Between the sailing of the Mayflower in 1620 and the advent of the English Civil Wars in 1640, approximately 20,000 individuals migrated from England to America during The Great Migration.  Although less than 1% of these immigrants were from the Boston, Lincolnshire area, their impact was immense as Boston Men were elected Governor and Deputy Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for all but four of its fifty-six-year existence.

Yet, there is a common misunderstanding that the Pilgrims originated their journey to America from Boston, Lincolnshire. A group of Pilgrims attempted to flee England for Holland in 1607 from Boston and were betrayed by the captain of the ship, arrested and jailed in Boston. What is not widely known, however, is that the Pilgrims obtained their first patent to sail to America from the Dowager Countess of Lincoln, Lady Elizabeth Clinton, who lived at Sempringham. Frances Clinton’s betrothal to John Gorges somehow involved her mother helping Sir Ferdinando Gorges secure a patent for the Mayflower Pilgrims to sail to America. Along with the Earl of Warwick, Ferdinando Gorges patronized the Leyden Pilgrims in hopes of obtaining a Patent for them to settle in Virginia.1 The 2nd Earl of Lincoln, had been an investor and member of the Ruling Council of the Second Virginia Company.2 Working through her servant, John Wincob, Lady Elizabeth obtained a Patent for the Pilgrims.

By the advice of “some” friends this patent was not taken in the name of any of their own; but in the name of Mr. John Wincop (a religious gentleman then belonging to the Countess of Lincoln) who Intended to go with them. But God so disposed as he never went, nor they ever made use of this patent, which had cost them so much labour, and charge; as by the sequel will appear.3

History is not clear as to why Lady Elizabeth’s patent was never used. Some historians suggest that Wincob died; others say concurrent to securing the Wincob Patent, Gorges and Warwick created the Council for New England to assimilate the First Virginia (London) Company and a nearly identical patent granted to John Pierce.4 It was with the Pierce patent that the Pilgrims sailed to America.

The Pierce Patent

As Azel Ames, author of The May-Flower and Her Log, explains: “No one knew better than the shrewd Gorges the value of such a colony as that of the Leyden brethren would be, to plant, populate, and develop his Company’s great demesne. None were more facile than himself and the buccaneering Earl of Warwick, to plan and execute the bold, but—as it proved —easy coup, by which the Pilgrim colony was to be stolen bodily, for the benefit of the Second Virginia Company and its successor, the Council for New England from the First (or London) Company under whose patent (to John Pierce) and patronage they sailed.“5

The Pilgrims’ involvement with Lady Elizabeth and her servant, John Wincob, was not their first in the Boston area. In the autumn of 1607, a group of Pilgrims hired a ship to sail to Holland from Boston. However, the captain of the ship betrayed them, and they were searched, arrested, and jailed in Boston. William Bradford writes of the incident:

There was a large company of them purposed to get passage at Boston in Lincolnshire, and for that end, had hired a ship wholly to themselves; & made agreement with the master to be ready at a certain day, and take them, and their goods in, at a convenient place, where they accordingly would all attend in readiness. So after long waiting, & large expences ( though he kept not day with them), yet he came at length, & took them in, in the night. But when he had them, & their goods aboard; he betrayed ‘them’, having beforehand complotted with the Searchers, & other officers so to do. Who took them, and put them into open boats, & there rifled & ransacked them, searching them to their shirts for money, yea even the women furder than became modesty; and then carried them back into the town, & made them a spectacle, & wonder to the multitude; which came flocking on all sides to behold them. Being thus first, by the catch pole officers, rifled, & stripped of their money, books, & much other goods; they were presented to the magistrates, and messengers sent to Inform the Lords of the Council of them; and so they were committed to ward. Indeed the magistrates used them courteously, & shewed them what favour they could; but could not deliver them, till order came from the Council-table. But the Issue was that after a month’s Imprisionment, the greatest part were dismissed, & sent to places from whence they came, but 7 of the principal were still kept in prison, and bound over to the Assizes.6

1 Stephenson, N W, and Lyon G Tyler. “Some Inner History of the Virginia Company.” The William and Mary Quarterly 22 (1914).

2 The Virginia Company of London, also known as “The London Company,” was formally established by James I’s royal charter, granted April 10, 1606. The Second Virginia Charter of May 23, 1609, created a joint stock company –a group-invested business enterprise. Apparently, the buy-in price in May 1609 was £12 10s per share.

3 Bradford, William. Of Plimoth Plantation. Edited by Francis Bremer, Kenneth Minkema, and Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs. First. Boston: Colonial Society of Massachusetts and the New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2020. 139

4 Warwick & Gorges worked together to monopolize the colonization of New England. In 1606, James I established The Virginia Company of London and The Virginia Company of Plymouth. The London Company founded Jamestown and was primarily controlled by London merchants. The Plymouth Colony established the Popham Colony in 1607, and in 1620, was reorganized into the Council of New England under the control of Warwick and Gorges.

5 Ames, Azel. The May-Flower and Her Log, July 15, 1620 – May 6, 1621. Second. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company; The Riverside Press, 1901.

6 Bradford, William. Of Plimoth Plantation. Edited by Francis Bremer, Kenneth Minkema, and Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs. First. Boston: Colonial Society of Massachusetts and the New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2020. 103/4