Friday, 9 October 2015

Peter Browne (1595-1633) (Week 41) Theme: "Colorful"

Having already written stories about those of my ancestors that I think of as particularly colourful characters, I thought instead to choose an ancestor with a colourful name to satisfy this week's theme. I'm afraid I couldn't find a single Scarlet, Cardinal, Indigo or Chartreuse in the family! Brown is perhaps not the most colourful of colours, but there is a whole list of Browns (and Brownes) in our family tree. My 10th great grandfather Peter Browne is one of them. One rather colourful story about him survives in the folklore of early Plymouth Colony.

Peter Browne's Tankard
Europe, Baltic Region, 1610-1650
Oak, birch
PHM 1191, Gift of Mrs. Gorham Brown, 1959
Image Courtesy of Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts

There has been much confusion and disagreement about where in England Peter Browne originated. I believe Caleb Johnson's version since he has devoted decades to thorough Mayflower research. According to him, Peter Browne came from Dorking, Surrey where he was baptised on 26 January 1594/5. His father's name was William Browne and Peter had a younger brother John Brown born in Dorking in 1600. Both brothers would grow up to be weavers and move to New England.

Probably Peter knew the Mullins family who were also of Dorking, and it may have been their influence that caused him to join the contingent sailing to America aboard the Mayflower in 1620. In his mid 20's, he was still unmarried and travelled on his own with his pet dog. (Yes, there were at least two dogs aboard the Mayflower - Peter's English mastiff and John Goodman's English spaniel.)

Rigging on the Mayflower II
Replica in Plymouth Harbour, MA 1999
During the first winter that the Mayflower passengers were in Plymouth, many continued to live aboard the ship while they were busy constructing homes. On the morning of 12 January 1621, Peter Browne and John Goodman, accompanied by their dogs, were cutting reeds to use as thatching for roofs. After they had had their lunch and gone for a walk to refresh themselves, the mastiff and the spaniel scented a deer and gave chase, as dogs will do. The men followed in hope of fresh meat, but quickly found that they were hopelessly lost. All afternoon they wandered around in the rain. Night fell quickly and they were still wandering in the forest, cold and frightened, as rain turned to snow. They heard noises like wolves howling, a sound they identified as "two lyons roaring exceedingly, for a long time together" and spent much of the night marching up and down under a tree for shelter. Peter Browne's mastiff kept trying to break free to go after the "lyons". Of course, the remaining colonists were worried by their absence and had sent out search parties that found no trace of men or their dogs. When morning arrived, Browne and Goodman made their way to the top of a hill where they could see the bay and regain their directions. They made it home after nightfall that second day "readie to faint with travail & wante of victuals, and almost famished with cold", but Goodman's shoes had to be cut from his swollen frostbitten feet. He died within a few days but Browne and the dogs all recovered from their ordeal.

Peter Browne was a signatory to the Mayflower Compact signed by the men of the company upon arrival in Plymouth.

Peter Brown's name appears about halfway down the second column
Mayflower Compact 

Building lots were assigned at Plymouth and Peter received the lot at the foot of the street above the Common House. When Peter Browne's name shows up in the Division of Land that occurred in Plymouth in 1623, he was still single.  He ended up marrying twice, first to Martha Ford and, after her death, to Mary (my 10th great grandmother, unknown last name). All of Peter's children from both marriages were daughters, including my 9th great grandmother Rebecca Browne born in 1631.

Author in front of Peter Browne's (replica) house in Plimoth Plantation, MA 1999

Peter Browne is in the Division of Cattle that occurred in Plymouth in 1627. At that time, he was married to his first wife Martha (Ford) Browne and is listed with their daughter Mary Browne and Martha's children from her first marriage, John and Martha Ford. That same year he was one of the 27 "Purchasers" who signed a contract to repay the "Undertakers" who had funded their voyage to the New World.

Life was not easy in the new colony. Disease often took its toll. When an infectious fever swept the town in 1633, Peter Browne was one of its victims. He was not yet 40 years old. My 9th great grandmother Rebecca Browne was only about 2 years old and would grow up never having known her father.

Peter Browne's estate inventory was taken on 10 October 1633 and showed that he had died possessed one Bible, a felling axe, handsaw, augers and chisel, suit and cloak, Irish stockings, coat, 12 oz. of shot and a spade. He also owned 130 bushels of corn, 6 milk goats, one cow, eight sheep and a number of pigs. (As a weaver, he had owned more sheep than the norm.) On the 11th of November 1633, a court of assistants dealt with his having died intestate. It ordered that his wife Mary as administratrix pay down 15 pounds for each of Peter's two daughters from his first marriage with the balance going to Mary and the two daughters from their marriage. Those of us who are his descendants must be thankful that he at least survived his ordeal in the wilderness with Goodman and their dogs long enough to produce these daughters!


  • Caleb Johnson's Mayflower History website accessible through this link.
  •, "New England Marriages Prior to 1700"
  •, "U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s", Place: Plymouth, Massachusetts; Year: 1620; page number: 56
  • Anderson, Robert Charles, "The Great Migration Begins - Immigrants to New England 1620-1633" NEHGS 1995, Vol. 1
  • Bradford, William. "Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647", Morison, Samuel E (ed) NY 1952
  • Caffrey, Kate, "The Mayflower", 1974: 73
  • Johnson, Caleb H. "The Mayflower and Some of Her Passengers", Xlibris Corporation 2006
  • Philbrick, Nathaniel. "Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War", Penguin Group 2006
  • Roser, Susan E. "Mayflower Increasings", 2nd Edition, Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., 1997
  • Willison, G.F., "Saints and Strangers", New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1945
  • Pilgrim Hall Museum website


  1. What a wonderful story, Joanne. My ex-husband's family go back to Resolved White and parents (Susan, William) on the Mayflower, but this is the first time I read about Peter Brown(e). I love the tankard, by the way - a little peek into their lives, what they handled.

  2. Hi there!
    I am writing from Dorking in England, home town of Peter Browne. A group of volunteers at the Museum here are putting together a little booklet about Browne and the Mullins and their voyage and lives, and we wondered if you might allow us to use your image of Browne's house? it will be sold to raise money to keep the Museum open and it would be fantastic if people in Dorking could contrast the style of house he lived in in MA to those they he left.
    It would be great to hear from you
    Kathy Atherton (Dorking Museum)

  3. My sincere apologies for having missed your request. If it's not too late, certainly you may use the picture!