Richard More was just six years old when his embittered legal – but not biological – father packed him off to the New World on the Mayflower, along with his brother and two sisters.
Indentured to William Brewster, he was the only one of the More children to survive past the first terrible winter in Plymouth. He returned to the sea at age 14 and spent most of his life as an enterprising ship captain. Richard More may have been the last of the First Comers to die, having lived long enough to witness the Puritan experiment go awry with the Salem witch trials.
During the course of a colorful lifetime he sailed the Atlantic, carried supplies to infant colonies, fought naval battles, fought King Philip’s War, ran a tavern and married at least three wives, not all sequentially. As a First Comer who survived the Ancient Beginning, he enjoyed certain privileges. He took full advantage of them.
Richard More’s legal parents were Katherine and Samuel More, landed gentry in Shropshire, England, on the Welsh border. His real father, though, was probably Jacob Blakeway. Katherine and Jacob were betrothed before her father arranged a marriage with Samuel More, when Samuel was 17 and Katherine 25. Katherine had four children in quick succession: Elinor in 1612, Jasper in 1613; Richard in 1614; and Mary in 1616.
By the time the youngest came along, Samuel More began to notice they looked more like Jacob Blakeway than him. He accused Katherine of adultery, seized the children and stashed them with a tenant. Katherine didn’t deny the charge. She argued her betrothal to Blakeway meant she’d married More illegally. After years of court battles, Samuel More won the right to pack the children off to the New World on the Mayflower – a likely death sentence.
He didn’t care. He called the children “a spurious brood” and justified his cruelty by claiming to send them away from their home, where “great blotts and blemishes may fall upon them.”
By the end of the first winter in Plymouth Colony, Elinor, Jasper and Mary had all died.
Six-year-old Richard, the lone survivor, grew up a servant for elder William Brewster. He lived in the Brewster household with his two sons, Love and Wrestling, who were about his age. Later two older children, Patience and Jonathan, joined them. Richard helped the family with chores, learned to read and write and attended Sunday meeting, where William Brewster often presided.
His indenture ended in 1627, when he turned 14. The next year he was apprenticed to Isaac Allerton, a merchant seaman. Allerton married one of William Brewster’s daughters, Fear, who arrived in Plymouth in 1623. Richard sailed with Allerton up and down the coast buying and selling fish, grain, tobacco and other commodities.
Sometime in the 1630s, More sailed to England — exactly when and why is unclear. He then returned to Plymouth in 1635 on the Blessing. Romance must have bloomed on the voyage, for a few months after his arrival he married a fellow passenger, Christian or Christiana Hunter.
They lived on a 20-acre farm in Duxbury, where the Plymouth settlers had distributed land and begun to spread out on it. The Mores didn’t stay long, but sold their property in 1637. They then moved 50 miles north to another Puritan settlement, Salem Neck. Together they would have seven children.
From Stranger to Saint
When Richard More boarded the Mayflower as a six-year-old child, he did not belong to the tight-knit group of 40-some Separatists who called themselves Saints. He belonged to the other, secular group of about five dozen people called Strangers.
As time passed, the Mayflower settlers took on a mythic aura. They had suffered and survived the “Ancient Beginning.” So in 1643, Richard More became a Saint when the Puritan congregation in Salem admitted him as a member.
But for a Saint, he had a good deal of the sinner in him.
He became a sea captain and pursued the coastal cargo trade he’d learned from Allerton, delivering provisions to colonies in Virginia, New York, the West Indies and Nova Scotia. He probably carried tobacco, grain, salt fish, lumber and fur to England and the West Indies. In 1674, he started a tavern in Salem, selling beer and cider.
In 1645, 10 years after his marriage to Christian, a “Richard More of Salem” married Elizabeth Woolnough in St. Dunstan’s Church in Middlesex, England. That “Richard More of Salem” left town in a hurry after he was charged with drunkenness in the company of a prostitute. Historians don’t agree on whether it was the Mayflower Richard More who cut that swathe through Middlesex in the 1640s. Whether it was or not, that Richard More had a daughter named Elizabeth, after her mother.
While still in his 30s, the Puritan elders considered Richard More an “Ancient Freeman” and gave him land in Plymouth. A fighter as well as a lover, he fought a naval battle against the Dutch near New York in 1653. The next year he joined a fleet of English ships to capture the French fort at Port Royal. And in 1675, after King Philip’s War broke out, he marched with a thousand-man militia to what is now South Kingstown. There he joined in the Great Swamp Fight, a massacre of as many as 1,000 Narragansett Indians, mostly noncombatants.
Christian died in Salem during King Philip’s War, in 1676. Samuel quickly remarried Jane Crumpton. Two years after her death, the 72-year-old man was caught performing “gross unchastity” with another man’s wife. The Salem elders censured him.
According to the records of the First Church of Salem, Old Captain More had been for many years “under suspicion and a common fame of lasciviousness at least some degree of incont[in]ency.” Sundry brethren and elders spoke to him several times about his debauchery. However, they had no proof and could go no further.
Then, left to himself, three witnesses saw him commit “gross unchastity” with another man’s wife. Justices of the peace censured old Captain More for his scandalous sin, and the church elders cast him out of the parish.
Salem Witch Trials
Richard repented, however, and returned to the church in 1691. In 1692, he witnessed the hysteria of the Salem witch trials – a second perversion of Puritan zealotry during his lifetime. The first had sent him to Plymouth Colony, an orphaned, six-year-old servant.
Richard More died sometime between April 1694 and April 1696, possibly the oldest surviving First Comer. He lies buried in the Charter Street Burial Ground in Salem.
With thanks to Mayflower Lives by Martyn Whittock.
Images: Plaque By Phil Revel, Shipton, Shropshire – https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/6809987125, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18269228. Christiana More grave marker By Max Anderson, Chicago IL – https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/6809950259, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18269206. Richard More grave marker By eagle.dawg – Richard More, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18184059. This story updated in 2022.