ORIGIN: Leiden, Holland

MIGRATION: 1620 on Mayflower


REMOVES: Duxbury

OCCUPATION: Publisher (in Leiden). (See R. Breugelmans, ed., The Pilgrim Press, a bibliographical & historical memorial of the books printed at Leyden by the Pilgrim Fathers by Rendel Harris & Stephen R. Jones, With a chapter on the location of the Pilgrim Press in Leyden by Dr. Plooij, Partial reprint with new contributions by R. Breugelmans, J.A. Gruys & Keith Sprunger [Nieuwkoop 1987].)

CHURCH MEMBERSHIP: Morison summarized Brewster's church activities prior to 1620: "One of the original members of the separatist congregation at Scrooby which became the nucleus of the Pilgrim church, he emigrated with them to Holland in 1608, and became elder and teacher of their church at Leyden" [Morison 368]. With no minister at the Plymouth church for most of the years before Brewster's death, he was the lay leader and preached to the congregation regularly, and continued in this manner after his move to Duxbury. In the course of relating the controversy surrounding John Lyford, Bradford recounts how "our reverend Elder hath labored diligently in dispensing the Word of God to us, before he came: and since, hath taken equal pains with himself, in preaching the same" [Bradford 162]. Included in the inventory of his library were "7 sermons by W B," which may have been his notes for some of his own sermons.

FREEMAN: In 1633 Plymouth list of freemen, prior to those admitted on 1 January 1632/3 [PCR 1:3]. In list of 7 March 1636/7 [PCR 1:52]. In Plymouth section of list of 1639 (annotated "dead") [PCR 8: 173].

EDUCATION: Entered Peterhouse, Cambridge, 3 December 1580, but did not graduate [Venn 1 :213; Morison 368]. Within the inventory of William Brewster separate listings were made of his Latin and English books, with nearly four hundred titles included; "the total of both Latin & English books amounts to the sum of £42 19s. 1 Id." [MD 3:27].

ESTATE: In the list of Plymouth "meersteads & garden plots of [those] which came first laid out 1620" Mr. W[illia]m Brewster is on the south side of the street, at the corner of the highway, and next to John Goodman [PCR 12:3].

In the 1623 Plymouth land division Mr. William Brewster received six acres as a passenger on the Mayflower, and "Pacience & Fear Brewster" received two acres as passengers on the Anne [PCR 12:4, 6]. In the 1627 Plymouth cattle division "Mr. Will[ia]m Brewster," Love Brewster and Wrestling Brewster were the first three names in the fifth company [PCR 12:10].

Assessed £1 7s. in the Plymouth tax lists of 25 March 1633 and 27 March 1634 [PCR 1:9, 27].

Administration on the estate of William Brewster was granted on 5 June 1644 to Jonathan Brewster and Love Brewster [MD 3:15, citing PCR 2:101]. The inventory of the estate of William Brewster, taken 18 May 1644, totalled £150 7d., with no real estate included [MD 3:15-27, citing PCPR 1 :53-59].

"Whereas William Brewster late of Plymouth, gent., deceased left only two sons surviving vizt. Jonathan the eldest and Love the younger and whereas the said William died intestate for ought can to this day appear," the two sons requested William Bradford, Edward Winslow, Thomas Prence and Myles Standish to assist them in coming to an agreement, and on 20 August 1645 a division was made. Jonathan Brewster was excused the debt he had owed to his father, except £4 "in consideration of the wintering of some cattle which the said Jonathan had the summering upon the division and for the diet of Isaack Allerton a grandchild of the said Will[ia]m which he had placed with his son Love to table and because he was the first born of his father we gave him his father's arms and also a two year old heifer over and above his part of the dividables of the said estate," and Love received his father's dwelling house. The lands were divided equally, except for a dispute over the lands at Duxbury, of which sixty-eight acres went to Jonathan (along with a "dwelling house which the said Jonathan had built on the said land by leave of his said father") and forty-three acres went to Love "and the reason wherefore we gave Love the less quantity was and is because the quality of Love's land in goodness is equal to the quantity of Jonathan's as we judge" [MD 3:27-30, citing PCLR 1:198-99; PCR 12:115-17].

BIRTH: About 1566, probably at Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, son of William Brewster.

DEATH: Duxbury 10 April 1644 [MD 1:7].

MARRIAGE: By 1593 Mary____. She died at Plymouth 17 April 1627 [MD 1:7]. (See COMMENTS below for discussion of her identity.)


  1. JONATHAN BREWSTER, b. Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, 12 August 1593 [MD 1:7]; m. Plymouth 10 April 1624 "Lucretia Oldam of Darby" [MD 1 :8]; she was bp. All Saints, Derby, Derbyshire, 14 January 1600/1, and was sister of JOHN OLDHAM [PM 345].
  2. PATIENCE BREWSTER, b. say 1603; m. Plymouth 5 August 1624 THOMAS PRENCE [PM 374], "the ninth marriage at New Plymouth" [Prince 229].
  3. FEAR BREWSTER, b. say 1605; m. Plymouth by 1627 ISAAC ALLERTON [Bradford 218,242; PM 10].
  4. LOVE BREWSTER, b. say 1607; m. Plymouth 15 May 1634 Sarah Collier [PCR 1:30], daughter of WILLIAM COLLIER [PM 128].
  5. Child BREWSTER, bur. St. Pancras, Leiden, 20 June 1609 [NS] [Dexter 605].
  6. WRESTLING BREWSTER, b. say 1611; d. unm. after 1627 and by 1651 [Bradford 444; see GDMNH 109, MD 43:13, Waterhouse Anc 67].

COMMENTS: In his list of passengers on the Mayflower Bradford included "Mr. William Brewster, Mary, his wife, with two sons, whose names were Love and Wrestling" [Bradford 441]. In the accounting of 1651 we find that "Mr. Brewster lived to very old age; about 80 years he was when he died, having lived some 23 or 24 years here in the country. And though his wife died long before, yet she died aged. His son Wrestling died a young man unmarried. His son Love lived till this year 1650 and died and left four children, now living. His daughters which came over after him are dead but have left sundry children alive. His eldest son is still living and hath nine or ten children; one married who hath a child or two" [Bradford 444].

The quest for the identity of Mary, the wife of William Brewster, has attracted the attention of many genealogists, but as yet without a definitive result. For some time she had been thought to be Mary Wentworth, daughter of Thomas Wentworth of Scrooby, and in 1965 John G. Hunt presented his case in favor of this identity [TAG 41:1-5, 63], but this claim was rejected by Rubincam and others, and Hunt himself has now given up this position. He has, however, published a pamphlet claiming that she was a certain Mary Wyrrall, based on the appearance in a will of a bequest to "Mary Butho," which Hunt took be a variant of Brewster resulting from a speech defect in the person dictating the will [John G. Hunt, Of Mary Brewster: The Identity of Mary, Wife of Elder William BREWSTER of the Mayflower Voyage of 1620 from Plymouth, England, to New Plymouth, New England (Bowling Green, Virginia, 1984)]. Eugene A. Stratton reviewed this volume negatively in 1985 [Detroit Society for Genealogical Research Magazine 48:135-36], to which Hunt responded with a supplement to his pamphlet [Of Mary Brewster, part two (Bowling Green, Virginia, August 1985]. The maiden surname of Mary, wife of Elder Brewster, remains unknown. (Hunt has published other articles on various aspects of William Brewster's life, which, as with all of Hunt's work, need to be used with caution: "'Master Williamson' of the Mayflower" [NGSQ 62:88-90]; "The Mother of Elder William Brewster of the Mayflower" [NEHGR 124:250-56]; "Mary Stubbe - A Connection of Elder William Brewster?" [NEHGR 128:288-90].)

A number of other children have been proposed for William Brewster, although there is no reason to accept any of these proposals. Jacobus in 1936 disposed of the claimed connections between William Brewster of Plymouth and Francis Brewster of New Haven and his son Nathaniel [TAG 12:199-210, 13:8-21, 113-116]. Mary Walton Ferris proposed a son Edward, for whom there is no evidence [Dawes-Gates 2:151].

BIBLIOGRAPHIC NOTE: Emma C. Brewster Jones published early in this century a serviceable genealogy of the family [The Brewster Genealogy, 1566-1907 ... , 2 volumes (New York 1908)]. Among the many versions of the family published in all-my-ancestor volumes the most complete is that of Mary Walton Ferris [Dawes-Gates 2: 142-56].

The General Society of Mayflower Descendants published in its "Mayflower Families in Progress" series an accounting of the first four generations of descendants of William Brewster, prepared by Barbara Lambert Merrick, the third edition of which was published in 2000. Two additional volumes by the same compiler were published in 1999 and 2000, the first of these on the fifth-generation descendants of son Jonathan Brewster, and the second on the fifth-generation descendants of daughter Patience (Brewster) Prence.

In 1985 and 1986 Jeremy D. Bangs published a three-part article presenting and discussing all known documents naming Jonathan Brewster in Leiden [MQ 51:161-67, 52:6-16, 57-63]. Bangs examined the claim made by the Dexters that Jonathan Brewster had an earlier wife and child while residing in Leiden and determined that the records cited by the Dexters did not pertain to Jonathan Brewster.

The Pilgrim Migration: Immigrants to Plymouth Colony 1620-1633

Buy the print edition of The Pilgrim Migration: Immigrants to Plymouth Colony 1620-1633.

The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633

Buy the print edition of The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to N.E. 1620-1633 Vols I-III.

Become an American Ancestors.org member to access this biography and over 40,000 more records in the searchable online database of The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to N.E. 1620-1633 Vols I-III.

This authoritative work by Robert Charles Anderson identifies and describes all Europeans who settled in New England prior to the end of 1633. Each individual or family entry includes (when known) the port or country of origin; when and on what ship they arrived in New England; the earliest known record of the individual or family; their first and subsequent residences; return trips to their country of origin; marriages, births, and deaths; and other important family relationships. This work is available in print and database form on AmericanAncestors.org.


Download a FREE Guide to Mayflower ancestry

Are you a Mayflower descendant? This guide will help you find out.

Honor Your Ancestors with a Pilgrim Quadricentennial Membership

Honor your ancestors with a Pilgrim Quadricentennial Membership -- only available in 2020

Twitter icon Facebook icon Instagram icon