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The Murderer Who Came on the Mayflower

The Mayflower left England in 1620, carrying both a colony of religious Separatists we later called the Pilgrims and other folk who went to settle in North America. Among them was John Billington and his family. Billington was fleeing from debt, and paid for his passage by agreeing to work for the Separatist's colony for seven years, even though he was loyal to the Church of England. He was, in effect, an indentured servant.  

Billington made multiple enemies on the harsh trip across the Atlantic, earning a reputation as a “foul mouthed miscreant.” After many weeks at sea, the crew finally sighted land and dropped anchor off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts—where an unexpected blaze nearly sunk the ship. The cause? Billington’s son, Francis, who shot off his father’s gun near a barrel of gunpowder, almost killing the passengers before they set foot on shore.

Billington, his wife Elinor, and his two sons, were quickly marked as troublemakers.

Billington's relationship with the Pilgrims was troubled for quite a few years, until he ultimately ended up killing one of them. The article calls him the first convicted murderer in the New World, which is a little far fetched, considering that whole civilizations came and went before that, and Europeans had already spent over a hundred years killing any native who got in their way. But he was convicted in a trial under English law and found guilty. Read the story of John Billington at The Lineup.   -Thanks, Aliza!


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