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  William Vassal: A Biographical Sketch
By Cairril Mills
A biographical sketch including mention of Anna King Vassall, Judith Vassall White, Resolved White, William White, Susannah Fuller White Winslow, Edward Winslow, William Bradford, Josiah Winslow and others in Plymouth Colony.

"A man of pleasant and affable manners, but always in opposition to government, both in Massachusetts and in Plymouth."

Key players in the story

This biography concerns Mills ancestor William Vassall, but is best appreciated when one considers his interplay with other Mills ancestors in the tale. There are three sets of ancestors we're concerned with: The White/Winslow family, the Vassall family, and William Bradford (who, admittedly, plays a small role in this particular tale but played a larger one in life).

Susannah and William White came to America with their son Resolved (age 7) upon the Mayflower. We don't know if Susannah and William were part of the Leyden group (see The Pilgrim Story) or boarded the Mayflower when it stopped in England en route to America. Susannah was pregnant at the time of the crossing.

Also aboard the Mayflower were Edward Winslow and William Bradford, both married. Susannah, Edward, and William Bradford all lost their spouses shortly after the crossing. William's wife Dorothy (not a Mills ancestor; we are descended from William's second wife, Alice Carpenter) was swept overboard during a storm while the ship lay in harbor at Cape Cod on 7 Dec 1620. Susannah's husband William White died during the "killing time," the period of the first few months in Plymouth where about one-third of the Mayflower passengers perished. Edward Winslow's wife Elizabeth died about a month after William White.

Susannah had given birth to Peregrine White while the Mayflower was still at anchor in Provincetown Harbor. With an infant and an active 7-year-old already on her hands, it was important for her to marry again. Likewise, Winslow was expected to marry as quickly as possible. And so Edward and Susannah were the first Pilgrims to be married in Plymouth Colony, with the ceremony performed by William Bradford. Susannah went on to bear five children to Edward, two of which survived childhood and one of which, Josiah, appears briefly in our tale.

William Vassall, the subject of this biography, did not come to the Colonies until about ten years after the Whites, Winslows, and Bradfords. His daughter Judith eventually married Resolved White, uniting the Winslow and Vassall families. The irony of the story lies in that Vassall, Bradford, and Winslow were initially somewhat similar men: all highly educated, conscientious, and essentially tolerant. But their experiences in the Colonies changed them: Vassall became more radicalized, Bradford slightly more conservative, and Winslow a great deal more conservative. One can only imagine how these family dynamics played out in the lives of Judith and Resolved. Judith appears to have supported the "radical" stances of her father, while Resolved hardly figures in the stories at all.

We will never know all the answers, and my research into the life of William Vassall hardly scratches the surface, but it does give us a tantalizing glimpse of a turbulent time and the many lives caught up in the question of the true meaning of liberty.

Part I: Family Life >

Copyright 2005