John Alden worked as a cooper aboard the Mayflower on its voyage to New England in 1620. He married Mayflower passenger Priscilla Mullins and they left many descendants across America.
The date and place of John Alden's birth and the identity of his parents are unknown. In a series of articles for The Mayflower Descendant from 1989-1991, Alicia Crane Williams analyzed the most popular theories about John's origins. Her theories are incorporated into an analysis here: John Alden Parentage Possibilities.
Many online trees and biographies suggest a possible birthplace in England in either Harwich or Southampton, but no definitive proof can be found that John was from either place. The most popular theory about John's origins is that he came from Harwich, Essex, and could be related by marriage to Mayflower Captain Christopher Jones. However, no records have been found in Harwich (or in the county of Essex) for the John Alden of this profile. Also, if John had been related to Captain Jones, Gov. William Bradford did not know about it or he certainly would have mentioned the connection in his detailed written history of the colony which spans three decades. No records for a John Alden have been found in Southampton, Hampshire, either. An "origin" of Southampton is put forth in Robert Charles Anderson's Great Migration Begins simply because John was hired as a cooper on the Mayflower at Southampton, where the ship took on provisions. Anderson makes no claim to where John was born.
John's birth year is estimated as about 1598 based on the following records:
John's testimony on 6 July 1682 concerning the ownership of Hog Island: at that time he swore that he was "age 83 years or thereabouts".
John's age at his 12 September 1687 death was "about eighty-nine years of age". John's age at death comes from two different broadsides that were published on his death. Images of those broadsides can be seen here.
John was a cooper (barrel-maker) by trade and was hired to work aboard the Mayflower in 1620. According to Bradford, John "being a hopeful young man was much desired but left to his own liking to go or stay when he came here; but he stayed and married here".
John was one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact, the first governing document of Plymouth Colony, signed 11 November 1620 aboard the Mayflower. The signers of the Compact were all free adult males and represented 41 of the Mayflower's 101 passengers.
Life in Plymouth Colony
As a 1620 Mayflower passenger, John was granted land in the 1623 Plymouth Colony Division of Land and was in the group that received land on the "north side of the towne". The amount of acreage he received is illegible in colony records, but John likely received four acres, one each for himself and his wife, Priscilla, and one each for his in-laws, William Mullins and his wife, Alice (Priscilla and her parents were also Mayflower passengers, her parents died during the first winter).
In 1626, 53 members of Plymouth Colony, including John Alden, along with five men from London, purchased all the land, stock, etc. held by the Merchant Adventurers, who had originally financed the Colony. This group of 58 became known as the "Purchasers". In May 1627, John and seven other colonists joined together "to undertake the debt owed by the purchasers". This group became known as the "Undertakers". The Undertakers received boats and furs that had belonged to the Plymouth Company as well as the rights to trade for themselves for six years.
John, Priscilla, daughter Elizabeth and son John appear in the 22 May 1627 Plymouth Colony Division of Cattle in the company of John Howland. In an effort to create family farms capable of maintaining the population, the following January (1627/28), every individual was allotted a share of 20 acres of land along the coast with each farm having access to the harbor. The Alden family probably received about 100 acres in the division: 20 acres each to John and Priscilla, and also to their children Elizabeth and John, Jr., and perhaps Joseph, who was born about 1627. The location of the land grants was made by drawing lots, so the Aldens did not choose the location of their property, which was among the furthest north.
John Alden was listed on the 1633 Plymouth list of freemen as one of those admitted before 1 January 1632/3. John also appears on the tax lists of 1633 and 1634.
Life in Duxbury
As early as 1629, John and several other Plymouth colonists were among the first colonists to settle on land they had been granted in 1627, the Alden land being in the area that would become Duxbury, located north of Plymouth and across the bay. Several colonists started building homes around 1629 and, by 1631, the Aldens likely lived in most of the year in Duxbury. In 1632, the families who settled in Duxbury agreed to spend winters in Plymouth but, at some point, returning to Plymouth became a hardship and the families asked to be dismissed from Plymouth, taking up permanent residence in Duxbury.
John was actively involved in trading on the Kennebec River in what is now Maine. In 1634, John was one of the leaders of a group of Plymouth fur traders who became involved in a heated dispute with a group of trespassers from the Piscataqua settlement. One man from each group was killed and John, as one of the Plymouth group's leaders, was detained in Boston for questioning even though he wasn't present during the dispute. Governor Bradford intervened and secured John's release.
John appears on lists of freemen in 1636/7, 1639 and 1658. He was listed as "of Duxbury" in the later two lists. He appears on the 1643 list of men able to bear arms in Duxbury, along with his sons John Jr. and Joseph.
He served in many public offices in Duxbury from 1632 to 1686, including: Assistant to the colony government, 1632-1640, 1650-1686; and Deputy to the Plymouth General Court. He was on many councils and committees. He twice served as Deputy Governor, March 1664/5 and October 1677, and also served as Treasurer 1656-1658.
John was granted several parcels of land between 1633 and 1673/4. These lands included parcels in Duxbury, Bridgewater, Middleborough, Lakeville and others. Between 1674 and 1687, in a series of several deeds, John gifted various parcels of his land to his sons. John held no lands in his name at his death.
Marriage and Children
It is thought that John and Priscilla were married in Plymouth Colony sometime after Edward Winslow married to Susanna White on 12 May 1621 (Bradford calls this the first marriage at Plymouth), and before the July 1623 land division (because Priscilla is not listed separately on the 1623 division of land, it is assumed the couple were married before that event). The second marriage in the colony was probably that of Francis Eaton to his second wife, Dorothy, and the fourth marriage in Plymouth was of Gov. William Bradford to Alice Carpenter on 14 August 1424, so John and Priscilla's marriage was likely the third in the Colony.
John and Priscilla had the following children (all birth dates are estimates as no birth records survive). All the Alden children were born before Gov. Bradford made his "Decreasings and Increasing" list in 1650:
John and Priscilla may have also had an unnamed child who either died young or died without issue before John Alden's estate was divided. Bradford wrote in the 1650 "Decreasings and Increasing" list of passengers that the Aldens had eleven children and their daughter, Elizabeth had five children. However, in the marginal tally, he wrote "15".
In The Courtship of Miles Standish, a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published in 1858, Longfellow immortalized a fictional love triangle between John Alden, Miles Standish, and Priscilla Mullins that was first referred to in print in 1814 in Rev. Timothy Alden’s A Collection of American Epitaphs and Inscriptions with Occasional Notes. Although Longfellow's famous poem tells a charming tale of a courtship during the early days of Plymouth Colony, it is likely fictional, especially if the story took place while Priscilla's father was alive. The death of Miles' wife Rose occurred on 29 January and Priscilla's father died 21 February and there is little chance that Miles Standish would have been courting anyone so soon after the death of his wife, especially during the colony's first winter, when so many colonists were starving, sick and dying.
Priscilla Alden was living in 1650/1 when she was named in William Bradford's summary of Mayflower Passengers. Her date of death is unknown, but it is thought that she died before her husband because she was not mentioned in the public notice of his death in 1687.
Death, Will, and Burial
John died on 12 September 1687 in Duxbury. He was the last signer of the Mayflower Compact to pass.
John died intestate and the administration of his estate was granted to his son, Jonathan Alden, on 8 November 1687. On that date, Jonathan provided to the court an inventory of his father's estate taken 31 October 1687. The inventory totalled £49 17s. 6d in tangible property as John had distributed his lands prior to his death. All of John's heirs signed a release dated 13 June 1688, attesting that they had received their shares of their father's estate from Jonathan Alden. Signers of the release were: William Pabodie (husband of Elizabeth), John Alden, Joseph Alden, Priscilla Alden, Mary Alden, Thomas Delano (husband of Rebecca), and David Alden. Alexander Standish signed for Sarah Alden's share and John Bass signed for Ruth's share as both Sarah and Ruth predeceased their father.
John and Priscilla were buried in the Old Duxbury burying ground, but the exact location of their graves is unknown. The Alden Kindred of America erected gravestones for John and Priscilla Alden in the area of the cemetery where other Alden family members were known to be buried. The gravestones were erected in 1930.
The John Alden House
The original John Alden House, built about 1632, no longer exists. It was located about 800 feet southeast of the current Alden house, built by John's son Jonathan about 1700. The 1700 house and the property it is built on (including the site of the 1632 house) are part of the original land grant given to John and Priscilla Alden in 1627 and was made a National Historic Landmark in 2009. The property was purchased by the Alden Kindred of America 1907 to "preserve, educate and exhibit the history and heritage of Pilgrims John Alden and Priscilla Mullins Alden". More information on the original (1632) Alden house is available here.
The original (1632) house built by John Alden may have been disassembled, moved to the site of the newer [Jonathan] Alden house, reassembled and used as a kitchen, borning room and buttrey as the dimensions are the same.
Some older genealogies contain a Zachariah Alden as a son of John and Priscilla. There is no proof they had a son of this name or that Zachariah ever existed. See the G2G post about Zachariah HERE.
PREVIOUS TESTING: The Mayflower DNA Project lists three patrilineal (all male line) descendants of John Alden. None of the three individuals have done any SNP testing. One individual has tested 67 Y-STRs. FTDNA has only predicted where the family falls under the R-M269 Haplogroup. Plugging in the 67 Y-STRs in the Nevgen Y-DNA Haplogroup Predictor gives a result of either U152 or DF-27. Both Haplogroups fall under the STR based clade of Z38841.
NEXT GENERATION SEQUENCE TESTING: NGS testing of patrilineal (all male-line) descendants of John Alden would further refine the haplogroup assignment for this family and also likely separate descendants of his sons (given enough individuals with the appropriate lineages test).
↑ 2.02.1 Eugene Aubrey Stratton, FASG. Plymouth Colony: Its History & People. Provo, Utah: The Generations Network, Inc., 1986, pp. 232-233, 331. Source not available online - checked 4/12/22 by Thiessen-117.
↑ Alicia Crane Williams, "John Alden: Theories on English Ancestry," in The Mayflower Descendant , 39: 111-22 (1989), 40: 133-26 (1990), 41: 201 (1991). Available on AmericanAncestors.org (with subscription).
↑ A short history of the Alden property written by Curator James W. Baker and published by the Alden Kindred of America HERE (.pdf). It is a revised version of what was published in Alden House History: A Work in Progress (Duxbury, 2006).
↑ "Plymouth County Probate Records", in The Genealogical Advertiser. Cambridge, MA: Lucy Hall Greenlaw, March 1898. Vol. 1, no. 1, p. 18. Google Books: #10.
↑ George Ernest Bowman. "John Aldens' Inventory and the Settlement of His Estate." in The Mayflower Descendant 3:10-11. AmericanAncestors.org (with subscription): cites Plymouth County Probate Records, Volume I pages 10 & 16
↑ Find a Grave, database and images (accessed 9 April 2022), memorial page for John Alden Sr. (1598–12 Sep 1687), Find A Grave: Memorial #15, citing Standish Burial Ground, Duxbury, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, USA; Maintained by Find a Grave: photographs of markers erected in 1930 by Alden Kindred of America
↑ Robert C. Anderson. The Pilgrim Migration: Immigrants to Plymouth Colony, 1620-1633. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2004, pp.17-23: John Alden. Not available online - checked 4/12/22 by Thiessen-117
Alden, Ebenezer. Memorial of the Descendants of the Hon. John Alden Randolph, MA: Samuel P. Brown, 1867. Archive.org.
Andrews, Charles M. The Colonial Period of American History: The Settlement, Volume 1. Simon Publications, 2001, pp. 269-270. Not available online.
Baker, James W. Alden House History: A Work in Progress. 2014. Not available online.
Banks, Charles Edward. The English Ancestry and Homes of the Pilgrim Fathers Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. 1976, pp. 27-28. HathiTrust.
Bowman, George Ernest. The Mayflower Reader. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1978. Not available online.
Fielding, Harriet Chapin. The Ancestors and Descendants of Isaac Alden and Irene Smith, His Wife. 1903, pp. 7-8. Google Books.
Landis, John T. Mayflower Descendants and Their Marriages for Two Generations after the Landing. Baltimore, MD: Southern Book Co., 1956. Not available online.
Pope, Charles Henry. The Pioneers of Massachusetts, a descriptive list, drawn from records of the colonies, towns and churches and other contemporaneous documents. Boston: C.H. Pope, 1900, p. 12. Archive.org
Thayer, Elisha. Genealogy of Fourteen Families of the Early Settlers of New England. Hingham: J. Farmer, 1835, p. 9. Google Books.
Willison, George F. Saints and Strangers. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1943. Not available online