William Pearce (c.1595 - 1622) MP

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Nicknames: "William /Pearce/", "Captain WIlliam Pearce"
Birthplace: Pearce Hall, Yorkshire, England
Death: Died in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts
Occupation: Sea Captain
Managed by: Kristal Amber Fawcett
Last Updated:

About William Pearce

Capt. Peirce came to Virginia in 1609 on the ill-fated Sea Venture with Capt. Gates.

Jone Pierce, his wife, and children : William, Jone, and Thomas, came to Virginia in 1611 on the Blessing. Jone also brought with her a young niece, Cicilly Reynolds, age 10 probably to help care for the younger children.

Capt. Pierce had a home in James City and a plantation on "Mulberry Island." -------------------- "The captain of the Mayflower (on its first voyage), named Jones, had agreed to take them (the Pilgrims) only across the Atlantic. He is said to have been bribed by Virginian and Dutch colonists not to bring the Pilgrims to Virginia or New Amsterdam. Capt. William Pierce would have landed them where they wished, and if he had commanded the Mayflower on that voyage New England might have been settled in Virginia or New York. The Pilgrims had planned to go to the Hudson river."

"Although it was not until her second voyage that he was captain of the famed Mayflower, Capt. William had more than his share of "firsts". He brought the first cattle to New England from England (ship Charity, 1624). He brought from the West Indies to New England the first cotton (1633) and the first sweet potatoes (ship Desire in 1636). He published the first bound book in English to be printed in North America - Pierce's (Peirse's) Almanac of 1639 calculated for New England and printed by Stephen Day, "an exceedingly illiterate printer," on a press brought to Boston in 1638 by the Rev. Mr. Glover, English clergyman."

"Although the first Thanksgiving Day is commonly considered to have been the celebration following the first Pilgrim harvest in 1621, it has been suggested that Captain William Pierce was instrumental in bringing about the first real Thanksgiving observance ten years later!"

"The winter of 1630-31 was severe, game was scarce, the corn supply was nearly gone, even acorns and ground nuts were concealed by heavy snows. Women of the Colony were set to digging clams; a ration of five kernels of corn a day for each person was ordered. The Colonists were on the verge of starvation and had designated Feb. 22, 1631, as a fast day of prayer."

"Governor Winthrop, anticipating a hard winter, had sent Captain Pierce to England for provisions in the ship Lyon the previous fall. Pierce was delayed when he came upon the ship Ambrose, dismasted, and towed her home to Bristol. The Colonists had about given up hope of his return when the Lyon was spied, in the words of Cotton Mather, "just as Winthrop was distributing the last handful of meal in the barrel."

"The Lyon was loaded with beef and pork, wheat, peas, oatmeal, cheese, butter, suet and lemon juice. The scheduled fast day was joyfully turned into a Thanksgiving day. Mary Lowe in Thanksgiving, edited by Robert H. Schauffer, calls this "the first Thanksgiving day of which any written record remains in the Colonial records of Massachusetts" and adds, "We may justly claim this as the origin of Thanksgiving day." Lincoln writes: "This appears to have been the origin of Thanksgiving day." W. deLoss Love, Jr., in Fast and Thanksgiving Days of New England, calls the 1621 celebration "a harvest festival....not a Thanksgiving at all....not a day set aside for religious worship, but a whole week of festivity." Mary Lowe agrees, stating many deny the 1621 celebration was the first Thanksgiving day and pointed out the lack of any religious service during this week of feasting."

"Described as the most celebrated master of ships to come into the water of New England during the Colonists' early history, Captain William was an intimate and confidant of both Gov. William Bradford and Edward Winslow, a founder of the Colony, thrice governor and later commissioner of the United Colonies of New England."

"According to Lincoln, Captain William was master of the Mayflower on nine different voyages. He certainly was captain was these ships: Paragon, 1622, (owned by brother John); Anne, 1623, third ship to arrive from England; Charity, 1624, carrying Winslow and the first cattle from England; Jacob, 1625; Mayflower, 1629: Lyon, 1630, with Roger Williams and wife; Lyon, 1631, with John Elliot and Governor Winthrop's wife; Lyon, 1632, with Winthrop; Rebecca, 1634; Narragansett, 1634."

"He was in the West Indies in 1635 and the same year rescued refugees from the Connecticut Valley. He sailed to Block Island in the Desire in 1636 and the next year took supplies from Boston to soldiers fighting in the Pequot war. He sailed the Desire from London to Boston in 1638 and the next year sailed her back to London in a record 23 days. In 1641 in the same ship he commanded an expedition carrying dissenters to the West Indies. The Spaniards were hostile and he turned back, stopped at New Providence, an island in the Bahamas, to bring away a congregation there."

"Says Colonel Pierce in his Pierce Genealogy: "Though finding the Spaniards already in possession he stood gallantly in, hoping to rescue his countrymen. When the enemy opened upon him with cannon, he sent his people into the hold for safety, retaining on deck but one man to aid in working the ship. While lying in the caboose watching the sails, the captain and this sailor were fatally wounded by the same shot (July 13, 1641). The Desire headed for home, her noble master finding a fitting grave in the blue sea upon which so much of his life had been spent. His death was much lamented in the two colonies, which had so long known him as a skilful navigator and a Christian gentleman.""

"One of the "two colones" referred to certainly was Massachusetts, and the other may be Virginia. Lincoln states that Pierce lived briefly (1623-4) at James City, Va., with his wife Jane and 34 servants and that he served as Burgess from James City to the Virginia general assembly, later moving to Boston. Colonel Pierce, however, gives as William's addresses only Bristol, England, Boston, and Providence in the Bahamas."

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In a letter of 1638, which has been preserved, is this language: "The ship Desire, Capt. William Pierce, returned from the West Indies after a 7-month voyage. The brought cotton, tobacco and negroes from Providence, [one of the West Indies islands,] and salt from Tortugas." And yea a historian of those days speaks of him as "A godly man, and a most expert mariner!" Doubtless he was a good man, for these things did not trouble men's consciences then. Pope in history says that up to 1640 Capt. William crossed the ocean oftener than any man then moving. He made many voyages between England and Virginia or to the West Indies. Twice he essayed to go to Plymouth, but each time had to put back because of a leaky vessel. This was in 1621 and 1622. In 1623 he came in the Ann, in the Charity in 1624, in an unregistered ship in 1625, in the Mayflower in 1629, and in the Lyon or Lyon's Whelp in 1630, 1631 and 1632, making seven voyages to Plymouth within ten years. He brought a great many of his kindred over in his ships, also Rev. Cotton, Roger Williams and other eminent men. At first he lived in Virginia, where he had a plantation of 200 acres at James City. Here his first wife, Mrs. Jone (Jane) Pierce, died. She left a daughter Jane, who married John Rolfe, the widower of Pocahontas, the Indian princess who saved Capt. John Smith's life. In 1632 he removed to Boston. Here he was of great influence, and made for them their first Almanac in 1639. In 1641 he attempted to land a ship-load of colonists on the Island of Providence, one of the Bahamas. The inhabitants resisted the intrusion, and in the battle that followed he was shot, the 13th of May, 1641.

Boddie, Colonial Surry, p51, states that "Captain Pierce's final end is not known." He was living on Mulberry Island in Warwich County as late as 21 Jan 1655. Warwick Co. Wills, Book I, p116. Unfortunately, the Warwick Co. records after that date have been destroyed.

Boddie, Colonial Surry, p50, says that wife Joan Pierce came to VA on the "Blessing" quote; in 1610. She was listed as a survivor in the muster taken after the 1622 Indian massacre. Cf. Hotten, Lists of Emigrants to America - 1600 - 1700, p224. She was also with Captain Pierce on a mission to London in 1629. She died shortly afterward in 1630. Boddie, Colonial Surry, p50.

Boddie, Colonial Surry, p60 refers to Captain Pierce's son "Thomas Pierce, and his grandson William Pierce (IV) living on Mulberry Island with him 21 Jan 1655. Thomas Pierce also had a daughter Jane (II)

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Of Captain William Peirce, her Master, more particulars are known. He had sailed to Plymouth in 1623 as Master of the Anne of London, bringing the last lot of passengers to the Pilgrim settlement. He was then a resident of Ratcliffe, parish of Stepney, London, and at that date was about thirty-one years old. He made a voyage to Salem in 1629 as Master of the Mayflower (not the Pilgrim ship) and thereafter he was in constant traffic in passengers and merchandise across the Atlantic. He took up his residence in Boston in 1632 and was admitted freeman May I4, 1634. His wife, Bridget, joined the church February 2, 1632/3; perhaps a second wife, as a William Peirce, mariner of Whitechapel, was licensed in 1615 to marry Margaret Gibbs. Whitechapel and Stepney are adjoining parishes. He became a Town and Colony official and was engaged In coastwise shipping thereafter. He compiled an Almanac for New England which was the second issue in 1639 from the Daye press at Cambridge. In 1641 he was killed by the Spaniards while on a voyage to the island of New Providence, Bahamas Group, whither he was taking passengers for settlement.

WILLIAM PIERCE ORIGIN: Ratcliffe, Middlesex MIGRATION: 1632 FIRST RESIDENCE: Boston RETURN TRIPS: Many OCCUPATION: Mariner. CHURCH MEMBERSHIP: Admitted to Boston church as member #151, which would be in the late summer or early fall of 1632, prior to 14 October 1632 [ BChR 15]. "Robert Mascall one of our brother Mr. Willyam Pierc[e]'s family" joined the church at Boston 20 June 1640 [BChR 30]. FREEMAN: 14 May 1634 (as "Mr. Will[ia]m Peirce") [ MBCR 1:369]. EDUCATION: Contributed 20s. "towards the maintenance of a free school master," 12 August 1636 [ BTR 1:160]. OFFICES: Boston selectman, 1 September 1634 [BTR 1:1]. ESTATE: On 8 January 1637/8, in accordance with an order of 14 December 1635, "Willyam Peirce" was granted one hundred acres of upland and marsh at Pullen Point [BTR 1:30] (a grant which had already been noted on 4 June 1637 [BTR 1:18]). On 14 January 1647[/8] "Bridget Pierce and William Pierce, of Boston," sold to Mr. Deane Winthrop of Boston "all that their messuage and farm at Pullen Point (adjoining unto the farm of the said Deane Winthrop), containing one hundred acres" [ BBOP 1].

  In the Boston Book of Possessions in 1645 a William Pierce held "one house and garden" [BBOP 22, 104]. (As will be argued below, this must have been the entry for the son of the immigrant.)

BIRTH: About 1591 (deposed in 1623 aged 32, of Ratcliffe, Middlesex, mariner [ English Adventurers 15]; deposed in 1624 aged 33, of Ratcliffe, Middlesex, sailor [English Adventurers 16]; deposed in 1635 aged 43, of Boston, New England, sailor [English Adventurers 44]). DEATH: Providence Island 13 July 1641 [ BVR 11]. At the time Pierce was master of a vessel taking settlers to Providence Island, which had, unbeknownst to them, been recently captured by the Spanish. Winthrop reports that as they approached the island and became aware of the situation, "Mr. Peirce, a godly man and most expert mariner, advised them to return, and offered to bear part of the loss. But they not hearkening to him, he replied, Then I am a dead man. And coming to the Island, they marvelled they saw no colors upon the fort, nor any boat coming towards them, whereupon he was counselled to drop an anchor. He liked the advice, but yet stood on into the harbor, and after a second advice, he still went on; but being come within pistol shot of one fort and hailing, and no answer made, he put his bark a stays, and being upon the deck, which was also full of passengers, women and children, and hearing one cry out, they are traversing a piece at us, he threw himself in at the door of the cuddy, and one SAMUEL WAKEMAN, a member of the church of Hartford, who was sent with goods to buy cotton, cast himself down by him, and presently a great shot took them both. Mr. Peirce died within an hour; the other, having only his thighs tore, lived ten days" [ WJ 2:39-40]. MARRIAGE: By about 1624 Bridget _____. "Bridgett Peirce the wife of our brother Willyam Peirce" was admitted to Boston church 2 February 1633/4 [BChR 17]; she died after 14 January 1647[/8] [BBOP 1]. CHILD:

   i   WILLIAM, b. say 1624; m. by 1656 Hester _____ (possibly Webb) (see COMMENTS below).

COMMENTS: James Savage argued strongly that there were two men by the name of William Pierce in Boston by 1633, one being the celebrated mariner, and the other being the passenger on the Griffin in the fall of 1633 [WJ 1:129-30; Savage 3:432]. Savage's position is based largely on his interpretation of the Boston church admissions: Prince, enumerating the principal members of Boston church, ... has mistaken him [i.e., the 1633 passenger] for the master of the Lyon, as I infer from finding in the Records but one of the name, and being satisfied, that he could not be honored with such office in the civil line, unless in full communion with the brethren. Yet Prince may be correct; for the admission to our church was several weeks before the dismission of Charlestown people. The name of William Peirce does not appear in the record of Boston first church except as next to those of Rev. Mr. James and his wife, and so the very latest before the formation of Charlestown church. It might therefore be thought, that this fellow passenger with Cotton went to some other church, perhaps that of Cambridge or Watertown. But as it is apparent, that our record, in its few earliest pages, is not original, but copy, I presume the fact of admission of this gentleman was omitted by the scribe supposing the former mention of the other W.P. applied to him [WJ 1:129].

  We argue here that there was only one William Pierce in Boston in the 1630s. With regard to Savage's line of reasoning above, we first note that although the earliest portions of the Boston church records are a copy (made in the 1630s), they have been found in the course of the research for these volumes to be quite complete and accurate. Close attention to the comings and goings of William Pierce the shipmaster will show how all these records might apply to one man.
  On 16 September 1632 the Lyon arrived at Boston with Mr. William Pierce, master, he and the ship making their fourth trip in a space of three years [WJ 1:107]. On 27 October 1632 Winthrop reports that Pierce had set sail for Virginia [WJ 1:120]. As Savage notes, "Willyam Peirce" was the last person admitted to Boston church before the 14 October 1632 dismission of those who were to form the new church at Charlestown [BChR 15], precisely the right time for the shipmaster.
  The following spring Winthrop received reports that Pierce had been shipwrecked on an island near the Chesapeake, but had eventually made his way back to England [WJ 1:120; WP 3:110, 116, 118]. Thus William Pierce, formerly master of the Lyon, was back in England in the summer of 1633, having lost the vessel on which he had made several crossings but, on the evidence of his joining the Boston church, having made a commitment to settle in Boston. There is no reason to suppose, then, that he would not have been the passenger on the Griffin in 1633, returning to take up residence in Boston (although he would continue to spend more of his time aboard ship than on dry land). The existence of only one admission for a William Pierce to Boston church makes perfect sense, then, and this William Pierce would therefore be available to become a freeman on 14 May 1634, and to be one of the Boston selectmen on 1 September 1634. Furthermore, if he brought his wife Bridget with him in the fall of 1633, then her admission to Boston church in February 1633/4 would be understandable as well.
  During the eight years from his landing in Boston in 1633 until his death at Providence Island in 1641, the name William Pierce appears frequently in Winthrop's diary, in the Winthrop correspondence and in the Massachusetts Bay records, and with somewhat less frequency in Boston town records and in Lechford. If Savage were correct that there were two William Pierces in Boston during these years, we should see some hint of it in these many records. There should be a mark of distinction between the two men (both of whom, in Savage's version, were called "Mr."), such as Senior and Junior, or "mariner" and whatever the occupation of the "other" William was. Or there should be a clear physical discrepancy in which William Pierce the shipmaster is known to be on a voyage to England or the Caribbean, but the name William Pierce appears in Boston or Massachusetts records in such a way that we must conclude that he was physically present in New England.
  Examination of dozens of entries in the records and preparation of an item-by-item chronology reveal no such distinction or discrepancy. The records simply call the man "Mr. Pierce" or "Mr. William Pierce." Whenever he was away on a voyage, there was no William Pierce active in Boston.
  Furthermore, virtually every time we do see William Pierce in New England, other than as a shipmaster, he is engaged in something of a related nature, something for which a man of his experience would be well-suited. For example, on 3 September 1635 William Pierce was appointed to a committee on the fishing trade [MBCR 1:158]. On 28 June 1636 he was an arbiter in a master-servant dispute in Boston, the master being "Will[iam] Lomice of Redrise near London" [WP 3:267-69]. On 1 September 1640 he was appointed to a committee "to examine the books about the goods that came in the Charles" [MBCR 1:299]. (See also MBCR 1:120, 122, 161, 168, 225, 256; WJ 1:230.)
  William Pierce has the distinction of being the author of the first item to come off the Cambridge press other than the Freeman's Oath: An Almanack for the Year of our Lord 1639. Calculated for New England. By Mr. Wm. Pierce, Mariner (Cambridge: Printed by Stephen Day 1639) [Sabin #62743]. This meshes with a report set down by Winthrop on 5 November 1635, regarding a voyage to the Narragansett by JOHN OLDHAM, who was accompanied by "Mr. Peirce [who] took the height [latitude] there, and found it forty-one degrees, forty-one minutes, being not above half a degree to the southward of us" [WJ 1:175].
  For the period from 1633 to 1641, therefore, there is no reason to hypothesize more than one William Pierce in Boston. What about the years after the death of the shipmaster at Providence Island? After 1641 the appearance of the name William Pierce in Boston and Massachusetts records becomes much less frequent, and we will endeavor to show that they all apply to someone other than the alleged "other" William Pierce of Boston.
  From 1642 through 1655 only five references to a William Pierce in Boston have been found:
1) In 1645 Boston Book of Possessions held one house and garden [BBOP 22];
2) On 20 May 1645 listed as an abutter to a piece of land sold by Valentine Hill [ SLR 1:59] (and analysis of the land records shows that this must refer to the holding of William Pierce in the Book of Possessions noted immediately above);
3) On 14 January 1647[/8] "Bridget Pierce and William Pierce, of Boston," sold to Deane Winthrop one hundred and twenty acres at Pullen Point [BBOP 1] (the same as the land granted on 8 January 1637/8 to "Willyam Pearce" [BTR 1:30]);
4) On 14 August 1650 William Pierce witnessed a deed [SLR 1:129; and 
5) On 24 November 1651 William Pierce was fined for entertaining a stranger [BTR 1:106].

This list of achievements spread over a decade and a half hardly seems consistent with Savage's description of the "other" William Pierce as "a gentleman of high repute in Boston" [WJ 1:129].

  Of the five items noted above, the third is the most important. The presentation of the two grantors, in which Bridget Pierce precedes William Pierce (with, unfortunately, no relation stated), suggests that they are mother and son, rather than wife and husband. If this interpretation is accepted, then all five of the records above may be taken as applying to William Pierce, son of William and Bridget (_____) Pierce, still a young man in 1645, perhaps born in England in the early 1620s. This sale in 1648 is the last time Bridget is seen.
  Savage attempted to support the existence of the "other" William Pierce by attaching him to a probate record of 1669 "by which we find his estate much reduced, the inventory amounting only to £85 2s." (actually £35 2s.) [WJ 1:129, citing SPR 7:2]. (Savage noted also another William Pierce estate, for a man dying in 1661 [SPR 4:66, 7:213].)
  Beginning in 1656 the appearance of the name William Pierce becomes much more common, and we find that there were during the late 1650s two men of the name living in Boston, of about the same age, who may be matched with the two estates cited above.
  A William Pearse appears dozens of times as a witness to Boston deeds from the mid-1650s to 1669, and after a few years he signs as "William Pearse scr[ivener]" [e.g., SLR 4 passim]. In one instance he is joined as a witness by "Elizebeth Pearse," who made her mark [SLR 4:177]. On 6 December 1669 administration was granted on the estate of "William Pearse late of Boston deceased" to "Eliz[abeth] Pearse the relict widow of the said Wm. Pearse in behalf of herself & daughter Ann Michell" [SPR 7:2]. Thus, the probate which Savage thought belonged to the "other" William Pierce, supposedly resident of Boston from the 1630s, applies instead to William Pearse, scrivener, first seen in Boston in the 1650s, and perhaps the same as the William Pierce admitted as an inhabitant of Boston on 31 March 1656 [BTR 1:130].
  More interesting is a William Pierce with wife Esther, who have children recorded as born in Boston in 1656, 1658 and 1661 [BVR 55, 69, 71, 79]. This William is the decedent of 1661, for the second probate record noted by Savage is for "William Pierce, mariner, formerly of Boston," who died intestate leaving widow Esther, along with four sons and a daughter [ NEHGR 32:319-21, citing SPR 7:215-17]. Several deeds indicate that this William Pierce owned land which was very close to, if not the same as, that ascribed to William Pierce in the Boston Book of Possessions [SLR 3:144-45, 479-81, 4:291, 11:251]. (See also NEHGR 10:360, citing SPR 4:66, and SCC 80.) Given the occupation of mariner and the location of his land, we conclude that this William Pierce is the son of the immigrant. His wife is in some sources given the maiden surname Webb.
  Frederick Clifton Pierce, whose genealogical conclusions are generally of little value, has further muddied the water by claiming that Mr. William Pierce of Ratcliffe and Boston was the same as Captain William Pierce of James City, Virginia [Pierce Genealogy No. IV, Being the Record of the Posterity of Capt. Michael, John and Capt. William Pierce, Who Came to This Country From England (Albany 1889), p. 14]. This William Pierce had wife Jane, which is the origin of the misconception that the Boston William Pierce had a wife of that name. Examination of a modern account of Captain William Pierce of Virginia demonstrates conclusively that he was quite a different man from the shipmaster of New England [Virginia M. Meyer and John Frederick Dorman, eds., Adventurers of Purse and Person, 3rd ed. (Richmond, Virginia, 1987), pp. 475-78].
  Frederick Clifton Pierce, does, however, perform a useful service by compiling the most complete list in print of the many voyages of Mr. William Pierce [pp. 11-13].
  Finally, with regard to the tragic ending of the career of Mr. William Pierce, we must point out that Savage and nearly all the older authorities misplaced Providence Island, or Old Providence, thinking it the same as New Providence in the Bahamas. Old Providence was an island off the coast of Nicaragua, intended as another Puritan colony, but lost to the Spaniards in 1641, thus leading directly to the demise of Pierce. Karen Ordahl Kupperman has produced an excellent history of the brief life of this colony, which had many connections to New England [Providence Island, 1630-1641[:] The Other Puritan Colony (Cambridge, England, 1993)].

The Great Migration Begins Sketches PRESERVED PURITAN

-------------------- This the Colonial Captain William Pierce the captain of the ship that sailed many trips bringing many colonists to Plymouth. He crossed the Atlantic more times than any other bringing Settlers to the New World. He Had homes in London, Bahamas, and Rhode Island.

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Capt William Pierce's Timeline

1566
1566
England
1595
1595
Pearce Hall, Yorkshire, England
1595
Heacham, Norfolk, England
1603
1603
Age 8
Heacham, Norfolk, , England
1607
1607
Age 12
Heacham, Norfolk, , England
1622
March 22, 1622
Age 27
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts
1641
July 13, 1641
Age 27
1880
June 10, 1880
Age 27
1932
October 1, 1932
Age 27
October 1, 1932
Age 27