On this day in history : 30th September 1630 – John Billington, one of the original pilgrims to set sail on the Mayflower to the New World, becomes the first settler to be executed in the English Colonies….

The Mayflower at Sea – copyrighted and published by A S Burbank – Public domain

Believed to be from Lincolnshire Billington, along with his wife Eleanor and two sons, John and Francis, set sail with the Mayflower when it departed on the 16th of September 1620…. They were soon to become known as the trouble-making family onboard…. On one occasion young Francis got hold of his father’s musket and shot it close to an open barrel of gun powder – nearly blowing the whole ship sky-high….

Billington himself was foul-mouthed and bullish and had soon made plenty of enemies…. The family were not part of the Puritan group who were travelling to the New World – the Billingtons were actually making the voyage to escape creditors in England….

Pilgrims at prayer during their voyage to North America – 1844 painting by Robert Walter Weir – Public domain

In the March of 1621 Billington was convicted of contempt after insulting Captain Myles Standish…. His punishment was to be having his heels tied to his neck…. However, as it was his first convicted offence and because he begged for humble forgiveness, he was spared the sentence….

Things did not improve once the settlers had arrived and established themselves in Plymouth, Massachusetts…. The family were regularly involved in disputes and civil disobedience…. Even Eleanor got herself into bother and spent a spell in the stocks accompanied by a whipping after being accused of slander against church deacon and politician John Doane….

Then in September 1630 Billington got into a dispute over hunting rights with fellow colonist John Newcomen…. Billington shot him dead with a blunderbuss…. Once he had been tried and convicted Governor William Bradford felt he had no alternative but to order capital punishment…. Billington was hanged in Plymouth….

Mayflower II – replica of the original Mayflower at Plymouth, Massachusetts – Image credit : Gma.Joli – own work – CC BY-SA 4.0

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