Henry Samson – Overlooked Pilgrim Ancestor

By Stacy B. C. Wood, Jr.

At Compact Day and Thanksgiving Day celebrations when we are asked to stand as the names of our Pilgrim ancestors are read from the list of Compact signers, Henry Samson is often omitted. Have you been one of the ones not invited to “rise to the occasion” and honor your Pilgrim? Why do he, Richard More, and others get left out?

The probable answer: Neither Henry Samson nor Richard More signed the 1620 “Mayflower Compact.” They were both too young. Henry was then a teenager of the age of sixteen. Governor William Bradford, in his list of the passengers, states that “Henery” was one of two children who accompanied Edward and Anne Tilley, the other child being the baby girl Humility Cooper. Bradford further states that Samson was a cousin of the Tilleys. There is evidence that Edward Tilley, his wife Anne (now believed to be “Agnes”), and Humility Cooper had lived in Leiden, and it is probable that Henry Samson was there too. There is no known “census” listing all the English Separatists who settled in Leiden. As the Tilleys had no children of their own, he was probably asked to accompany them to help them and later have his own land.

At the time of our State Society’s 100th Anniversary celebration in 1996, only 25 of our approximately 2250 members had proven descent from Henry Samson. Of course, there may have been member descendants who had joined and chosen to use a more famous Pilgrim. Currently only four members of the Pennsylvania Society of Mayflower Descendants have used Henry as their primary Pilgrim ancestor. Thirteen other members have supplemental memberships based on descent from him. Others may also be able to claim descent and not chosen to prove it.

Henry, a son of James and Martha (Cooper) Samson (also spelled Sampson), was baptized in January 1603/4* in St. Mary’s Church, Henlow, Bedfordshire, England. Henlow was also the hometown of the Pilgrim brothers Edward and John Tilley. Henry was fortunate to survive the first winter of 1620-1621 when half of the Pilgrims, including Edward and Anne Tilley, died. He is one of the twenty-six male Mayflower passengers for whom there are living descendants. Except for appearing in the “increasings” list written in 1651 by the Governor, he does not appear elsewhere in Bradford’s history, Of Plimoth Plantation. Two other major sources of the early history of the Plymouth Colony, Mourt’s Relation published in 1622 and Edward Winslow’s 1624 Good Newes from New England, also fail to mention him. His earliest mention is in the Plymouth Colony Records where it states that in the division of land in 1623, having been a passenger on the Mayflower, he was granted an acre on the south side of First (Shaw’s) Brook. The brook ran from west to east from where Cushman Street now ends at Court Street, down to Plymouth Harbor.

In 1626, at age 22, he became one of fifty-eight “Purchasers.” The Purchasers were members of the Colony who bought out the interests of the “Adventurers” or entrepreneurs who had originally provided the financing for the Colony. As a Purchaser, Henry, at the age of about 22, became one of a privileged group when it came to future individual land grants.

On 6 February 1635/6, now 31 years old, he married Anne Plummer. We do not know when Anne Plummer arrived in the Colony. There was no Plummer family in the Colony at this time so she and an assumed cousin of about the same age, Mary Plummer, probably arrived with another family. In 1651 Governor Bradford summarized what had happened to the passengers in his “increasings” section of his Plantation history: “But the youth Henry Sampson is still living and is married and hath seven children.” We know now that two more were born after that. They had four sons (Stephen, John, James, and Caleb) and five daughters (Elizabeth, Hannah, Mary, Dorcas, and one whose name has been forgotten). If you are a descendant of Henry, do you know which child is your ancestor?

Henry acquired a large amount of land in Plymouth. In October 1647 he purchased one third of a lot in Duxbury to the north of Plymouth that had previously belonged to another Pilgrim, Peter Brown. Other Pilgrims who moved to Duxbury were John Alden and Captain Myles Standish. There he served as constable, tax collector, and surveyor.

Apparently knowing that he would not live much longer, he made his will in December 1684. By 5 March of the next year he was dead. An inventory of his estate shows a value of 106 pounds and 14 shillings, of which 70 pounds was land. Among his possessions were a number of books.

Unlike many of the Pilgrims, there seem to be no statues, historic houses, personal artifacts, plaques, known gravesite, Pilgrim Henry Samson Society, or other memorials for Henry Samson. There is a short “Sampson St.” in Duxbury. This may, however, be named for Abraham, a possible cousin, who also lived in Duxbury.

A number of his descendants served in the American Revolution, however the famous Deborah Samson was not one of them. This particular soldier who dressed as a man and was able to hide her secret for three years, was a descendant of Governor William Bradford and Captain Myles Standish. Among today’s notable living descendants of Henry are President George W. Bush and former “First Lady” Barbara (Pierce) Bush.

• *In the past two issues we explained “double dating” and “Old Style – New Style” dating.
• Sources: The Pilgrim Migration by Robert Charles Anderson, Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2004; Plymouth Colony by Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Salt Lake City: Ancestry Inc., 1986; Family of Henry Samson, Plymouth, MA: GSMD Vol. 20-1, 2000; The Pilgrims & Plymouth Colony 1620: www.rootsweb.com/~mosmd; Peggy M. Baker, James Baker, Caroline L. Kardell and Jeremy D. Bangs, PhD correspondence.

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