The Pilgrims’ Pastor

Memorial to the Rev. John Robinson at St. Peter's Church in Leyden, Netherlands. (Source: Wikipedia)

I received the following e-mail on December 23 of last year. It hit me like a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky.

The e-mail was from my cousin Beth, who lives in Maryland, and who I haven’t seen in many years. She has a deep interest in genealogy, as you’ll see below. Her father, who was my father’s brother, did a lot of research into the family history, and Beth has followed up over the years with research of her own. A portion of  her e-mail, addressed to my brother and me, follows:

Dear Phil and John,

Last night I was able to find four missing generations, thus connecting you directly to the Mayflower.

Rev. John Robinson was the pastor of many of the Puritans that came to America aboard the Mayflower in 1620.

We are the 13th generation!  Could you share this with Uncle Ken?

Merry Christmas.

Love, Beth

Direct Descendants of Rev. John Christopher Robinson

1 John Christopher Robinson 1574/75 – 1624/25

+Bridget White 1578 – 1643

… 2 Isaac Robinson 1610 – 1704

… +Margaret Hanford 1619 – 1649

….. 3 John Robinson 1640 –

….. +Elizabeth Weeks

……. 4 John Robinson 1667/68 –

…….. +Hannah Wheaton

……… 5 Peter Robinson 1695/96 –

……….. 6 Isaiah Robinson 1726 –

……….. +Amy Chapel 1733 –

…………. 7 Zelotes Robinson 1753 – 1845

…………. +Hannah Waller 1758 – 1832

…………… 8 John Robinson 1782 – 1843

…………….. 9 Frederick Edward Robinson 1808 – 1893

…………….. +Elizabeth Fowler 1806 – 1859

………………. 10 Cyrus Eby Robinson 1848 – 1945

………………. +Marianna Wood 1846 – 1930

………………… 11 Helen Avery Robinson 1885 – 1980

………………… +Henning Shoulberg 1878 – 1973

………………….. 12 Kenneth Wood Shoulberg 1920 –

If the formatting of her e-mail held, you can follow the generations from the 17th century to the 20th. Kenneth Wood Shoulberg is my father. His mother, Helen Avery Robinson, always said that we might be related to the Rev. John Robinson, but never had the proof. She was apparently sure enough, though, to name her first son—who was Beth’s father and my uncle—John Robinson Shoulberg. As you can see above, Beth found the connections to complete the line back to Rev. Robinson.

So who was this Rev. John Robinson? Something of a rebel, it turns out. He was, essentially, the pastor  and spiritual leader of the Puritans who fled England for the Netherlands in the early 1600s. Known at the time as Separatists, they didn’t want to be forced to worship according to the dictates of the Church of England. After several tries, they escaped England and went to Amsterdam, and later to Leyden, where they settled for the next decade or so under Robinson’s leadership. He “set the pattern for liberality and tolerance” for the Separatists, says this article. In 1620, a portion of the congregation set sail on the Mayflower for New England. That group, of course, came to be known as the Pilgrims, and you’ll be toasting them this afternoon at your Thanksgiving dinner.

Robinson himself didn’t make that journey across the Atlantic.; he stayed behind in the Netherlands, planning to come later, but he died in 1625. His son Isaac, however, did later make the trip in about 1630. Isaac would be my grandfather with nine “greats” in front of it; Rev. John Robinson would be my great-to-the-10th-power grandfather.

I frankly didn’t know any of this history until I got Beth’s e-mail and started looking around on the Internet. Robinson is the subject of a lengthy article on Wikipedia, which credits him with being one of the founders of the Congregational Church, which, to this day, is my family’s church.

At St. Peter’s Church (Pietrskirk), in Leyden, where Robinson is buried, the National Council of the Congregational Churches of the United States of America erected a plaque in his honor. There’s a picture of it at the top of this post. The plaque reads: “In Memory of Rev. John Robinson, M. A., Pastor of the English Church Worshipping Over Against This Spot, A. D. 1609 – 1625, Whence at his Prompting Went Forth THE PILGRIM FATHERS To Settle New England in 1620…”

In this amusing account, Robinson is referred to as “wise, kind, dignified and scholarly.”

Do you want still more to read? This should keep you going for a while.

Happy Thanksgiving!


4 thoughts on “The Pilgrims’ Pastor

  1. So, I guess we would be “cousins”? I am also related to Rev John…my mother was a Robinson, directly descended….I have an old book too which shows the whole line down from Rev John Robinson.

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