Stickles Mayhem on the Mayflower: Unpopular Pilgrims

It turns the Raymond/Stickles family has been trouble from the very beginning, before the Mayflower even made it to Plymouth Rock. Our ancestor, John Billington (1580 – 1630), traveled on the Mayflower (1620) with his wife Eleanor and his two very active sons, John Billington II (1604 – 1630) Francis Billington (1607 – 1684). The Billingtons were not Pilgrims, they belonged to the Anglican church and were known by the conservative Pilgrims as “strangers”. They were also not servants, and had their own cabin on the Mayflower.

In his history Of Plymouth Plantation, colonial Governor William Bradford describes the Billingtons as, “one of the profanest families among them”. In 1625, after Billington had become a vocal dissident against Pilgrim leadership, Governor Bradford wrote a letter to Robert Cushman saying “Billington still rails against you…he is a knave, and so will live and died.” Billington’s views on liberty put him at odds with the Pilgrims, and especially William Bradford, who had traveled so far to have things their way.

According to historian George F. Willison, John Billington Sr. was, “unquestionably one of those mixed up in the mutiny on the Mayflower” which resulted in the adoption of the Mayflower Compact. John, along with other “strangers”, announced that once on shore they fully intended to “use their own liberty, for none had the power to command them”. The strangers argued that since they had landed north of their intended location, the patent giving the Pilgrims full control was invalid. On November 11 the Mayflower Compact provided settlers with individual rights and assurances, and the strangers stayed.

mayflowerJohn Billington Sr. was the 26th signer of the Mayflower Compact

Eleanor Billington was one of only five adult female survivor of the brutal winter of 1620-21. In fact, the Billington family was the only Mayflower family to survive the first winter intact. Nearly half of the original colonists died, and by the famous Thanksgiving in 1621 Eleanor was one of only four adult female survivors.

Raymond ancestor Francis Billington made a name for himself almost immediately by shooting his father’s musket in the Mayflower’s cabin soon after arrival. The sparks surrounded the barrels of gunpowder, and could have ended the colony before it even began. On one of his many adventures in the wilderness, Francis discovered Billington Sea, which still bears his name. At age 16, his brother John Jr. became lost in the woods and was rescued by Squanto (Tisquantum). Yes, that Squanto.

The Billington brothers are so notorious that there is a children’s book detailing their exploits. A must have for the junior Mayflower descendents in your life:

The trouble making apples don’t fall far from the revolutionary tree, so it’s no surprise that in March 1621, John Sr. was brought before the council for “contempt of the Captain’s lawful command with opprobrious speeches”. John Billington Sr. was an early proponent of free speech, and was vocal regarding the shortcomings of the government of Plymouth colony. He was sentenced to have his neck and heels tied together, but he “humbl[ed] himself” and begged forgiveness. Since it was a first offense he was released. Continuing the family tradition, in 1636 wife Eleanor (sometimes Ellen or Elinor), was sentenced to sit in the stocks and was whipped for slandering John Doane, a local politician.

In 1624 Billington Sr. was implicated by newcomer Rev. John Lyford in the infamous Oldham-Lyford scandal, one of the first in Plymouth colony. Still discontent with religious life in Plymouth, and specifically with the Pilgrim church, the men, including John Oldham, sought help from Britain. Their letters were intercepted by William Bradford and they were accused of working to undermine the colonial government. When questioned by the Governer’s Council, Lyford stated “Billington and some others had informed him of many things, which they now denied.” John Billington Sr. was aquitted due to lack of evidence. Oldham and Lyford were exiled.

colonyOldham and Lyford will miss the luxury accommodations at Plymouth village

John Billington was also the first person executed in the new colony. He was convicted of murder and hanged in 1630. Billington had an ongoing dispute with the victim, John Newcomen. Newcomen was seventeen or eighteen, and a deer hunter like Billington. Newcomen regularly hunted on what John Billington considered to be his property. Property laws were still developing at the time, and Newcomen did not acknowledge Billington’s claim. Also, John Billington belonged to the Church of England, while Newcomen was a member of a separaterist religious group. One day Billington came upon Newcomen hunting on his property. Newcomen attempted to hide behind a tree, but Billington shot him in the shoulder. The would became infected, and Newcomen developed gangrene and died.

The population of Plymouth was shocked by the murder. In September 1630 John Billington was tried by jury and found guilty. Billington’s old nemesis Governer William Bradford was ultimately responsible for his fate, and after consulting with Governor John Winthrop they decided capital punishment was appropriate.

Not everyone agrees regarding John Billington’s guilt. The primary source was written by his known enemy William Bradford. In 1637, the English trader Thomas Morton wrote in “The New English Canaan” that Billington “was beloved of many.” Billington was certainly an outspoken enemy of the Pilgrims, who wrote the majority of the surviving history. If you search for John Billington you will find variations on “AMERICA’S FIRST MURDERER!”, but the truth may be more complex. If you’re interested in the dissenting opinion:

The rebellious streak continued at least one more generation. This article from Plymouth Articles II chastises Francis Billington and his wife Christine, and threatens to put them in the stocks if they do not control their son Joseph. Apparently Joseph, age 5, was leaving his work to run home to his mom, who was allowing him to stay without the boss’ permission.


U.S. President James Garfield is a descendent of John Billington Sr.

Here are some of the other lines related to Adelbert “Adelo” Elam Stickles (1858 – 1947) that I hope to explore:

  • The Sabin line was prominent and owned a mill that still exists. They were decendents of Capt. Richard Wright (1597 – 1667), who was no captain, but arrived with the Winthrop Fleet in 1630. His father, also Richard Wright (1575 – 1638), was a reverend and ancestor of actress Fey Wrey.
  • Francis Billington’s (1607 – 1684) wife Christine, mother of naughty Joseph, was a Penn and cousin to William Penn. She was also a widow when she married Billington.
  • The Stickles name goes back to Palatine, Germany. They fled from persecution, only to cut a deal with Queen Anne of England and eventually settle in Rhinebeck, Dutchess, New York.

Here is the Stickles relationship to the Mayflower, for the curious:

JOHN BILLINGTON, SR. (1580 – 1630)
is Clyde Raymond’s 12th great grandfather
Son of JOHN
Daughter of Francis
Son of Mary
Daughter of Israel
Son of Elizabeth
Daughter of Peter
Son of Sarah ( Robinson )
Son of Samuel S
Daughter of John R
Son of Caroline
Daughter of Adelbert “Adelo” Elam
Son of Nellie Leona

Ancestry societies: (John or Francis Billington) (multiple) (multiple) (Capt. Richard Wright)

More information: