marriage is a thing “upon which many questions aboute inheritances doe depend”
William Bradford, author of the first history of the Mayflower community
In 1620, a small company of Puritans set sail on the Mayflower from Plymouth bound for Virginia. They left in search of religious freedom and a new life for themselves and their families. In the words of their biographer, William Bradford, “they knew they were pilgrims”. But not all of those aboard the Mayflower were there for such high minded reasons. Buried within the passenger list are the names of four tiny children: Richard More, aged 6, Jasper More aged 7, Mary More, aged 4 and Ellen (Elinor) More aged 8, who were without friends or family aboard the ship and had been sent from Shropshire to join the Pilgrim Fathers as indentured servants by their mother’s husband, Samuel More. Their mother, Katharine, had never given her consent for this brutal uprooting of her offspring, indeed she was bitterly contesting it in the courts right up to the moment of their departure, but to no avail. None of the children ever saw her again. Three out of the four died on the voyage, never even reaching America. The only survivor, Richard More, lived to be 81. He prospered and in the course of a thriving seafaring career, made many visits to London, England. But these were made during the 1640s and 50s, by which time his mother was dead.
Katharine More, the daughter of Jasper More of Larden in Shropshire was born on November 23rd 1586. It was never anticipated that she would become heir to her father’s estates, since she had three brothers and at least one married sister, which may have been why she seems to have been able to form an attachment with a local yeoman named Jacob Blakeway. However, when the last of Jasper More’s sons was killed in a duel, Katharine was prevailed upon by her relatives to break off this relationship and marry her cousin, Samuel More, heir of the Linley branch of the More family from South Shropshire, so that the family name and estates might be consolidated and secured. The union between Katharine and Samuel More took place on February 4th 1611. She was nearly 25 and Samuel was only 17.
After the marriage and as part of the settlement, Samuel’s father became master of Larden in return for a large sum of money paid to Katharine’s father. The young couple moved in with Katharine’s parents at Larden, but Samuel, who already had a prestigious position as secretary to Lord Edward Zouche, and was clearly destined for great things, lived for the most part in London, spending little time in Shropshire with his new wife. Nevertheless, four children were born to the young couple over the next five years and it wasn’t until the arrival of the youngest, Mary, in April 1616 that Samuel announced he did not believe that any of them were his isue and that he was separating from his wife because of her adultery, “with one Jacob Blakeway, a fellow of mean parentage and condition” to whom all of his so called children bore a suspicious likeness and resemblance. Acting swiftly, Samuel and his father took legal action to bar any of the children from inheriting the More Family Estates and removed them from custody of his wife, who he claimed “through the continuance in sinne became impudent”. For the time being, they were placed in the care of his tenants near Linley Hall.
Katharine More never denied her adultery with Blakemore and, in fact, stated that the unlawful union was her marriage with Samuel. She tried to have this annulled, claiming that there had been a precontract with Jacob Blakemore, which in the seventeenth century was regarded as a legally binding union whether or not it was solemnised in church, so long as it could be attested by two credible witnesses. Unfortunately for Katharine, her witnesses had both died by 1616 and so her petition for the annulment was denied. For a time, Blakeway stood by his “wife” and defied Samuel, but by March 1619 he was facing such enormous fines and penalties as a result of law suits taken out against him by his rival that he was forced to flee to avoid imprisonment. Nothing further is known of his life following this date. Samuel then obtained a judicial separation from his wife. The children were not officially declared illegitimate, but they were placed completely under his care while he sought a divorce from their mother. Within months, he had made arrangements to send them away on the Mayflower. Nothing that Katharine attempted though the courts could prevent her estranged husband from ridding himself totally of the four children who can have been nothing but an embarrassment to him. On 6th of September, the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth with the More Children aboard. Soon afterwards, Samuel obtained his divorce and, in 1625, he married Elizabeth Worsley, a cousin by marriage of his patron, Lord Zouche. Their son Richard inherited the Larden and Linley estates in due course. Katharine is believed to have gone to live with an uncle in London, where she died in obscurity.
The story of Katharine and Samuel More is a starkly contrasting one, depending on whose side of the story you look at and whether you view it from a seventeenth century or a modern perspective. His story centres around ownership, property and the decisive assertion of his rights. By seventeenth century standards, Samuel’s conduct was totally justified: a man’s wife was his property to dispose of as he saw fit. Katharine’s actions constituted a threat to Samuel’s ownership of his estates and land. She, and her illegitimate children, had to be stopped. However, from a modern perspective it is hard not to feel critical of the total indifference he showed towards Katharine herself, her needs, her rights and her wishes, and also the heartless way in which he disposed of her offspring. Katharine’s story, we feel, is one of friendlessness and cruel betrayal: by her parents, by both of her “husbands” and by the law which refused to countenance her position or offer her any support. However, by the standards of the day, her behaviour was reckless, disloyal to her family and deeply immoral. She was cast out as a result of it and effaced from the record. Even the date of her death is unknown.
Source: The More children and the Mayflower by Donald F Harris available from Shipton Church