It is thought that William was the only child of his father and his first wife, Mary Smythe, widow of John Simkinson of Doncaster, daughter of William Smythe of Stainforth and Doncaster, and sister of John Smythe, alderman of Hull. William had two step-siblings from his mother’s first marriage, Thomas and Dorothy Simkinson. William’s father remarried to Prudence _____ (perhaps born Perkins or a widow of that name) and, by her, he had other children, including: James Brewster, vicar at Sutton on Lound; Prudence, who may have married Robert Peck of Everton, Nottinghamshire and had children, Robert and Anne, who were both wards of their supposed uncle William Brewster at Leiden; and, perhaps, John Brewster, who was in Myssen, Nottinghamshire in 1595 and 1613.
Life in England
William Brewster was an educated man with an inventory of nearly four hundred books. He attended Peterhouse, Cambridge, beginning 3 December 1580, possibly staying there until 1583, however the last College record for William is dated December 1581. He left the school without graduating.
In his early career, beginning about 1583, William served as an assistant to William Davison,Queen Elizabeth's ambassador to the Netherlands 1584-1586 and assistant to the secretary of state, Francis Walsingham. William accompanied Davison to the Netherlands in August 1585 and served him at court until 1587. William returned to Scrooby after Davison was imprisoned "when the queen had used Davison as her scapegoat for the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots." This experience made Brewster the only Pilgrim with involvement in politics or diplomacy, prior to the Mayflower's sailing.
In Scrooby, William was administrator of his father’s estate in 1590. That year, he succeeded his father as Archbishop Sandy's bailiff-receiver. Soon after (c 1594) was appointed postmaster there, and supervised distribution, horse relays and entertainment of travelers. William held that office until September 30, 1607.
William was "one of the original members of the separatist congregation at Scrooby which became the nucleus of the Pilgrim church". William and his family lived in part of the archiepiscopal manor house. The separatists who gathered under the direction of their minister, John Robinson, met there, in Scrooby, and from William's home they organized the Pilgrim Church in meetings from about 1604 to 1607. In 1607, the Bishop of York learned of the meetings, and some of the members were thrown into prison.
Their first attempt to leave England, in 1607, ended with their leaders in jail after they were betrayed by Captain of the ship they had paid to transport them. Brewster was one of the jailed leaders. There is a plaque by the cell where Brewster and William Bradford were imprisoned reading "In These Cells William Bradford [and] William Brewster and others afterwards known as The Pilgrim Fathers were imprisoned on the 25th September 1607 after attempting to escape to religious freedom."
In 1608, on the second attempt to leave England, the local militia intervened when they had loaded some of the men and none of the women and children. The Dutch captain sailed for Amsterdam, leaving their wives and children on the pier, weeping. Several months later, the community was reunited in Holland.
From William Bradford, on William Brewster’s life in England:
"After he had attained some learning, viz. the knowledge of Latin tongue, and some insight in the Greek, and spent some small time at Cambridge, and then being first seasoned with the seeds of grace and virtue, he went to the court, and served that religious and godly gentleman, Mr. Davison, divers years, when he was Secretary of State; who found him so discreet and faithful as he trusted him above all other that were about him, and only employed him in all matters of greatest trust and secrecy ... he attended his mr. when he was sent in ambassage by the Queen into the Low Countries ... And, at his return, the States honored him with a gold chain, and his master committed it to him, and commanded him to wear it when they arrived in England, as they rid through the country, till they came to the court ... Afterwards he went and lived in the country, in good esteem amongst his friends and the gentlemen of those parts, especially the Godly and religious. He did much good in the country where he lived, in promoting and furthering religion not only by his practice and example, and provoking and encouraging of others, but by procuring of good preachers to the places thereabouts, and drawing on of others to assist and help forward in such work; he himself most commonly deepest in the charge, and sometimes above his ability … They ordinarily met at this house on the Lord's day, (which was a manor of the bishops) and with great love he entertained them when they came, making provision for them to his great charge.... He was the chief of those that were taken at Boston, and suffered the greatest loss; and of the seven that were kept longest in prison, and after bound over …”
Life in Holland
In 1608, William emigrated with the separatists to Amsterdam, later removing to Leiden in 1609. He was made the Leiden church’s elder on his arrival there. In Leiden, he supported his family by teaching English to University of Leiden students. He also was a printer there and, in 1616, he started printing separatist texts with the help of Edward Winslow.
In 1617 and 1619, William traveled back to England to negotiate for permission for the congregation to settle in Virginia. When William published a religious tract critical of King James, the king sent his agents in Holland to investigate Brewster. However, they did not arrest him as he had gone into hiding in England.
When the Leiden congregation decided to leave Europe and establish a colony overseas, Elder William Brewster, the church’s second highest ranking official, was asked to emigrate to Virginia with the first wave of settlers. John Robinson, the church’s pastor, stayed with the majority who would follow later.
From William Bradford, on William Brewster’s life in Leiden:
“After he came into Holland he suffered much hardship, after he had spent the most of his means, having a great charge, and many children; and, in regard of his former breeding and course of life, not so fit for many employments as others were, especially such as were toilsome and laborious. But yet he ever bore his condition with much cheerfulness and contention. Towards the later part of those 12 years spent in Holland, his outward condition was mended, and he lived well and plentifully; for he fell into a way (by reason he had the Latin tongue) to teach many students, who had a desire to learn the English tongue, to teach them English; ...He also had means to set up printing, (by the help of some friends) and so had employment enough, and by reason of many books which would not be allowed to be printed in England, they might have had more then they could do."
Wife's Surname and Lineage Unknown
[NOTE RE: WIKITREE POLICY ON DISPUTED RELATIONSHIPS: When there are two or more theories about who a person's wife or husband could have been, and it's not reasonable to think that one theory is more likely than another, it is best not to add any of them in the spouse fields of the profile. Instead, all theories can be explained in the biography section of the profile.]
The surname of Mary, wife of William Brewster is unknown according to Anderson in The Great Migration Begins,The Mayflower Five Generation Project,Mayflower Families in Progress: William Brewster and the Elder William Brewster Society.
Two papers have been published suggesting her origin, but no conclusive evidence has been found. It has been proposed (and disproved) that William’s wife could be Mary Wentworth, daughter of Thomas of Scrooby. Other names suggested as WiIliam’s wife are: Mary, possible relative of Robert Hartley, Mary Wyrall, Mary Stubbe, Mary Butler or Mary Smith/Smythe (his mother's name), all of which remain unproven.
Marriage and Children
William married Mary _____ by 1593, probably in the vicinity of Scrooby, Nottinghamshire. Although Bradford's History states that William had “many children”, With Mary, William had six children, Anderson's Great Migration Begins names them as follows (Anderson’s sources are in brackets):
Jonathan, was born in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire 12 August 1593, "the first bourne of his father". He married Lucretia Oldam of Darby on 10 April 1624.
Patience, born about 1603; married 5 August 1624 in Plymouth to Thomas Prence, "the ninth marriage at New Plymouth" [Prince 229], as his first wife (of four).
Fear, born about 1605; married in Plymouth by 1627 to Isaac Allerton [Bradford 218, 242].
an unnamed child, buried at St. Pancras, Leiden, 20 June 1609 [Dexter 605].
Love, born about 1607; married in Plymouth 15 May 1634 to Sarah Collier [PCR 1:30], daughter of William Collier.
Wrestling, born about 1611; died unmarried after 1627 and by 1651 [Bradford 444, GDMNH 109, MD 43:13, Waterhouse Anc 67].
William Brewster had no other [proven] children. Over the years, a number of people have been proposed to be the children of William, specifically: Edward Brewster, a member of the Virginia Company, and Reverend Nathaniel Brewster, who graduated from Harvard College. Also prososed are Robert Brewster, who matriculated at Leyden University in 1619; and Elizabeth, wife of Reverend Samuel Fuller. The Mayflower Society accepts only descendants of those children listed above.
Migration aboard the Mayflower
William's influence was instrumental in winning the approval of the Virginia Company for the proposal to resettle the congregation in America, and he was one of the few original Scrooby separatists who made the voyage.
In September 1620, 41 members of the Leiden church were among the 102 passengers that departed Plymouth, England aboard the Mayflower. William Brewster, his wife, Mary, and two youngest sons, Love and Wrestling were among those passengers. The Brewster family had originally sailed aboard the Speedwell, but later transferred to the Mayflower after the Speedwell's ill-fated return to England.
Four of the Mayflower's passengers were unaccompanied children from Shipton, Shropshire and they were placed as indentured servants with senior separatists William Brewster, John Carver and Edward Winslow.Richard More and one of his brothers were charged to William Brewster. Richard's brother died the first winter, but Richard lived with the Brewster family until at least 1627, when he is listed with them in the cattle division. Richard later made his living as a sea captain.
William’s son, Jonathan, arrived in 1621 on the Fortune. Daughters Patience and Fear came later on the Anne in 1623.
Life in Plymouth Colony
A disease spread among the Pilgrims after they landed at Plymouth and many died during the first winter of 1620-1621. The sick were tended in the common house by the half dozen who remained healthy. Governor Bradford later wrote of William Brewster and his strength nursing the sick.
In the 1623 land division, William Brewster received six acres as a Mayflower passenger, his daughters, Patience and Fear, received two acres as passengers of the Anne, and his son, Jonathan, received 1 acre as a passenger of the Fortune.
Plymouth Colony "was unable to achieve any sort of long-term financial success" and the Merchant Adventurers, who underwrote the expenses of the Plymouth settlement, disbanded by 1626. Governor Bradford and seven others, including William Brewster, assumed the colony's debt in exchange for a monopoly on the fur trade; this group of eight has been referred to as the "undertakers".
In the 1627 division of cattle, William Brewster and his sons Love and Wrestling were the first three names in the fifth company. William’s wife, Mary, died at Plymouth on 17 April 1627 and was not the Mary Brewster included in the cattle division list. Also listed in the fifth company were: Richard More, Henri Samson; son Johnathan Brewster, his wife Lucrecia Brewster and their children Willm Brewster and Mary Brewster; Thomas Prince, Pacience Prince and Rebecka Prince; and Humillyty Cooper.
William was listed on the 1633 list of freemen, before those admitted on 1 January 1632/3 and was also assessed in the Plymouth tax lists of 25 March 1633 and 27 March 1634.
As there was no minister at the Plymouth church for many years, William Brewster, as lay leader of the Pilgrim church, conducted services regularly for the congregation.
William celebrated the First Thanksgiving in October 1621. The feast was prepared by the four Pilgrim women who survived the first winter, William's wife, Mary, was among them.
From William Bradford, on William Brewster’s life at Plymouth Colony:
“... he would labor with his hands in the fields as long as he was able; yet when the church had no other minister, he taught twice every Sabbath ... For his personal abilities, he was qualified above many; he was wise and discreet and well spoken, having a grave and deliberate utterance, of a very cheerful spirit, very sociable and pleasant amongst his friends, of an humble and modest mind, of a peaceable disposition, undervaluing himself and his own abilities ... inoffensive and innocent in his life and conversation ... He was tender-hearted, and compassionate of such as were in misery, but especially of such as had been of good estate and rank, and were fallen into want and poverty, either for goodness and religions sake, or by the injury and oppression of others; ..."
Removal to Duxbury
In 1632, William received lands in nearby Duxbury and removed from Plymouth to create a farm and he continued preaching there.
Plymouth Colony records dated 4 Sep 1638 note that "a highway laid forth through Captain Standish and Mr. William Brewster's grounds on the "Duxborrow" side, which is not of use for the country, and they do therefore refuse to repair the same, the said Captain Standish and Mr. Brewster do undertake to repair the said way, and it to be only for their own use."
He owned a substantial amount of property in Duxbury and its division was disputed after William's death.
Death and Burial
Elder William Brewster died on 10 April 1644, at Duxbury, without having made a will. He may be buried in Burial Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Note: The Brewster Book states that William died at Plymouth.
The inventory of the estate of William Brewster was taken 18 May 1644 and totaled £150 7d. (no real estate included). Administration of the estate was granted on 5 June 1644 to his sons Jonathan Brewster and Love Brewster.
"Whereas William Brewster late of Plymouth, gent., deceased left only two sons surviving vizt. Jonathan the eldest and Love the younger and whereas the said William died intestate for ought can to this day appear." Jonathan and Love requested assistance from William Bradford, Edward Winslow, Thomas Prence and Myles Standish to help negotiate an agreement between them, and on 20 August 1645 the property was divided.
Jonathan Brewster was forgiven a debt he had owed his father (except £4) and Love took his father's dwelling house. William's land was divided equally, except for the lands at Duxbury, which were disputed. Eventually, 68 acres were given to Jonathan and 43 acres were given to Love, "and the reason wherefore we gave Love the less quantity was and is because the quality of Love's land in goodness is equal to the quantity of Jonathan's as we judge." [MD 3:27-30, citing PCLR 1:198-99; PCR 12:115-1].
"William was probably born in Doncaster, Yorkshire, England."
Where Did William Brewster Die?
William Brewster died in Duxbury, where his property was located, as shown in the inventory of his estate.
William Brewster's body was interred in Burial Hill Cemetery, in Plymouth, where most of the Mayflower passengers were buried.
William Brewster did not die in Barkhamsted, Connecticut, where a large monument in the Riverside Cemetery proclaims his name, title, birth and death. Barkhamsted was not founded until 1779. Although The Charles R. Hale Collection of Connecticut Cemetery Inscriptions, at Hartford, Connecticut in the Connecticut State Library, has a copy of the inscription in Vol # 1, page 19, it does not mean he was buried there.
Concluded that William died in April 1644. "It is somewhat remarkable that a great degree of uncertainty should have so long rested upon the two dates of most importance in the life of so prominent a man as Elder William Brewster ... two different years have been heretofore assigned as those of his death..."
↑ 4.04.14.2 Hunt, John G. "The Mother of Elder William Brewster of the Mayflower," published in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register. (Boston, MA: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1847-present). Online with subscription at AmericanAncestors.org, Vol. 124 (Oct 1970) pages 250-254.
↑ 8.08.18.2 Stratton, Eugene Aubrey. Plymouth Colony - Its History and People 1620-1691. (Provo, UT: Ancestry Publishing, 1986), pages 251-252 [citing NEHGR 18:18 for DOB]. Not available online (hard copy checked 2 Nov 2019).
↑Who Do You Think You Are (US), Season 2, Episode 8. "Ashely Judd". Note: They visit the cells mentioned in the basement of the Boston, Lincolnshire Guild Hall in Boston, England. Watch online.
↑ 11.011.111.211.3 Bradford, William. History of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647. (Boston: The Massachusetts Historical Society, 1912). Online at Archive.org, Vol. 2, pages 343-352 (William Brewster), 404 (death of Richard More's brother).
↑ 15.015.1 Find A Grave, database and images (accessed 02 November 2019), memorial page for Elder William Brewster, IV (1566–10 Apr 1644), Find A Grave: Memorial #16195888, citing Burial Hill, Plymouth, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, USA; Maintained by Kay Cynova (contributor 47064119): image of recently erected memorial with incorrect name of wife (Mary Wentworth) and unsourced biographies. Use with caution.
↑ 17.017.117.217.317.417.517.617.7 Bowman, George E. "The Brewster Book" in The Mayflower Descendant. (Boston: The Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1899-). Online at Archive.org, Vol. 1, no. 1, Jan 1899, pages 1-9.
↑ Ferris, Mary Walton. Dawes-Gates Ancestral Lines. (USA: privately printed, 1931). Vol. II: "Gates and Allied Families." Online at HathiTrust, pages 143-156.
↑ Harris, Donald F. "The More Children of the Mayflower" in The Mayflower Descendant. (Boston: The Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1899-). Online at Archive.org, Vol. 44, no. 1, Jan 1899, pages 1-9.
↑ Steele, Rev. Ashbel. "Chief of the Pilgrims" or, The Life and Time of William Brewster, Ruling Elder of the Pilgrim Company that Founded New Plymouth, the Parent Colony of New England, in 1620. (Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1857). Online at Internet Archive, page 352-354.
↑ 28.028.1 Dexter, Rev. Henry M. "The True Date of the Birth and Death of William Brewster" in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register. Online at AmericanAncestors.org, Vol. 18, pages 18-20.
↑ Merrick, Barbara Lambert. William Brewster of the Mayflower and His Descendants for Four Generations. Rev. 3rd ed. (Plymouth, MA: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 2000). Not available online.
Bangs, Jeremy Dupertus. Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners - Leiden and the Foundations of Plymouth Plantation. (Plymouth, MA: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 2009). Not available online.
Banks, Charles Edward. The English Ancestry and Homes of the Pilgrim Fathers Who Came to Plymouth. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. 1962). Online at HathiTrust, pages 35-39.
Benton, Charles Edward, Ezra Reed and Esther Edgerton: Their Life and Ancestry. (Poughkeepsie, NY: A.V. Haight Co., 1912). Online at Archive.org, pages 53-55.
Bowman, George Ernest. The Mayflower Reader. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1978). Not available online.
Cotton, John. "An Account of the Church of Christ in Plymouth" (written in 1760) in the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society for the Year 1795. Vol. 4. (Boston, MA: Samuel Hall, 1795). Online at Archive,org, pages 113-117.
Wetmore, James Carnahan. The Wetmore Family of America, and its Collateral Branches. (Albany, New York, Munsell & Rowland, 1861), online at Internet Archive, Appendix E: pages 552-568.
Willison, George F. Saints and Strangers. (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1945). Not available online.
Bradford, William. History of Plymouth Plantation (Massachusetts Historical Society, 1856) p. 447 (6) M. William Brewster; Mary, his wife; with 2, sons, whose names were Love & Wrasling; and a boy was put 6. to him called Richard More; and another of his brothers. The rest of his childeren were left behind, & came over afterwards." p. 451 "(4) M. Brewster lived to very old age; about 80 years he was when he dyed, having lived some 23, or 24 years here in y” countrie; & though his wife dyed long before, yet she dyed aged. His sone Wrastle dyed a yonge man unmaried; his sone Love lived till this year 1650. and dyed, & left 4. children, now living. His doughters which came over after him are dead, but have left sundry children alive; his eldst sone is still liveing, and hath 9. or 10, children; one maried, who hath a child or 2."
Bradford, William, 1590-1657. Of Plimoth Plantation: manuscript, 1630-1650. State Library of Massachusetts "List of Mayflower Passengers." In Bradford's Hand.
It may be possible to confirm family relationships with William by comparing test results with other carriers of his Y-chromosome or his mother's mitochondrial DNA.
Y-chromosome DNA test-takers in his direct paternal line on WikiTree: