, young Sarah with her new baby, look forward to the new life? Did she support her husband, though quietly unwilling to leave her family behind, or did she believe their god would see them through this one more trial? Or was she terrified, a new bride and newly mothered?

She and Francis were wed in Bristol, and she is thought to have been from Bristol but there is no record of her before a marriage date, as well as no listing of her maiden name. Just Sarah, wife of Sir Francis, mother of Samuel. Sarah, who died the first winter aboard ship, never stepping foot on the earth she had crossed an ocean to meet. What records remained say she died early in 1621 but after January 11. Other records indicate she died in early spring. All of the accidental and surprise deaths were well-documented, so it is assumed that she succumbed to some form of general illness from the harsh winter.

Francis and Sarah married in Bristol in 1619, the place of Francis’ birth. Their son Samuel, named after a brother of Francis’ who died in childhood, was born before the beginning of the voyage from Holland in 1620. Such a short marriage filled with an intense uprooting... and for Sarah, a historically quiet death.

I like to imagine that Francis and Sarah loved each other, so young (to my twenty-first century heart, I am aware). I can’t imagine she would have willingly carried a vulnerable babe into that watery wilderness save for some greater danger threatening them if they remained. I wonder if Francis was ashore when she died, as one of the younger men aboard, or if he was able to sit beside her and whisper his goodbyes and apologies for bringing them across. I wonder if he held any regret for their decision in the loss of her, not knowing of course the place in history they were carving, or if he believed that their god brought them there for another purpose and that his heart breaking was a sacrifice required of him… And how he must have felt, left behind without lodging or food yet, with a young baby who would never have memory of his mother.

Francis wed twice more and had more children. His oldest son Samuel survived, grew into a man, married and had his own children, from whom I am descended. When Francis died in 1633, himself a victim of some sickness that swept through Plymouth, his estate at the time of death is listed as “one cow and a calf, two hogs, fifty bushels of corn, a black suit, a white hat and a black hat, boots, saws, hammers, an adze, square, augers, a chisel, boards, fishing lead, and some kitchen items.”

In my post-Thanksgiving feast haze I allow myself a moment of gratitude for my ancestors who had the fortitude to brave a new world (even if their western views originally biased them to see the Indians as savages, which allowed them to plunder the native’s food stocks without remorse that by feeding themselves they were leaving another people to hunger).

May my ancestors’ trials, triumphs and failures remind me to be brave and fearless when following the path and course my heart see as true. May it remind me to treat other living beings with as much respect as I wish to be given. May it mark the growth and evolution we have made in seeing ourselves as part of a larger interconnected web and may it offer patience and tolerance of the unknown.

Sarah Whispers to the Night Sky
I often dream of a woman in somber clothing standing at a wooden ship rail, staring out at the ocean… The cloying scent of the ocean air is a being all its own element and we are the aliens in its landscape. The world around us has turned to grey storm, where wave and sky cannot be separated, but become one canvas, as my son becomes against my chest, seeking his nourishment and light from me within this mural of fear and hope. We are travelling home, compelled by faith, to a place none of us have yet known. A place we will all rest ourselves when we leave this world of man. But when the waters calm themselves and the skies open to reveal the universe-in-splendor above us I am filled with the wonder of god. There is more to this world than we can know, and more than we should know. We are of godliness, but we are not gods and this ocean holds more wisdom and mystery in her than we can muster. I meet her, mother to mother, and the water within me knows this to be true- I see endings in her endlessness.

1 comment:

  1. This is excellent. Too many stories are lost in the shifting between then and now and it's good that you can pick up a thread and move it within you, and then give it voice. Thank you for sharing this.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.