Dorking’s Pilgrim Mother

William Mullins Blue Plaque

William Mullins’ house on West Street, near to Dorking Museum, is the only surviving home of a Pilgrim Father. Strangely the blue plaque on it makes no mention of his daughter, Priscilla.

William Mullins House
William Mullins House – West Street

This impressive building (now split into four) has been dendro-dated to 1589, with the right hand side was a later addition – in early 17th century. Mullins bought it with a mortgage in 1612, and then sold it in 1619. He ran a successful shoe-making business, so why he risked the voyage to America is not known. He was not one of the ‘Saints’ – religious separatists that rejected organised worship – who initiated the voyage, he was one of 70 ‘Strangers’ recruited to fund the crossing at £10 a head.

Mullins went aboard the Mayflower in July 1620, with his wife Alice, servant, Robert Carter, daughter Priscilla and her younger brother, Joseph. (Two grown up children remained in England.) Allocated space for ½ a ton of goods, he took a large quantity of business stock. The Mayflower sailed on 16th September 1620 and landed at Cape Cod – technically outside the area of the colonists’ permission – on November 10th. The New Plymouth settlement was founded nearby on the site of a deserted Native American village. Disease soon carried off many settlers, however, and William Mullins died on February 21st 1621, three months after landing. Alice, young Joseph, and Robert Carver soon followed. Young Priscilla, probably 16 to 18 years old, was an orphan in the New World. The depleted colony barely survived; that it did is largely due to the intervention of an English-speaking Native American who taught the colonists how to survive in the territory.

Priscilla Mullins and John Alden
Priscilla Mullins and John Alden

In 1622/3 Priscilla Mullins married John Alden, a cooper who had been recruited in Southampton to take charge of the Mayflower’s barrels and casks. She became a national heroine in the 19th century when Longfellow published ‘The Courtship of Miles Standish’, a narrative poem which depicts Priscilla as an independent and spirited young woman. The tale, based on family anecdote, has John Alden proposing marriage to Priscilla on behalf of Captain Standish, whereupon she says ‘Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?’ The pair went on to have 10 children and John became Deputy Governor of the colony. In the United States Priscilla is revered as a founder of the nation as two early US presidents, John Adams (1735-1826) and his son, John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), claim descent from John and Priscilla.

Alden House
Alden House

Their house at Duxbury is now the Alden House Historic Site, and home to the John Alden Kindred of America. It is a place of pilgrimage for many Mayflower descendents, as is the Mullins’ house in Dorking.

Read more about the Mullins family in this book written by Museum volunteers Kathy Atherton, Susannah Horne and Jane le Cluse.

The book tells the story of the Dorking Mayflower Pilgrims of 1620 who risked everything to start a new life in the New World. It also gives an insight into day to day life in the town they left behind.

Priced at £8.00. Buy it online here.

Return to Permanent Exhibition Home Page

Malcare WordPress Security