5 famous Mayflower descendants and their Pilgrim ancestors

Kane Khanh | Archeaology
February 2, 2024

These famous faces claim Mayflower ancestry. Do you?

You may be surprised how many celebrities and notable individuals from history trace their heritage back to a Pilgrim. You surely know the stories of these American icons, but do you know the stories of their Mayflower ancestors?

5 famous Mayflower descendants and their Pilgrim ancestors | Blog

Descended from: Mayflower crew member John Alden.

John Alden was a crew member on the Mayflower who decided to stay in America instead of returning to England with the ship. John served as the ship’s cooper, responsible for maintaining the barrels on the Mayflower. He also signed the Mayflower Compact.

Once landed in Plymouth, John married fellow passenger Priscilla Mullins, whose entire family had died within a few months of arriving in America. John and Priscilla had 11 children survive to adulthood and are thought to have the most descendants of any Pilgrims. John outlived all others who signed the Compact, passing in 1687.

Other notable descendants of John Alden: Orson Welles, Dick Van Dyke & Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Descended from: Plymouth Governor William Bradford.

William Bradford was a leader of the Separatists, who famously fled England and wound up in America due to religious persecution. The term “pilgrim” actually comes from a journal entry of his, in which he describes his group’s flight from Europe, which he wrote years after the Mayflower voyage.

5 famous Mayflower descendants and their Pilgrim ancestors | Blog

Upon landing at Plymouth, Bradford served as a member of key scouting parties that explored the new territory and eventually found a suitable location to set up a colony. While out exploring, his wife Dorothy died when she either fell or jumped overboard the Mayflower.

Bradford kept a detailed history of Plymouth Plantation, which survives today as the oldest detailed record of the activities of the colony. He served as Governor of Plymouth from 1621-1632 and was the leader who oversaw and organized the first Thanksgiving.

Other notable descendants of William Bradford: Christopher Reeve, George McClellan, Hugh Heffner.

5 famous Mayflower descendants and their Pilgrim ancestors | Blog

Descended from: Indentured servant John Howland.

John Howland came over on the Mayflower as an indentured servant, serving the first Governor, John Carver. Howland served as Carver’s executive assistant as he governed the colony through its first winter.

Carver fell sick and died in the spring of 1621, and his wife and only child died shortly thereafter. Howland finally achieved status as a free man after Carver’s death, and it is possible (although unconfirmed) that Howland inherited the entire Carver estate. Another Mayflower passenger, Elizabeth Tilley was orphaned when the rest of her family died during the first winter, and she lived in Howland’s household as his ward. He married her around 1624 and they went on to have 10 children. Howland lived until the ripe age of 80.

Other notable descendants of John Howland: Humphrey Bogart, Christopher Lloyd.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Descended from: Richard Warren, a lone passenger on the Mayflower.

Richard Warren traveled over on the Mayflower, leaving his wife and five daughters behind. His intention was to wait until he thought the colony was suitable for them (which proved to be a wise, but uncommon choice) and eventually brought them over to join him in 1623.

5 famous Mayflower descendants and their Pilgrim ancestors | Blog

Warren was involved in the early exploration of Plymouth, which was treacherous for numerous reasons. During the first winter, many lay aboard the Mayflower sick, but those that went out in exploration parties suffered greatly from the unanticipated harsh New England winter.

Warren was with the party at the time of the so-called “First Encounter” with the Native Americans. The encounter was not amicable, as the Pilgrims and Native Americans exchanged musket and arrow fire. Although the Pilgrims recognized the fact that arrows could be fired much more rapidly than muskets, they emerged unharmed and were able to disperse their enemies with the superior firepower of their weapons.

Other notable descendants of Richard Warren: Ulysses S. Grant, Orson Welles, Henry David Thoreau, Richard Gere.

5 famous Mayflower descendants and their Pilgrim ancestors | Blog

Descended from: William Brewster, religious leader, and preacher.

After landing in Plymouth, Brewster became the most senior elder of the colony and served as its religious leader, as well as an adviser to William Bradford, as he was the only university-educated member of the group until Pastor Ralph Smith arrived in 1629.

Brewster was granted land which included the islands of Boston Harbor, four of which still bear his name.

Other notable descendant of William Brewster: President Zachary Taylor.

Could you share Mayflower connections with these famous faces and millions of other people worldwide? Explore our Mayflower Passenger Lists to pinpoint a Pilgrim connection on your family tree. Then, share your discoveries using #FindmypastFeatured on social media.