Updated: Mar 12, 2021
I didn’t plan to stitch the Coming to America - Women of the Mayflower Sampler when I
first saw it on one of the Facebook stitching sites I follow but the more it popped up on my
feed the more intrigued I became. 2020 marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the
Mayflower but did you know that it also marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival of
needlework to America? The first American sampler was stitched by Lora Myles
Standish, daughter of Captain Myles Standish. I was hooked!
I was drawn to the fact that we hear so much about the men who settled our country but
we hear so little about the women. There were eighteen adult women on that ship but we
never hear about them, and three of them were pregnant. Can you even imagine being
pregnant on that voyage! How brave they must have been! On a side note, it did not
escape me that 2020 is also the 100th anniversary year of women’s right to vote in
America so I have been very aware of women in history this year.
I ordered my kit and soon found the special Facebook group for those stitching it. One
member of the group shared a journal entry so that we could feel a small part of what they
went through on the journey. Here is an example: “Mayflower Day 14 at Sea - Two
weeks at sea. The wind blows against us with greater determination and the waves have
taken on a darker look. How long will it be until we again see land? It is too soon to ask”.
There were also links on that page that would take us to historical information. The more
I read the more I wanted to work on the sampler. I began my stitching on September 6,
the date the Mayflower left Plymouth, England. The plan was to arrive at the finish on
November 9 (the day it arrived in Cape Cod) and stitch on each of those 66 days of the
voyage. I missed only three or four days of stitching but I could not seem to keep those
frogs off my ship so I arrived at the finish two days late.
All of you probably know that our computers trace our searches and connect the dots. I joined 23 and Me (a DNA testing company) several years ago and through that have been able to connect to some genealogy sites as well. One day I received an email from familysearch.org that said,” We’ve found your Mayflower connection!” It never occurred to me that I had a Mayflower connection so, of course, I had to check it out and this is what I found (photo on left)! Immediately I fell down that rabbit hole and found out that Joan Tilley was one of the names on my Mayflower sampler (her daughter Elizabeth was not named on it because the sampler only names the adult women and Elizabeth was only thirteen at the time). That makes Joan Tilley my 11th great-grandmother and Elizabeth my 10th great-grandmother. Joan Tilley and her husband, John, both passengers on the ship, did not survive the first year in the new world but a few years later Elizabeth married John Howland who had also come over on the ship and they had ten children. Interesting note: if you look at the ship on the stitched sampler there is a man sort of hanging out over the side of the ship and that represents John Howland, who fell overboard in a storm, grabbed onto a rope and was pulled back on board by the crew.
This sampler has been one of the most interesting and educational pieces I have ever worked on. It just shows that we never know where our stitching will take us but it is always fun to find out. Here is a link to see some names you will recognize and their connections to the Mayflower: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEIdhBK0DfY