Stephen Hopkins was baptized on the 30th of April, 1581 in Upper Clatford, Hampshire, England. The adventures he would experience due to his desire for liberty of conscience could scarcely be equaled by any other who would come on the Mayflower. Stephen was the only passenger to have previously been in Jamestown prior to his arrival in Plymouth. There are lessons to learn from anyone’s life, but Stephen Hopkins’ life yields key lessons that drew him to come with the Pilgrims in 1620. The impact of his father who taught him skills of survival and self-defense just before he passed, equaled that of his mother who raised the family as a widow with great determination.
Stephen married Mary and three children followed; Elizabeth, Constance and Giles. Stephen’s religious zeal and desire to support his family caused him to sign up with some investors headed for the new Jamestown colony in Virginia where he would soon learn several valuable lessons. He was Rev. Richard Buck’s clerk, reading psalms and prayers. He boarded the Sea Venture, leaving his wife and three small children (4, 3 and 1) for an agreed upon seven years! Mary was left to keep shop, lease a house from relatives, and wait for her husband to return.
The flagship Sea Venture carrying the Admiral, Asst. Admiral, Captain, 140 men and 10 women left Plymouth, England on June 2, 1609. After a month and a half they encountered a hurricane. Throwing nearly everything overboard and bailing five feet of water in shifts for four days, they drove the ship between two rocks. They had landed on the Isle of Devils, better known as Bermuda!
The island was a paradise of mild weather, cedar, berries, palms, fishing and wild hogs. However, the passengers were woefully deficient in self-government. The Admiral, Assistant and Captain took charge with autocratic control and began to build ships to get off the island. Stephen Hopkins began a discussion from Scripture on the limits of authority (against total control) but was quickly charged with mutiny. He learned the lesson that religious liberty was a jewel not yet protected! He moved so many people with his tears of repentance, however, that his life was saved. The two ships Deliverance and Patience arrived in Jamestown just as the colony was being abandoned.
The previous winter had devastated Jamestown with 240 out of 300 people dying due to starvation or death from nearby Natives. The first thing Gates did was go to the church, ring the bell, and have Rev. Buck and Stephen lead the people in reading of Scripture and prayer! After several weeks Gates packed everyone up and started to sail back to England when three ships and 150 people with supplies arrived, saving the colony once again!
At Jamestown Stephen learned the valuable lesson that a colony cannot long last without the family as its foundation. Neither can it last without proper government and the economic incentive. Sir Thomas Dale took over in 1611 and ruled as a tyrant. Many small crimes were punishable by death. Ironically, in the spring of 1611 The Tempest by Shakespeare was playing in London. It was all about a shipwreck, as well as a Stephano who tried mutiny. Was this a coincidence? No, Shakespeare knew the story. Maybe Mary heard of the play, the shipwreck, his arrival in Jamestown, but with no prospects of good news, she died in 1613, leaving the children as orphans (Elizabeth 9, Constance 7 and Giles 5). Stephen found out he had lost his wife and must return to England and he does so with determination to never leave his family again.
Stephen probably sailed to England on the same ship with John and Rebecca (Pocahontas) Rolfe for England in 1616 and their son, Thomas. This multi-cultural marriage would have been conducted in 1614 by Pastor Buck and Stephen! After returning to England, Stephen married Elizabeth in 1618 and Damaris their first child came a year later. The parish of Hopkins bordered Aldgate where Thomas Weston, the businessman organizing the Plymouth voyage resided. Here he must have heard of another type of venture, where people were in covenant and, would go as families with economic incentive!
This seven-year adventure was too good for Stephen to pass up! The more family members you brought, the greater your investment (and potential profit). He not only brought his family of six, but apprentices Edward Doty and Edward Leister. During the voyage Elizabeth gave birth to a son Oceanus! If families spent time telling stories, Stephen had a few to add!
Stephen was the 14th signer of the Mayflower Compact, and his two servants (Doty and Leister) were the last to sign. He had learned the lesson of any colony needing self-government and this document would have been pleasing to Stephen. He was on all three explorations, shipwrecked on Clark’s Island, landed on Plymouth Rock, and had 19 plots of land based on his family size in the new village.
When Samoset came boldly into the Plantation in March of 1621, he stayed overnight at the Hopkins. Elizabeth was one of only four adult women who survived the first winter – Eleanor Billington, Mary Brewster and Susanna White being the others. Hopkins would have been present for the Peace Treaty in 1621, watched the Mayflower depart, participated in the reconciliation service with the Nauset, as well as experiencing the First Thanksgiving in October 1621.
Elizabeth’s responsibilities as a mother in Plymouth included cooking, cleaning, gardening, animal care, hauling buckets of water from the stream, grinding and pounding corn, milking the goat, gathering eggs, stripping feathers off the geese, cleaning fish, getting a cooking fire just right and the manual cleaning of laundry, soaking and scrubbing and wringing over and over again.
Stephen was delighted when Governor Bradford changed the colony from common ownership to private stewardship in 1623. Stephen was listed as a freeman and was elected to the Governor’s Council in 1634, 1635 and 1636. He surveyed property, investigated new trade and settled estates. He served four governors – John Carver, William Bradford, Edward Winslow and Thomas Prence.
Elizabeth passed in 1641, leaving Stephen with four unmarried teen daughters at home; Deborah, Damaris, Ruth, and Elizabeth. When Stephen passed in 1644 Elizabeth was taken into custody by friend Richard Sparrow; she was either disabled or mentally challenged. The house he raised her in is the oldest one in Plymouth still standing. Stephen had ten children; three by his first wife Mary and seven by his second wife Elizabeth. He had 37 grandchildren and by the middle of the 18th century he had thousands of descendants. Most important, however, were the lessons on family, liberty of conscience and economic incentive he learned that made a successful colony then and are very applicable today!