Hopes of tourism boost from Shropshire's Mayflower scandal
Plans are being drawn up for Shropshire to mark its unique and tragic link to the sailing of the Mayflower in 1620, with the hope that the county will benefit from an expected invasion of American tourists.
More than a million Americans are predicted to head for Britain for the 400th anniversary of the epic voyage which laid the foundations of modern America.
A group called Shropshire's Mayflower Children is organising activities and events for 2020 which will highlight the story of the four More children from Larden Hall, Much Wenlock, who sailed on the ship amid a 17th century scandal involving adultery and disgrace.
Only one of them, Richard More, survived.
Mike Brogden, secretary of the group, said that it had been claimed that 1.4 million Americans would be coming to the United Kingdom in 2020.
"So many people in America claim that they are descended from the Mayflower passengers. This sort of heritage seems to be a very big industry in America. If some of those found their way to Shropshire, that would be great," said Mike, from Shipton.
Among events already finalised are a church service at Shipton on September 13, 2020, and a son et lumiere historical sound and light show the previous day, with various other ideas and projects in the pipeline, including themed walks and a special book.
"We are doing it because 400 years is a big anniversary for the sailing of these children, and because we want more people to know about this story.
Religious dissenters and adventurers
"It is quite well known among local people since a local historian, the late Donald Harris, dug up this story about 20 years ago."
The Mayflower sailed from Plymouth in September 1620, bound for the New World and the 102 passengers, or "pilgrims" as they were later dubbed, founded the first permanent European settlement in New England, making the voyage important in American history.
The passengers were both religious dissenters and adventurers, but the four Shropshire children aboard were in a different category, having been packed off after a marital bust-up.
Historians had assumed that the Mores on the Mayflower passenger list were orphans from the streets of London. However, history came to be rewritten when, in the winter of 1958-59, Sir Jasper More of Linley, near Bishop’s Castle, decided to explore a trunk in his attic.
He came across a document that blew the lid off the 17th century scandal.
Samuel and Katharine More were cousins who married at Shipton in 1611 and lived at Larden Hall.
They had four children. Or rather, Katharine did. Samuel noticed most of the children looked like one Jacob Blakeway, “a fellow of mean parentage and condition,” from nearby Brockton. He accused Katharine of adultery.
After a bitter legal battle, Samuel won control of the children, and sent them to America on the Mayflower under the care of the Pilgrim Fathers. When the ship sailed in 1620, Jasper was six, Richard was five, Mary was four, and Ellen was eight.
Jasper and Ellen probably died aboard the ship while it was anchored off Cape Cod and may never have set foot in America. Mary died during the winter. Only Richard survived, with his guardians William and Mary Brewster.
He married in 1636 and moved to Salem. A ketch owner, he traded at sea and may have made voyages to England, although there is no record of his seeking contact with the Mores.
In old age Richard acquired a reputation as a sinner. Salem church records for 1688, when he was in his seventies, say: “Old Captain More, having been for many years under suspicion and a common fame of lasciviousness... was at last...convicted before justices of peace by three witnesses of gross unchastity with another man’s wife.”
There is a parish register record in Stepney in 1645 recording the marriage of one Richard More of Salem to Elizabeth Woolno of Limehouse – which, if it was the same Richard More, would mean he had a wife on both sides of the Atlantic.
Richard died in 1695, the last male survivor of the Mayflower.
As for Larden Hall, that no longer stands, having been demolished in 1969.