John Billington, Sr. (c.1580 - c.1630) MP

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Birthplace: Spaulding, Lincolnshire, England
Death: Died in Plymouth, Plymouth, Massachusetts
Cause of death: hanged
Managed by: ROBERT SCOTT HERNAN
Last Updated:

About John Billington, Sr.

John Billington was born in England about 1580, but nothing has been conclusively established concerning his ancestry or exact location of birth. He married Elinor before 1605. They and their two sons, John and Francis, boarded the Mayflower at London or Southampton.

He was one of the forty-one signers of the Mayflower Compact.

However, he was resentful of authority and in 1621 was punished for insubordination, having refused to obey a command given by Capt. Myles Standish. In 1630 he was executed after being found "guilty of willful murder", according to William Bradford's account, of John Newcomen. Elinor married Gregory Armstrong in 1638.

Descent from John Billington has been proven only through son Francis.

http://home.surewest.net/moseley/bios.html#anchor471261

The Billington family may have originated from around Cowbit and Spaulding, in Lincolnshire, England, where Francis Longland named young Francis Billington son of John Billington an heir. In 1650, a survey indicated that Francis Billington was then in New England. However, research has thus far failed to turn up any other records of the family's residence there.

The Billington family was Plymouth Colony's troublemakers. Just after arrival, young Francis Billington shot off his father's musket in the Mayflower's cabin, showering sparks around open barrels of gunpowder, nearly causing a catastrophe. A few months later in March 1621, father John was brought before the company for "contempt of the Captain's lawful command with opprobrious speeches", and was sentenced to have his neck and heels tied together: "but upon humbling himself and craving pardon, and it being the first offence, he is forgiven." Son John wandered off in May 1621, and was brought by Nauset Indians to Cape Cod, where he was later retrieved. In 1624, Billington was implicated in the Oldham-Lyford scandal (a failed revolt against the Plymouth church), but played ignorant and was never officially punished for involvement. In 1625, Governor Bradford wrote a letter to Robert Cushman saying "Billington still rails against you, ... he is a knave, and so will live and die." In 1630, Billington shot and killed John Newcomen, they having been common enemies of one another for some time. Billington was tried by jury and hanged in September 1630 for the murder. In 1636, wife Eleanor (sometimes Helen) was sentenced to sit in the stocks and be whipped for slandering John Doane. Eleanor would later remarry to Gregory Armstrong in 1638.

http://www.mayflowerhistory.com/Passengers/JohnBillington.php

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John Billington, his wife Elinor, and two adolescent sons, John and Francis were passengers on the Mayflower. Billington, who was not one of the Leyden group, became a Mayflower Passenger at Southampton. Ten years later he was executed for the murder of "one John Newcomen. . ." (Mayflower Families Through Five Generations, V, 31+)

It seems that nearly all that we know of the Billingtons comes from Governor William Bradford's references to the family, and, for good reason or not, it is evident that he felt a hearty dislike for the family.

Billington troubles are noted from the start. While still on board ship in Provincetown Harbor, one of the young sons (unknown) fired a gun near an open half-keg of gun powder posing a near disaster for the ship and passengers. Of this Bradford writes "and yet, by God's mercy, no harm done." (MF5G V:31) In 1621 Billington was sentenced to have his neck and heels tied together for "oppribrious" speeches against Miles Standish. "Craving pardon," he was forgiven." (MF5G V:32)

On a more cheerful note, Francis Billington, shortly after the settlement of Plymouth, climbed to the top of a tree on a hilltop and discovered two lakes known from then until now as "Billington Sea."

Bradford's writings, however, continue to present Billington as contentious, unmanageable and undesirable. In a 1625 letter to Robert Cushman in England (Governor Bradford's Letter Book,MD V:79, New-Plymouth, June 9, 1625), Bradford writes: "Billington still rails against you, and threatens to arrest you, I know not wherefore; he is a knave, and so will live and die." [Mr. "Cusksnan" died before this letter arrived.]

Finally, in the only known eyewitness account, Bradford relates (Bradford History MF5G V:33) that in 1630 "John Billington the elder, one that came over with the first, was arraigned, and both by grand and petty jury found guilty of wilful murder, by plain and notorious evidence. And was for the same accordingly executed . . ." " He and some of his had been often punished for miscarriages before, being one of the profanest families amongst them; they came from London, and I know not what friends shuffled into their company. His fact was that he waylaid a young man, one John Newcomen, about a former quarrel and shot him with a gun, whereof he died."

Upon his death he left his wife Eleanor (Elinor) and son Francis -- his son John having died previously. About eight years later, his wife would remarry a Gregory Armstrong.

Son Francis married Christian Penn Eaton in 1634, widow of Pilgrim Francis Eaton. She brought to the marriage three children Rachel, Benjamin and another of unknown name. Together they had an additional nine children.

In 1642 (Records of the Town of Plymouth 1:12) numerous of the children were put out. "Concerneing the placeing and disposing of ffrancis Billingtons children according to the Act and order of the Court:

"It is ordered and agreed upon that John Cooke the yonger shall have Joseph until hee shalbe of the age of twenty and one years (being now about vi or vii years old) and fynd him meat drink and apparell during the said terme."

One can imagine the psychological hurt of a young child being put out of his home, and it is noted in the records that as a child (MF5G V:39) "he (Joseph) repeatedly ran away from his master to return to his parents; in July 1643 he and they were sternly admonished." This Joseph, who is later found at Block Island, was apparently considered lazy and shiftless. He is repeatedly ordered in the town records to go to work and support his family.(NEHGR 105:179, Notes on Block Islanders of Seventeenth Century.) A probable son Elisha is cited as having following his father's shiftless ways. (NEHGR: 106:105, Two Block Island Documents)

It is ordered that Benjamin Eaton his eldest Boy shalbe with John Winslow upon these conditions untill he shall accomplish the age of xxi years being about xv years in march next . . ."

It is ordered and agreed also that Gyles Rickett shall take another of his children a gerle aboute five years of age and shall keepe her and find her meat drink and apparell . . ."

It is ordered and agreed likewise That Gabriell ffallowell shall have another of his children a gerle about ______ years of age . . ."

Tragedy seemed to follow some members of the early family. A surviving daughter Elizabeth, one of those apprenticed out, married first Richard Bullock in 1660, Rehobeth, who died in 1667. She married second in 1673 a Robert Beere who was killed by the Indians in March of 1676. She married third Thomas Patey/Patte of Providence who drowned in the Seekonk River 1695. (MF5G V:37,38).

Sources:

Mayflower Families Through Five Generations, V, John Billington, General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1991

Records of the Town of Plymouth, Volume 1, 1636-1705, Plymouth, Avery & Doten, Book and Job Printers, 1889.

New England Historic and Genealogical Register, V 105,106.

Mayflower Descendant,Volume V, Editor,George Ernest Bowman, Published by the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants

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BILLINGTON, JOHN-One of the non-Separatists on the 1620 Mayflower, John Billington increasingly got into trouble with the Plymouth leaders. In 1621 he was tried before the whole company for disobeying a lawful command of Captain Myles Standish, and was sentenced to have his neck and heels tied together, but on humbling himself and craving pardon, and it being his first offence, he was forgiven (Bradford [Ford) 2:11 2 fn). In 1624 John Lyford named him as one of his supporters, but Billington denied it. In 1625 Bradford wrote to Robert Cushman, "Billington still rails against you, and threatens to arrest you, I know not wherefore; he is a knave, and so will live and die" (Bradford, Letter Book, p . 13). In September 1630 Billington was hanged for murdering John Newcomen. His wife was Eleanor or Ellen, and he arrived with her and their two sons, John and Francis. NEHGR 124:116 gives good evidence that his family probably came from around Spaulding, Lincolnshire. The most comprehensive study of his descendants is Robert S. Wakefield, " Some Descendants of Francis 2 Billington of the Mayflower," TG 3:228- 48. See also Harriet W. Hodge, "Desire Billington and Her Grandfather Francis Billington's Estate," MQ 52:137.

Source: Plymouth Colony Its History & People 1620-1691 by Eugene Aubrey Stratton

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John Billington, his wife Elinor, and two adolescent sons, John and Francis, were passengers on the Mayflower. Ten years after the Mayflower disembarked he is the first white person in the English colonies to be executed for murder. According to Bradford, "they came from London, and I know not what friends shuffled into their company [Bradford's History (1952) PP 75, 87-8, 156-7, 234, 442]." There is evidence, however, that the Billingtons had connections to the gentry in Lincolnshire [NEHGR 124:116-118, (1970)]. The English crown granted, on 7th February 1612, a lease of 29 acres of land in the village of Cowbit, near Spaulding, Lincolnshire to Francis Longland, gentleman, then about 32 years of age. This "lease for three lives" allowed Mr. Longland to select his heirs, or successors to the lease after his death. He chose two small boys: Francis Billington, son of John Billington and Francis Newton, son of Robert Newton [NEHGR 124:116-118, (1970) and Genealogist's Magazine 17:327-329, 376-7; (1973)]. The children are probably very related to Francis Longland, cousins or nephews, perhaps his namesakes. If nephews, then Longland's sisters are the mothers of Francis Billington and Francis Newton. Proof of any relationship has yet to be found. A survey of crown lands is made in February 1650 to ascertain the condition of the land and whether the primary lessee or either of his two successors were then living. It is determined that the original lessee and immediate tenant, Francis Longland, then aged 70 years is still living in Welby, Lincolnshire; Francis Newton, aged 40, is living in Swayfield in that country; and Francis Billington "was living a year since in New England aged forty years or thereabouts [NEHGR 124:116-118, (1970)]." Whether Francis Billington actually inherited the lease is unknown. The parish registers of Lincolnshire contain many baptism and marriage entries for persons of the surnames Longland, Billington and Newton, but so far these individuals have not been identified [extracted IGI entries, Parish records for Lincolnshire, England]. William Bradford, Governor of New Plymouth, is critical of the Billingtons from the beginning, and his references to them (written years later) almost invariably chronicle their misconduct. John Billington may well have been a leading voice among the dissident passengers on the Mayflower who apparently argued for New Plymouth's government to be independent of the Separatist church from Leiden, but he acknowledged acceptance of the conditions by being the 25th signer of the Mayflower Compact 11 Nov 1620 O.S. on board ship while anchored in Providence Harbor [Bradford's History (1952) (75, 87-8,156-7,234,442]. It is known that the colonists formed themselves into two groups even while aboard the Mayflower. Each group had its epithet, "Saints" meaning the Separatists of the Leyden church and their supporters on one side, and the rest were called "Strangers," meaning the colonists who attached themselves to the group while in England preparing for the migration. Many of these were apparently Church of England supporters. Billington is apparently one of the latter group, according to Bradford's History of New Plymouth, and he is not averse of expressing his dissident opinions. Bradford obviously disliked the entire clan, as he called them "one of ye profanest families amongst them." The word 'profane' was applied in this period as a name-calling epithet like 'hippie,' 'niger' or 'commie' were in the mid-to-late 20th century and 'profane' meant someone who is not of The church, rather than as literally meant 'heathen' or 'unholy' [Oxford English Dictionary]. Had they truly been wholly unchristian rather than Church of England supporters, they would more than likely have been sent back with the crew of the Mayflower as were the rowdy settlers on the Fortune which arrived a year later. How Bradford was using the word 'profane,' however, is inconclusive. It is reasonable to assume that Billington is sincere in his criticism, enough to be seen as 'loyal opposition' by enough colonists that Bradford couldn't expel him. A few days after landing, 5th December 1620, one of the Billington sons, we are not told which, in his father's absence, fired a gun near an open half-keg of gunpowder in the crowed cabin of the Mayflower, endangering ship and passengers, "and yet, by God's mercy, no harm done [Mourt's Relation (31,44,69-70)]." In March 1621, Bradford chronicled "the first Offence since our arrival is of John Billington and is this month converted before the whole company for his contempt of the Captain's (Miles Standish's) lawfull command with opprobrious speeches, for which he is adjudged to have his neck and heels tied together. But upon humbling himself and craving pardon, and it being the first offence, he is forgiven [Pilgrim Reader (124-5)]."

Early in January, shortly after the settlement at Plymouth, son Francis Billington saw from the top of a tree on a high hill "a great sea as he thought" which he later explored with one of the ship's crew. The two lakes thus discovered have ever since been known as "Billington Sea [Mourt's Relation (31,44,69-70)]." In the Division of the Land at Plymouth in 1623, John Billington received three acres "on the South side of the Brooke to the Baywards. [Mayf Dec 1:151-2, 228]." Why the Billingtons, who all four miraculously survived the first bitter winter, received only three acres is a mystery. Families are allotted one acre for each household member, including servants. Possibly John, Jr. had been indentured as a servant to some other family. In the 1627 Division of Cattle, we know that young John Billington is listed with the Warren and Soule families, while his parents and brother Francis are grouped with the Hopkinses [Mayf Dec 1:151-2, 228]. Bradford described at length the 1624 confrontation of the Governor's Council with John Oldham and the minister, John Lyford. The two culprits had listed "120" highly critical accounts of affairs at Plymouth in letters to English movers and shakers. These were intercepted by Governor Bradford and his associates from the ship Charity before it sailed for England. "After the reading of (Lyford's) letters before the whole company, he was demanded what he could say to these things. But all the answer he made was, that Billington and some others had informed him of many things and had made sundry complaints, which they now denied. And this was all the answer they could have, for none would take (Lyford's) part in anything but Billington and any whom he named denied the things and protested he wronged them and they would have drawn them to such and such things which they could not consent to, though they were sometimes drawn to his meetings. [Bradford's History (1952) (75, 87-8,156-7,234,442]." So we know that Billington was willing to publicly acknowledge his dissident role while no others would and that he attempted to actually organize a sort of opposition party by conducting meetings at his home. After this 'trial,' Oldham and Lyford were banished from Plymouth Colony, but nothing is said of punishment for Billington. Perhaps his signing of the Compact insulated him in some way, as his signing made him thereafter, a member of the group, whether Bradford liked it or not. A number of other disgruntled settlers left voluntarily about this time. One wonders that John Billington was not expelled or at least urged to depart, but he remained at Plymouth, an outspoken critic and persistent rebel. On 9 Jun 1625 William Bradford, in a letter to Robert Cushman in England, wrote: "Billington still rails against you and threatens to arrest you, I know not wherefore. He is a knave, and so will live and die [Pilgrim Reader (284)]." The story of John Billington's execution for murder has often been embellished with fanciful

details in prose and poetic fiction. But the only contemporary eyewitness account was written by Bradford: 1630: This year John Billington the elder, one that came over with the first, was arraigned, and both by grand and petty jury found guilty of willful murder, by plain and notorious evidence. And was for the same accordingly executed. This, as it is the first execution amongst them, so was it a matter of great sadness unto them. They used all due means about his trial and took the advice of Mr. Winthrop and other the ablest gentlemen in Bay of the Massachusetts, that were then newly come over, who concurred with them that he ought to die, and the land to be purged from blood. He and some of his had been often punished for miscarriages before, being one of the profanest families amongst them; they came from London, and I know not by what friends shuffled into their company. His fact was that he waylaid a young man, one John Newcomen, about a former quarrel and shot him with a gun, whereof he died. [Bradford's History (1952) (75, 87-8,156-7,234,442]." From this account came all the others; here's an example from freelance writer Clif Garboden in a clipping from some publication which was saved by Art E. Allen, "The crime: In 1630, John Billington got into the equivalent of a bar fight with Colonist John Newcomen. Later Billington caught up with Newcomen and blew him away with a blunderbuss. And the Punishment: A jury of 12 convicted Billington of 'willful murder by plaine & notorious evidence' and sentenced him to death. [Not true, the petty jury of the period is the governor's assistance's (3) sitting in

committee; and the grand jury is the General Court which consisted of virtually every male Freeman of the colony which gathered mid-summer. Action was taken in the General Court by simple majority. And the Saints had had that majority since the Mayflower disembarked.] Another paperback account comes from Bloodletters and Bad Men, 1975, "One of John Billington's bitterest enemies was John Newcomen, a neighboring settler. Their feud raged for a number of years until 1630 when Billington decided to end it with murder.

Hiding behind a rock, Billington waited in the woods until Newcomen, hunting for game, appeared. Leveling his blunderbuss, Billington shot and killed him at close range. He was quickly tried by the little band of pilgrims and hanged." Now all this is conjecture based on the word 'waylaid' in Bradford's account. We have no idea if the killing was truly "premeditated" and where does he get the idea that it was a "speedy trial" rather than a near lynching. The use of these words colors our interpretation of what we read and make the capital sentence seem justified when we have heard only from the prosecution. He ends his account with the words, "Ironically, dozens of present-day Americans lay claim to being related to Billington, murderer or not." What does he expect us to do, falsify or distort history as he does!

The Pilgrims doubted their authority to carry out the sentence and appealed to Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop, who

with typical self-contradictory Old Testament flair advised that Billington 'ought to die and ye land be purged from blood.' The fact that the Governor felt compelled to have the sentenced sanctioned by the Bay Colony might presumably indicate that there were extenuating circumstances which led Bradford to believe that he might be tried for murder if he carried out the sentence. Billington is then hanged, drawn and quartered--the first casualty in a 360-year-long debate over capital punishment. And perhaps the first American executed because society didn't much care for him or his opinions in the first place. The tradition that the execution took place in September is borne out by John Winthrop who wrote merely: 1630--"Billington executed at Plymouth for murdering one [New England History (43)]. In as much a Winthrop arrived at Cape Ann 12 Jun 1630 and at "Mattachusetts" 17 Jun 1630, he was "lately come over" that summer when consulted

about the legality of the trial [MA Pioneers (508)]. John Billington, Jr. died before his father, but the widow Elinor and son Francis remained

at Plymouth, retaining John Billington's land, and acquiring new grants according to their rights as original settlers. It is clear that John

Billington, Sr. had some friends, for in the land records there is, under date of 14 Sep 1638: "Memorand that whereas Wllm Tench and John Carman (sic) did bequeath 2 acers of land unto John Billington, dec'd., now Ellinor Billington his widow and Francis Billington his sonn sell sd. land, two acers lying in the South side of the second brook [Ply Col Recs 11:33-4; 12:28-9,37,93-4]." William Tench and John Cannon (surely the same man as "Carman") came to Plymouth on the Fortune in November 1621 and were allotted two acers in the 1623 Land Division, near Billington [Mayf Dec 1:151-2,228]. Evidently they died or left the colony before the 1627 Division of Cattle, having named

John Billington their heir. Elinor, often written "Ellen" or "Helen" by Bradford or by Plymouth Court clerks, invariably was called "Ellinor" in her own and her son's land records. Ellinor Billington, widow, on 8 Jan 1637/8 for "natural love I bear unto Francis Billington my natural son," conveyed to him all her land at Plain Dealing in New Plymouth, reserving enough of the land for her own use during her lifetime. On 28 Aug 1638 Ellinor Billington, widow, entered into a marriage contract with Gregory Armstrong; and by 21 Sep 1638 Gregory Armstrong and Ellinor now his wife, with her son Francis sold land [Plymouth Col. Recs 11:33-4,; 12:28-9,37,93-4]. On the last date at which Ellinor is known to have been living, 2 Mar 1642/3, Francis Billington of Plymouth, planter, sold three lots of land at Plain Dealing within the township of Plymouth: provided that Ellinor the wife of Gregory Armstrong be allowed to occupy one of the three said lots during her lifetime. [Plymouth Col. Recs 11:33-4; 12:28-9,37,93-4]. It has often been pointed out that almost all we know about the Billington family was written

by William Bradford, who obviously disliked and criticized the entire family from the beginning, and didn't know them well enough to know

Ellinor's name. The Billingtons were not in sympathy with the aims and tenets of the Plymouth Church, but one wonders that they were not more cooperative with those in authority who heavy-handily struggled to establish and maintain such a fragile colony on the hostile shores of New England. John Billington, however, stoutly supported individual choice and freedom of speech, raising the voice of America's first 'opposition' to governing authority, undoubtedly at great personal sacrifice, when he disagreed with the rule of government. He and his descendants surely have contributed to that integral part of the American character by having the courage to just say "No." Source: American families from New Plymouth,~1620 to1790+

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John Billington came on the Mayflower with his wife Ellen and children John and Francis. The Billingtons are recorded as a contentious family. Young Francis Billington nearly blew up the Mayflower while it was sitting in Provincetown Harbor--he shot off a gun near an open barrel of gun powder inside the Mayflower's cabin. Shortly after settling down at Plymouth, John Billington the elder was charged with contempt when he bad-mouthed and insulted Myles Standish, and was sentenced to have his neck and heels tied together, but he humbled himself and was forgiven. A few months later, John Billington the younger wandered off into the woods, and was taken by the Nauset Indians to Cape Cod, where he lived for about a month before he was returned. In 1624, John Billington the Elder was implicated in the Oldham- Lyford scandal, in which blasphemous letters were secretly being written and sent to England trying to undermine the Plymouth Colony. However , Billington claimed he was a scapegoat, and there was not enough evidence to show he was a party to the scandal so the matter was dropped. In 1630, John Billington the Elder was tried and executed for the murder of John Newcomen, whom Billington had shot with a musket in a quarrel over a past dispute between the two. He was found guilty by a grand and petty jury, "by plain and notorious evidence", and became the first Englishman to be hanged in New England. The only clue to the ancestry of John Billington is a 1612 lease of 29 acres of land from the English Crown to a gentleman, Francis Longland, and two heirs of his choice. He chose Francis Billington, son of John, and Francis Newton, son of Robert. In 1650, a survey of the land stated that Francis Longland was still living in Welby, Lincolnshire, England, aged 70, and that Francis Newton was living in Swayfield, Lincolnshire, England, and that Francis Billington was living in New England, aged about 40. Research is currently ongoing into the Newton, Longland, and Billington families of Lincolnshire. Preliminary discoveries made by researcher Leslie Mahler show that Francis Longland is the son of John and Mary Longland of Welby. Mary Longland names her son Francis, and a daughter "Katherine Newton" in will of 20 August 1613. Also mentioned in Mary's will, among others, is her goddaughter Mary Newton. It seems likely that Katherine married Robert Newton, and they had a son Francis Newton. This would make Francis Newton the nephew of Francis Longland. The connection between Francis Longland and Francis Billington has not yet been discovered, but research in this area continues. There is a John Billington son of John baptized on 25th April 1604 in Thurlby Near Bourne, Lincolnshire, which seems like a good candidate for the John Billington II of the Mayflower. There is a Francis Billington bp. 24th June 1607 in St. Michael, Stamford, Lincolnshire son of William, the results of any discoveries will be presented when further research is completed, this information certainly proves there are two Francis Billington's of the same age in the same county.

SOURCES:

Harriet Hodge, Mayflower Families through Five Generations: Edward Winslow and John Billington, volume 5 (Plymouth: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1991). R.N. Whiston, "Francis Billington and Lincolnshire," New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 124(1970):116-118.

Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and Its People, 1620-1691 (Ancestor Publishers: Salt Lake City, 1986).

William Bradford and Edward Winslow. A Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation settled at Plymouth . . . (John Bellamie: London,1622). William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, ed. Samuel Morison (New York: Random House, 1952).

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in 1620 on the Mayflower with wife & sons, John & Francis

26th signer of Compact 

Saint

Stranger x

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BILLINGTON, JOHN-One of the non-Separatists on the 1620 Mayflower, John Billington increasingly got into trouble with the Plymouth leaders. In 1621 he was tried before the whole company for disobeying a lawful command of Captain Myles Standish, and was sentenced to have his neck and heels tied together, but on humbling himself and craving pardon, and it being his first offence, he was forgiven (Bradford [Ford) 2:11 2 fn). In 1624 John Lyford named him as one of his supporters, but Billington denied it. In 1625 Bradford wrote to Robert Cushman, "Billington still rails against you, and threatens to arrest you, I know not wherefore; he is a knave, and so will live and die" (Bradford, Letter Book, p . 13). In September 1630 Billington was hanged for murdering John Newcomen. His wife was Eleanor or Ellen, and he arrived with her and their two sons, John and Francis. NEHGR 124:116 gives good evidence that his family probably came from around Spaulding, Lincolnshire. The most comprehensive study of his descendants is Robert S. Wakefield, " Some Descendants of Francis 2 Billington of the Mayflower," TG 3:228- 48. See also Harriet W. Hodge, "Desire Billington and Her Grandfather Francis Billington's Estate," MQ 52:137.

Source: Plymouth Colony Its History & People 1620-1691 by Eugene Aubrey Stratton

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John Billington, his wife Elinor, and two adolescent sons, John and Francis, were passengers on the Mayflower. Ten years after the Mayflower disembarked he is the first white person in the English colonies to be executed for murder. According to Bradford, "they came from London, and I know not what friends shuffled into their company [Bradford's History (1952) PP 75, 87-8, 156-7, 234, 442]." There is evidence, however, that the Billingtons had connections to the gentry in Lincolnshire [NEHGR 124:116-118, (1970)]. The English crown granted, on 7th February 1612, a lease of 29 acres of land in the village of Cowbit, near Spaulding, Lincolnshire to Francis Longland, gentleman, then about 32 years of age. This "lease for three lives" allowed Mr. Longland to select his heirs, or successors to the lease after his death. He chose two small boys: Francis Billington, son of John Billington and Francis Newton, son of Robert Newton [NEHGR 124:116-118, (1970) and Genealogist's Magazine 17:327-329, 376-7; (1973)]. The children are probably very related to Francis Longland, cousins or nephews, perhaps his namesakes. If nephews, then Longland's sisters are the mothers of Francis Billington and Francis Newton. Proof of any relationship has yet to be found. A survey of crown lands is made in February 1650 to ascertain the condition of the land and whether the primary lessee or either of his two successors were then living. It is determined that the original lessee and immediate tenant, Francis Longland, then aged 70 years is still living in Welby, Lincolnshire; Francis Newton, aged 40, is living in Swayfield in that country; and Francis Billington "was living a year since in New England aged forty years or thereabouts [NEHGR 124:116-118, (1970)]." Whether Francis Billington actually inherited the lease is unknown. The parish registers of Lincolnshire contain many baptism and marriage entries for persons of the surnames Longland, Billington and Newton, but so far these individuals have not been identified [extracted IGI entries, Parish records for Lincolnshire, England]. William Bradford, Governor of New Plymouth, is critical of the Billingtons from the beginning, and his references to them (written years later) almost invariably chronicle their misconduct. John Billington may well have been a leading voice among the dissident passengers on the Mayflower who apparently argued for New Plymouth's government to be independent of the Separatist church from Leiden, but he acknowledged acceptance of the conditions by being the 25th signer of the Mayflower Compact 11 Nov 1620 O.S. on board ship while anchored in Providence Harbor [Bradford's History (1952) (75, 87-8,156-7,234,442]. It is known that the colonists formed themselves into two groups even while aboard the Mayflower. Each group had its epithet, "Saints" meaning the Separatists of the Leyden church and their supporters on one side, and the rest were called "Strangers," meaning the colonists who attached themselves to the group while in England preparing for the migration. Many of these were apparently Church of England supporters. Billington is apparently one of the latter group, according to Bradford's History of New Plymouth, and he is not averse of expressing his dissident opinions. Bradford obviously disliked the entire clan, as he called them "one of ye profanest families amongst them." The word 'profane' was applied in this period as a name-calling epithet like 'hippie,' 'niger' or 'commie' were in the mid-to-late 20th century and 'profane' meant someone who is not of The church, rather than as literally meant 'heathen' or 'unholy' [Oxford English Dictionary]. Had they truly been wholly unchristian rather than Church of England supporters, they would more than likely have been sent back with the crew of the Mayflower as were the rowdy settlers on the Fortune which arrived a year later. How Bradford was using the word 'profane,' however, is inconclusive. It is reasonable to assume that Billington is sincere in his criticism, enough to be seen as 'loyal opposition' by enough colonists that Bradford couldn't expel him. A few days after landing, 5th December 1620, one of the Billington sons, we are not told which, in his father's absence, fired a gun near an open half-keg of gunpowder in the crowed cabin of the Mayflower, endangering ship and passengers, "and yet, by God's mercy, no harm done [Mourt's Relation (31,44,69-70)]." In March 1621, Bradford chronicled "the first Offence since our arrival is of John Billington and is this month converted before the whole company for his contempt of the Captain's (Miles Standish's) lawfull command with opprobrious speeches, for which he is adjudged to have his neck and heels tied together. But upon humbling himself and craving pardon, and it being the first offence, he is forgiven [Pilgrim Reader (124-5)]."

Early in January, shortly after the settlement at Plymouth, son Francis Billington saw from the top of a tree on a high hill "a great sea as he thought" which he later explored with one of the ship's crew. The two lakes thus discovered have ever since been known as "Billington Sea [Mourt's Relation (31,44,69-70)]." In the Division of the Land at Plymouth in 1623, John Billington received three acres "on the South side of the Brooke to the Baywards. [Mayf Dec 1:151-2, 228]." Why the Billingtons, who all four miraculously survived the first bitter winter, received only three acres is a mystery. Families are allotted one acre for each household member, including servants. Possibly John, Jr. had been indentured as a servant to some other family. In the 1627 Division of Cattle, we know that young John Billington is listed with the Warren and Soule families, while his parents and brother Francis are grouped with the Hopkinses [Mayf Dec 1:151-2, 228]. Bradford described at length the 1624 confrontation of the Governor's Council with John Oldham and the minister, John Lyford. The two culprits had listed "120" highly critical accounts of affairs at Plymouth in letters to English movers and shakers. These were intercepted by Governor Bradford and his associates from the ship Charity before it sailed for England. "After the reading of (Lyford's) letters before the whole company, he was demanded what he could say to these things. But all the answer he made was, that Billington and some others had informed him of many things and had made sundry complaints, which they now denied. And this was all the answer they could have, for none would take (Lyford's) part in anything but Billington and any whom he named denied the things and protested he wronged them and they would have drawn them to such and such things which they could not consent to, though they were sometimes drawn to his meetings. [Bradford's History (1952) (75, 87-8,156-7,234,442]." So we know that Billington was willing to publicly acknowledge his dissident role while no others would and that he attempted to actually organize a sort of opposition party by conducting meetings at his home. After this 'trial,' Oldham and Lyford were banished from Plymouth Colony, but nothing is said of punishment for Billington. Perhaps his signing of the Compact insulated him in some way, as his signing made him thereafter, a member of the group, whether Bradford liked it or not. A number of other disgruntled settlers left voluntarily about this time. One wonders that John Billington was not expelled or at least urged to depart, but he remained at Plymouth, an outspoken critic and persistent rebel. On 9 Jun 1625 William Bradford, in a letter to Robert Cushman in England, wrote: "Billington still rails against you and threatens to arrest you, I know not wherefore. He is a knave, and so will live and die [Pilgrim Reader (284)]." The story of John Billington's execution for murder has often been embellished with fanciful

details in prose and poetic fiction. But the only contemporary eyewitness account was written by Bradford: 1630: This year John Billington the elder, one that came over with the first, was arraigned, and both by grand and petty jury found guilty of willful murder, by plain and notorious evidence. And was for the same accordingly executed. This, as it is the first execution amongst them, so was it a matter of great sadness unto them. They used all due means about his trial and took the advice of Mr. Winthrop and other the ablest gentlemen in Bay of the Massachusetts, that were then newly come over, who concurred with them that he ought to die, and the land to be purged from blood. He and some of his had been often punished for miscarriages before, being one of the profanest families amongst them; they came from London, and I know not by what friends shuffled into their company. His fact was that he waylaid a young man, one John Newcomen, about a former quarrel and shot him with a gun, whereof he died. [Bradford's History (1952) (75, 87-8,156-7,234,442]." From this account came all the others; here's an example from freelance writer Clif Garboden in a clipping from some publication which was saved by Art E. Allen, "The crime: In 1630, John Billington got into the equivalent of a bar fight with Colonist John Newcomen. Later Billington caught up with Newcomen and blew him away with a blunderbuss. And the Punishment: A jury of 12 convicted Billington of 'willful murder by plaine & notorious evidence' and sentenced him to death. [Not true, the petty jury of the period is the governor's assistance's (3) sitting in

committee; and the grand jury is the General Court which consisted of virtually every male Freeman of the colony which gathered mid-summer. Action was taken in the General Court by simple majority. And the Saints had had that majority since the Mayflower disembarked.] Another paperback account comes from Bloodletters and Bad Men, 1975, "One of John Billington's bitterest enemies was John Newcomen, a neighboring settler. Their feud raged for a number of years until 1630 when Billington decided to end it with murder.

Hiding behind a rock, Billington waited in the woods until Newcomen, hunting for game, appeared. Leveling his blunderbuss, Billington shot and killed him at close range. He was quickly tried by the little band of pilgrims and hanged." Now all this is conjecture based on the word 'waylaid' in Bradford's account. We have no idea if the killing was truly "premeditated" and where does he get the idea that it was a "speedy trial" rather than a near lynching. The use of these words colors our interpretation of what we read and make the capital sentence seem justified when we have heard only from the prosecution. He ends his account with the words, "Ironically, dozens of present-day Americans lay claim to being related to Billington, murderer or not." What does he expect us to do, falsify or distort history as he does!

The Pilgrims doubted their authority to carry out the sentence and appealed to Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop, who

with typical self-contradictory Old Testament flair advised that Billington 'ought to die and ye land be purged from blood.' The fact that the Governor felt compelled to have the sentenced sanctioned by the Bay Colony might presumably indicate that there were extenuating circumstances which led Bradford to believe that he might be tried for murder if he carried out the sentence. Billington is then hanged, drawn and quartered--the first casualty in a 360-year-long debate over capital punishment. And perhaps the first American executed because society didn't much care for him or his opinions in the first place. The tradition that the execution took place in September is borne out by John Winthrop who wrote merely: 1630--"Billington executed at Plymouth for murdering one [New England History (43)]. In as much a Winthrop arrived at Cape Ann 12 Jun 1630 and at "Mattachusetts" 17 Jun 1630, he was "lately come over" that summer when consulted

about the legality of the trial [MA Pioneers (508)]. John Billington, Jr. died before his father, but the widow Elinor and son Francis remained

at Plymouth, retaining John Billington's land, and acquiring new grants according to their rights as original settlers. It is clear that John

Billington, Sr. had some friends, for in the land records there is, under date of 14 Sep 1638: "Memorand that whereas Wllm Tench and John Carman (sic) did bequeath 2 acers of land unto John Billington, dec'd., now Ellinor Billington his widow and Francis Billington his sonn sell sd. land, two acers lying in the South side of the second brook [Ply Col Recs 11:33-4; 12:28-9,37,93-4]." William Tench and John Cannon (surely the same man as "Carman") came to Plymouth on the Fortune in November 1621 and were allotted two acers in the 1623 Land Division, near Billington [Mayf Dec 1:151-2,228]. Evidently they died or left the colony before the 1627 Division of Cattle, having named

John Billington their heir. Elinor, often written "Ellen" or "Helen" by Bradford or by Plymouth Court clerks, invariably was called "Ellinor" in her own and her son's land records. Ellinor Billington, widow, on 8 Jan 1637/8 for "natural love I bear unto Francis Billington my natural son," conveyed to him all her land at Plain Dealing in New Plymouth, reserving enough of the land for her own use during her lifetime. On 28 Aug 1638 Ellinor Billington, widow, entered into a marriage contract with Gregory Armstrong; and by 21 Sep 1638 Gregory Armstrong and Ellinor now his wife, with her son Francis sold land [Plymouth Col. Recs 11:33-4,; 12:28-9,37,93-4]. On the last date at which Ellinor is known to have been living, 2 Mar 1642/3, Francis Billington of Plymouth, planter, sold three lots of land at Plain Dealing within the township of Plymouth: provided that Ellinor the wife of Gregory Armstrong be allowed to occupy one of the three said lots during her lifetime. [Plymouth Col. Recs 11:33-4; 12:28-9,37,93-4]. It has often been pointed out that almost all we know about the Billington family was written

by William Bradford, who obviously disliked and criticized the entire family from the beginning, and didn't know them well enough to know

Ellinor's name. The Billingtons were not in sympathy with the aims and tenets of the Plymouth Church, but one wonders that they were not more cooperative with those in authority who heavy-handily struggled to establish and maintain such a fragile colony on the hostile shores of New England. John Billington, however, stoutly supported individual choice and freedom of speech, raising the voice of America's first 'opposition' to governing authority, undoubtedly at great personal sacrifice, when he disagreed with the rule of government. He and his descendants surely have contributed to that integral part of the American character by having the courage to just say "No." Source: American families from New Plymouth,~1620 to1790+

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John Billington came on the Mayflower with his wife Ellen and children John and Francis. The Billingtons are recorded as a contentious family. Young Francis Billington nearly blew up the Mayflower while it was sitting in Provincetown Harbor--he shot off a gun near an open barrel of gun powder inside the Mayflower's cabin. Shortly after settling down at Plymouth, John Billington the elder was charged with contempt when he bad-mouthed and insulted Myles Standish, and was sentenced to have his neck and heels tied together, but he humbled himself and was forgiven. A few months later, John Billington the younger wandered off into the woods, and was taken by the Nauset Indians to Cape Cod, where he lived for about a month before he was returned. In 1624, John Billington the Elder was implicated in the Oldham- Lyford scandal, in which blasphemous letters were secretly being written and sent to England trying to undermine the Plymouth Colony. However , Billington claimed he was a scapegoat, and there was not enough evidence to show he was a party to the scandal so the matter was dropped. In 1630, John Billington the Elder was tried and executed for the murder of John Newcomen, whom Billington had shot with a musket in a quarrel over a past dispute between the two. He was found guilty by a grand and petty jury, "by plain and notorious evidence", and became the first Englishman to be hanged in New England. The only clue to the ancestry of John Billington is a 1612 lease of 29 acres of land from the English Crown to a gentleman, Francis Longland, and two heirs of his choice. He chose Francis Billington, son of John, and Francis Newton, son of Robert. In 1650, a survey of the land stated that Francis Longland was still living in Welby, Lincolnshire, England, aged 70, and that Francis Newton was living in Swayfield, Lincolnshire, England, and that Francis Billington was living in New England, aged about 40. Research is currently ongoing into the Newton, Longland, and Billington families of Lincolnshire. Preliminary discoveries made by researcher Leslie Mahler show that Francis Longland is the son of John and Mary Longland of Welby. Mary Longland names her son Francis, and a daughter "Katherine Newton" in will of 20 August 1613. Also mentioned in Mary's will, among others, is her goddaughter Mary Newton. It seems likely that Katherine married Robert Newton, and they had a son Francis Newton. This would make Francis Newton the nephew of Francis Longland. The connection between Francis Longland and Francis Billington has not yet been discovered, but research in this area continues. There is a John Billington son of John baptized on 25th April 1604 in Thurlby Near Bourne, Lincolnshire, which seems like a good candidate for the John Billington II of the Mayflower. There is a Francis Billington bp. 24th June 1607 in St. Michael, Stamford, Lincolnshire son of William, the results of any discoveries will be presented when further research is completed, this information certainly proves there are two Francis Billington's of the same age in the same county.

SOURCES:

Harriet Hodge, Mayflower Families through Five Generations: Edward Winslow and John Billington, volume 5 (Plymouth: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1991). R.N. Whiston, "Francis Billington and Lincolnshire," New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 124(1970):116-118.

Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: Its History and Its People, 1620-1691 (Ancestor Publishers: Salt Lake City, 1986).

William Bradford and Edward Winslow. A Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation settled at Plymouth . . . (John Bellamie: London,1622). William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, ed. Samuel Morison (New York: Random House, 1952).

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The Billington family may have originated from around Cowbit and Spaulding, in Lincolnshire, England, where Francis Longland named young Francis Billington son of John Billington an heir. In 1650, a survey indicated that Francis Billington was then in New England. However, research has thus far failed to turn up any other records of the family's residence there.

The Billington family was Plymouth Colony's troublemakers. Just after arrival, young Francis Billington shot off his father's musket in the Mayflower's cabin, showering sparks around open barrels of gunpowder, nearly causing a catastrophe. A few months later in March 1621, father John was brought before the company for "contempt of the Captain's lawful command with opprobrious speeches", and was sentenced to have his neck and heels tied together: "but upon humbling himself and craving pardon, and it being the first offence, he is forgiven." Son John wandered off in May 1621, and was brought by Nauset Indians to Cape Cod, where he was later retrieved. In 1624, Billington was implicated in the Oldham-Lyford scandal (a failed revolt against the Plymouth church), but played ignorant and was never officially punished for involvement. In 1625, Governor Bradford wrote a letter to Robert Cushman saying "Billington still rails against you, ... he is a knave, and so will live and die." In 1630, Billington shot and killed John Newcomen, they having been common enemies of one another for some time. Billington was tried by jury and hanged in September 1630 for the murder. In 1636, wife Eleanor (sometimes Helen) was sentenced to sit in the stocks and be whipped for slandering John Doane. Eleanor would later remarry to Gregory Armstrong in 1638.

http://www.mayflowerhistory.com/Passengers/JohnBillington.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Billington

http://www.pilgrimhall.org/billingtonjrecords.htm

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First man hanged in Plymouth Colony for committing murder.

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First man hanged in Plymouth Colony for committing murder.

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First man hanged in Plymouth Colony for committing murder. -------------------- John Billington (c. 1580 – September 30, 1630) was an Englishman who was convicted of murder in what would become the United States, and the first to be hanged for any crime in New England. Billington was also a signer of the Mayflower Compact.

Billington came to the Plymouth Colony on the famous voyage of the Mayflower in 1620 with his wife and two sons. He soon made enemies with many aboard the ship. He was known as a "foul mouthed miscreant" and "knave."[unreliable source?] He was not a member of the separatist Brownist congregation that dominated the colony's life, but had fled England to escape creditors. His sons were also seen as troublemakers.

In March 1621, Billington was convicted of contempt for insulting Captain Myles Standish. His punishment was to have his heels tied to his neck. Billington apologized profusely and was spared from the penalty.

In 1624, Billington became a follower of the Reverend John Lyford, who was banished from Plymouth Colony in 1625 for being a danger to the community. Though Billington was nearly convicted as Lyford's accomplice, he was permitted to remain in Plymouth Colony.

In September 1630, after a heated argument over hunting rights, Billington fatally shot fellow colonist John Newcomen in the shoulder with a blunderbuss. After counseling with Governor John Winthrop, Governor William Bradford concluded that capital punishment was the necessary penalty. Billington was convicted of murder and hanged at Plymouth, Massachusetts. The inland pond known as Billington Sea was named after his son, Francis.

U.S. President James Garfield was a descendant of Billington.

Governor William Bradford's account of Billington's hanging was included in The Library of America's 2008 anthology True Crime. -------------------- From Wikipedia:

"John Billington (c. 1580 – September 30, 1630) was the first Englishman[1] to be convicted of murder in what would become the United States, and the first to be hanged for any crime in New England. Billington was also a signer of the Mayflower Compact.

Billington came to the Plymouth Colony on the famous voyage of the Mayflower in 1620 with his wife and two sons. He soon made enemies with many aboard the ship. He was known as a "foul mouthed miscreant" and "knave".[cite this quote] He was not a member of the separatist Brownist congregation that dominated the colony's life, but had fled England to escape creditors. His sons were also seen as troublemakers.

In March 1621, Billington was convicted of contempt for insulting Captain Myles Standish. His punishment was to have his heels tied to his neck. Billington apologized profusely and was spared from the penalty.

In 1624, Billington became a follower of the Reverend John Lyford, who was banished from Plymouth Colony in 1625 for being a danger to the community. Though Billington was nearly convicted as Lyford's accomplice, he was permitted to remain in Plymouth Colony.

In September 1630, after a heated argument over hunting rights, Billington fatally shot fellow colonist John Newcomen in the shoulder with a blunderbuss. After counseling with Governor John Winthrop, Governor William Bradford concluded that capital punishment was the necessary penalty. Billington was convicted of murder and hanged at Plymouth, Massachusetts. The inland pond known as Billington Sea was named after his son, Francis.[2]

U.S. President James Garfield was a descendant of Billington." -------------------- Arrived on the ship, "Mayflower."

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John Billington, "Mayflower" passenger's Timeline

1580
1580
Spaulding, Lincolnshire, England
1604
1604
Age 24
London, Middlesex, England
1605
1605
Age 25
Spaulding, Lincolnshire, England
1605
Age 25
Spalding, Lincolnshire, England
1608
1608
Age 28
Plymouth, Devon, , England
1615
July 30, 1615
Age 35
Southampton, Hampshire, , England
1620
1620
Age 40
Plymouth, MA
1620
Age 40
1620
Age 40
Came to America on the Mayflower
1630
September 30, 1630
Age 50
Plymouth, Plymouth, Massachusetts