Family discovers Mayflower roots
BRANDON — Four-year-old Renata Hopkins came running up to her guest with a giggle, and a joke
“If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?” she asked, barely able to contain herself.
“Pilgrims!” she exclaimed with a laugh, and ran into the hallway to find the family’s 20-pound orange Tabby cat, Such-Much.
All jokes aside, this Thanksgiving was a bit more meaningful in the Hopkins household on Park Street in Brandon. After all, it’s not every day you discover you are descended from one of the original Pilgrims.
And while the significance of the discovery may not mean as much to Renata, it’s important to her dad, Seth Hopkins.
“When I was a kid, my grandmother would comment that we are related to Longfellow,” Hopkins said. “Genealogy is my hobby, but until last year, nobody knew we were descended from the Mayflower.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a poet and educator famous for writing “Paul Revere’s Ride,” “The Song of Hiawatha” and “The Courtship of Miles Standish.” His roots can be traced back to John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, who were crew and passenger, respectively, on the Mayflower, a wooden cargo ship that sailed across the Atlantic from England and landed in what is now Plymouth Bay, Mass., in December 1620. The passengers are known as the Pilgrims for their quest for religious freedom in a new land. The modern Thanksgiving holiday is based on a feast reportedly held by the Pilgrims the following year after a very rough winter to celebrate a successful harvest.
Hopkins traced his family’s roots back to Mullins and Alden as well, and last year, he was awarded membership into the exclusive General Society for Mayflower Descendants, better known as the Mayflower Society. Recently. Hopkins and his three daughters, Klara, 8, Agatha, 6, and Renata, 4, traveled to West Rutland last month for a ceremony with the Vermont Mayflower Society marking the occasion.
In the living room of their Victorian home, Hopkins said the Mayflower connection means a lot him because his girls are carrying on a tradition of predominantly female Mayflower family descendants dating back 400 years. Of the 15 generations dating back to William Mullins and his daughter, Priscilla, and John Alden, there are nine female lines, including on with Hopkins’ mother Joyce Ann Cole, and her mother, Ruth Adeline Porter.
Hopkins said that when he went to his first Mayflower Society meeting, he wore a nametag and everyone assumed he was descended from Stephen Hopkins, another Mayflower passenger and a signatory of the Mayflower Compact, the first governing document of the Plymouth Colony. When Hopkins explained his lineage to Mullins and the line of women that followed, the society members were impressed. Women have taken the name of the man they marry for hundreds of years, often making it difficult to trace their lineage.
“(The Mayflower Society) said they had never seen so many women in a line before,” Hopkins said.
The Mullins-Alden clan is not one to wander far, either. Hopkins said in the 394 years since 1620, his children are the first to be born more than 100 miles from the Pilgrim landing site. They were all born at home in Brandon, and are also the first Vermonters who chose to be admitted as descendants of Priscilla Mullins instead of one of the male signers of the Mayflower Compact.
“They chose to honor their 11-great-grandmother Priscilla because almost all of the line carriers between her and their father were women,” Hopkins said.
Each girl received a certificate and a Vermont Society of Mayflower Descendants pin.
Priscilla Mullins is touted as a strong woman with a mind of her own. She was said to have uttered those immortal words, “Speak for yourself, John,” when Alden approached to her to convey a message of interest from fellow Pilgrim Miles Standish, knowing Alden had feelings for her also.
“I think Priscilla is a hero because she was bold,” Hopkins said as Renata spun around in the living room, Agatha climbed the couch to the mantle, and Klara knitted. “She’s a good model for them.”
Hopkins married wife Olya Polomoshnova Hopkins in 2003. Olya hails from Russia.
Klara already knows a bit about the ship that brought her ancestor to America.
“The Mayflower was not built for passengers,” she said matter-of-factly, cutting out another hat. “It was built for cargo and had five-foot ceilings.”
Against the wall in the Hopkins living room, next to a copy of the Mayflower Compact and a map of Britain, is a small pink and white ceramic plate. On the plate is a depiction of John Alden standing next to Priscilla Mullins seated in front of a hearth with the quote, “Speak for yourself, John.”
“I found a set of five of those plates on eBay,” Hopkins said with a smile. “I gave one to my grandmother, one to my mom, two to each of my brothers, and I kept one for us.”
As for the Mayflower Society, Hopkins and his girls will continue to embrace their Pilgrim roots, and he and Olya are planning a family trip to Plymouth next summer.
“In New England, this is like the major leagues to prove that lineage,” Hopkins said. “It means a lot to me, and to the girls.”
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