Review: Mayflower Lectures - The Fuller Family

The second of our Mayflower Lectures took place on Thursday 16 January at St Johns Church in Harleston. Margaret Griffiths, local historian and curator of the museum spoke about our famous Fuller family, life in Harleston in 1600 and the epic Mayflower journey.

We learned that the Pilgrim brothers, Edward and Samuel, who sailed to America had three other brothers, Thomas, John and Edmund and a sister called Ann. Their father remarried after Sarah, his first wife, died. He has five more children with Frances, his second wife: Sarah, Christopher, Elizabeth, Susanna and Mary.

Did any of these siblings have children? Are any of the people of Harleston or nearby descended from these brothers? We would be very interested to find out about anyone who may be related to the Pilgrims. If you have any information please send an email to

Many of the buildings that were around at the time of our Fullers are still in existence today. Reydon House, Caltofts and the Old Merchants House all survive today. Our three remaining pubs, The Swan Hotel, JD Young (The Magpie) and Cardinals Hat were all available to our Pilgrims. Could they have sampled ale in one of the places we frequent today? You can find our more about Harleston in 1600 by joining one of our guided Heritage Walks.

In the early 1600s many people, had become very dissatisfied with lack of progress in the reform of the Church of England which had stayed much too close to Rome for their liking. They were known as Separatists. The new king, James I, had very definite ideas about matters, including those concerned with religion. Anyone who disagreed with him was guilty of sedition. Along with other people who wished to worship without the constraints of the established church, our Fuller Pilgrims left England and went to Holland in 1605.

They finally settled in a town called Leiden, outside Amsterdam. You will see from the map that it is very different from Harleston. This is much larger. Life was very hard for the English people who had largely come from rural backgrounds and were now trying to survive in an urban environment. No more open air and farming, they were now working in factories. By 1619, the Separatists decided that this was not the place for them. Their To make matters worse, their children were gradually losing their English identity and becoming Dutch. Does this story have echos of immigrants lives today? It was time to move again.

They joined other people who would sail to America. They found financial backing from the Merchant Adventurers, a group of investors who were prepared to put money into such a venture. This is the topic of our Mayflower Lecture in February.

Our Fullers would board a small ship called the Speedwell in Holland and sail to England to join a bigger ship called the Mayflower. They would sail together to America taking passenger and provisions, the Mayflower would return to England and the Speedwell would stay in America as their trading vessel. That was the plan. However, the Speedwell sprang a leak, twice and was finally forced to abandon the journey, leaving only the Mayflower to leave one last time from Plymouth. So the story about Plymouth and the Mayflower only came about by accident. The Mayflower really began its journey in London and was intended to meet the Speedwell at Southampton.

There were 102 passengers on the Mayflower, with maybe 30 crew and assorted animals. The journey took an arduous 66 days, but only one person died during the journey. William Button, a man servant of Samuel Fuller. Life in America was very harsh, about half the people died during the first winter, including Edward and his wife, his son Samuel Junior would live with his uncle Doctor Samuel. The doctor was joined by his wife and child in 1623 and had two more children. Samuel Junior had eight children, and one of his daughter has 10 children. Together with the other Mayflower passengers they helped found a descendants group of some 35 millions people worldwide and 10 million people in America.

There is a General Society for Mayflower Descendants in America for people who can prove their lineage back to the Mayflower passengers. There is a chapter specially for people who can prove that the are descended from the Fullers of Redenhall with Harleston. We will welcome some of the members to Harleston during July 2020, we hope you will have a chance to meet them and make our distant cousins very welcome.

More people would go to America after the Mayflower Pilgrims. This included more Fullers, Briget, wife of Samuel Fuller would join the colony in 1623 on the ship Anne. Matthew Fuller who was older brother of Samuel Junior would arrive almost twenty years later, in 1640.