Darkness. Days of darkness. A cough rattles in a curtained corner. From her nearby cot, Mary grabs my hand. Her skin is cold. I shiver.
"I want Mama," she cries.
I squeeze her hand tight and lie, again. "Mama will come for us after we land."
In murky blackness, I can just make out her face. She frowns. The fib no longer fools her. Perhaps she can tell I no longer believe it myself.
Down here, we roll with the wind. I can hear it, angry like a hungry dog, yowling above. The windowless outer walls, frosty and damp. The crew call this place "between decks." Stuffed in, we are, like fish at the market. Below us, the cargo hold, above us the deck where we may not go. If we do, we could be swept overboard like John Howland. The crew caught him before he drowned, but they say no more going up for the rest of us.
Days without windows. Without sun.
Mary may not remember, but I do. Before being "between decks," we lived between houses. Moved one night, while Mama slept, to live with strangers.
I heard the pounding on the rough wooden door. Mama's voice howling, like a wounded wolf, "Let me have my children! I do not know what he paid you, but I can pay you back with tears and blood. Wretched monsters!"
Sounds of flesh hitting flesh. The man we lived with ducked inside, slammed the door shut. His shirt hung off his back, torn asunder.
In dim morning, while Mary sleeps, I tell Master William how she wept all night when she thought I had fallen asleep.
"What can we do?" he says. "The truth is harsh sometimes but better than falsehood."
I nod. "Mama will not be joining us later, will she?"
Sadly, he shakes his head, places his soft hand on my shoulder. "No, Richard."
I call him "master" because I have been told that is his role. Not father. Not uncle. My master until I am old enough to be alone, he says.
Though my nose burns with the cold, I can smell the sickness that surrounds us. I think of the rock-hard biscuits, the salty meat, the crying and the constant coughing.
I have only one word for it all: "Why?"
"Someday," he says.
Whether or not Mary remembers, I remember the yelling. Mama and our father, who said he was not our father. "I will not raise bastards!" he screamed, the day he shut her out of the house.
That time, she came back in. But not for long.
None of us were long together.
Some day, William will tell me what he knows. But for now, I am just Richard, son of no one. Chilled in the darkness. But far from alone.
According to FamilySearch.org, Richard More was my first cousin, 11 times removed. My direct ancestor, Maria More/Moore, was sister to Richard's mother, Catherine. Catherine was forced into an arranged marriage with her cousin, Samuel More, when her brothers died, leaving no male heirs to inherit the estate. This ensured the lands both stayed in the family, and with Catherine. But Catherine, according to court documents filed at the time of their separation, continued a relationship with her prior fiance, Jacob Blakeway, a tenant on her family's land.
Her husband, Samuel, believed that the children Catherine had during the marriage were not his but Jacob's, and according to Samuel, the children bore a great resemblance to Jacob. After accusing Catherine of adultery, Samuel removed the children from the home and placed them with tenants in Linley. During that time, Catherine went to the tenants' dwellings and fought with them to try to get her children back, with witnesses stating she, "in a hail of murderous oaths, did teare the cloathes from their backes." Sadly, she was unsuccessful in reclaiming her children.
Finally, Samuel invested 100 pounds -- an extraordinary sum in those days -- with the Virginia Company, putting the More children on the Mayflower, originally destined for Virginia, where the children were to be used as laborers. Bad weather, however, resulted in the Pilgrims and "strangers" (non-Pilgrims and tradesmen) being pushed extravagantly off-course and landing in Massachusetts, instead.
Before they boarded the ship, Samuel More entrusted the children with some shady characters, including two men who would eventually become a smuggler and an enemy of the Crown. Then, two Puritans who planned to make the journey, John Carver and Robert Cushman, took it upon themselves to find the children guardians among the Mayflower passengers. Elinor, 8, was assigned servant to Edward Winslow and died soon after arrival in Cape Cod. Jasper, 7, was a servant of John Carver. He died of an infection aboard the Mayflower while the ship was docked in Cape Cod harbor. Mary, 4, was a servant of William Brewster and died in the winter of 1620-21. Of the four children, Richard, who was 6 and assigned as a servant of William Brewster, was the only one to survive into adulthood.
In Brewster, Richard most likely had a father figure. The only university-educated passenger, Brewster was a senior elder of the colony and religious leader. He was described as "tenderhearted and compassionate" by William Bradford, whose accounts of the passage and the colony's early history provide many of the known details about those days.
Richard stayed with the Brewsters until mid-1627, when his indentureship expired. By 1628, Richard was employed in trans-Atlantic trading, settling in Salem. He married Christian Hunter in Plymouth in 1636, and the two had seven children.
Perhaps paying forward Brewster's kindness, Richard was the mariner who rescued colonists from the newly-established colony at Cape Fear in 1665, where they were dying of starvation after a supply ship failed to arrive. In addition, Richard later took on responsibility for the three children of a sailing friend who was murdered. Not a surprise, perhaps, that a man who had essentially been made an orphan would take pity on them.
An old gravestone in the Salem burial ground gives his death date of 1692, an extraordinarily long life for someone who lived through such a harsh childhood.
My husband, incidentally, is descended from 6 different Mayflower passengers, as well as having another ancestor with a non-biological parental connection to 3 others. One of his Mayflower ancestors, Giles Hopkins, was a half-brother of Oceanus, born during the passage.
Details about my husband's Mayflower connections can be found here:
Historical information about conditions aboard the Mayflower:
More on Richard More:
More on William Brewster: