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John Clarke, Mayflower Pilot

John Clarke, Mayflower Pilot

John Clarke was the Master’s Mate, or Pilot of the Mayflower on it’s voyage from England to Massachusetts in 1620. Numerous web sites give names of his parents as well as his baptism date and location. Since none of them supply primary sources for the information, it must be considered speculative other than his approximate birth year of 1575. He first traveled to North America about 1609, acting a pilot for a ship bringing goods and passengers to Jamestown, Virginia. While working as a coastal pilot in the Jamestown area, he was captured by the Spanish. He was first sent to Havana for two years, and from there back to Spain, where he remained in captivity until he was exchanged by the efforts of King James of England in 1616. He returned to Jamestown by 1619 on a ship carrying livestock, captained by sometime pirate Thomas Jones.

In 1620 he signed on as pilot for the Mayflower voyage, under the ship’s master Christopher Jones. After arrival in the Cape Cod area, the Pilgrims explored by small boat searching for a settlement site. On one of these trips in December of 1620, a storm came up quickly, and Clarke's skills helped them land their boat on a small island near what is now Duxbury. They named it Clark's [sic] Island. After his Mayflower adventure, Clarke returned to Jamestown to settle, but was killed in an Indian massacre in 1622.

There is a "very attractive...but...underproven" hypothesis that John Clarke is the father of Thomas Clarke who arrived in Plymouth aboard the Anne in 1623. Thomas’ baptism was recorded in the records of St. Dunstan’s Church, Stepney, Middlesex on 8 March 1599/1600. The record reads "Thomas son of John Clarke of Ratcliff." According to John Coddington, writing in The American Genealogist, Vol. 66, pp. 201-2, "Ratcliffe was and is a district in the large parish of Stepney, immediately on the north bank of the Thames, and inhabited almost exclusively by seafaring men. The parents of Thomas were the ’John Clarke of Stepny & Mary Morton of St. Ellins, London’ who were married at St. Dunstan’s Stepney, 19 Feb. 1598/9." The attractive but underproven statement comes from Robert C. Anderson’s profile of Thomas Clark(e) in The Great Migration Begins, Vol. I, p. 377

If John is indeed the father of Thomas, I can then make a connection to a Mayflower ancestor, although the Society of Mayflower Descendants really only accepts Pilgrim ancestors and not crew members (except for the three of four who decided to stay and settle). Thomas is a 9th great grandfather, from whom my great grandmother Mary Jane Pollard is descended. She was my father’s maternal grandmother. Thomas Clarke’s daughter Susanna married Barnabas Lothrop, son of the Rev. John Lothrop, through whom my connection to President Ulysses S. Grant arises.

Sources for all the above information can be found at the following website:

Blenderman Genealogy

Compiled and © by Walter G. Blenderman;

Prepared 9 October 2019