John Billington

John Billington

Death 30 Sep 1630 (aged 49–50)
Plymouth, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, USA
Burial Unknown
Memorial ID 140518775 · View Source
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A Mayflower passenger.

John Billington (also spelled Billinton) was born in Lincolnshire around 1580. He lived in Cowbit, Lincolnshire before emigrating to the New World.

Billington departed on the Mayflower in September 1620 with his wife Eleanor and sons John Jr. and Francis. Thanks to inclement weather, the ship arrived in America hundreds of miles further north than intended. Along with forty others, Billington signed the Mayflower Compact on November 11 (O.S.), while the ship lay at anchor. Disembarking at Cape Cod, the Pilgrims founded Plymouth, a colony that would lose almost half its inhabitants the first winter.

The Billingtons thoroughly established themselves as troublemakers among the Pilgrims. John Sr. challenged Myles Standish's authority on multiple occasions. Though implicated in a 1624 revolt against the Plymouth church, Billington insisted that he was innocent and escaped punished. In 1625, William Bradford wrote a letter to Robert Cushman denouncing Billington as a "knave."

Other incidents only contributed to the Billington family reputation. Francis nearly blew up the Mayflower. John Jr. got lost in the woods and was captured by the hostile Nausets. Eleanor was pilloried and whipped for slander.

John Billington is best remembered for an event in September 1630, on a day he went out hunting for deer. He stumbled across his mortal enemy, a young settler named John Newcomen. Newcomen, fearing for his life, hid behind some trees. Billington, deadly marksman to the last, struck Newcomen in the shoulder, a shot that spelled death for both of them. Billington was tried by jury, convicted, and hanged for the murder.

Two contemporary sources record the details.

"This year John Billington the elder (one that came over with the first) was arraigned; and both by grand, and petty jury found guilty of willful murder; by plain and notorious evidence. And was for the same accordingly executed. This as it was the first execution amongst them, so was it a matter of great sadness unto them; they used all due means about his trial, and took the advice of Mr. Winthrop, and other the ablest gentlemen in the Bay of Massachusetts, that were then newly come over, who concurred with them that he ought to die, and the land be purged from blood. He and some of his, had been often punished for miscarriages before, being one of the profanest families amongst them; ... His fact was, that he waylaid a young man, one John Newcomen (about a former quarrel) and shot him with a gun, whereof he died."
- William Bradford

"So when this wilderness began first to be peopled by the English where there was but one poor town, another Cain was found therein, who maliciously slew his neighbor in the field, as he accidentally met him, as he himself was going to shoot deer. The poor fellow perceiving the intent of this Billington, his mortal enemy, sheltered himself behind trees as well as he could for a while; but the other, not being so ill a marksman as to miss his aim, made a shot at them, and struck him on the shoulder, with which he died soon after. The murderer expected that either for want of power to execute for capital offenses, or for want of people to increase the plantation, he should have his life spared; but justice otherwise determined."
- William Hubbard, clergyman

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  • Maintained by: Zachary Smith
  • Originally Created by: Butterflyy
  • Added: 27 Dec 2014
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  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for John Billington (1580–30 Sep 1630), Find A Grave Memorial no. 140518775, ; Maintained by Zachary Smith (contributor 49252218) Unknown.