The Four Billericay Pilgrim Fathers

CHRISTOPHER MARTIN was a prosperous local Billericay merchant born between 1575 and 1578 who owned three properties in the High Street.  Billericay at this time was simply a large settlement within the village of Great Burstead.  He married a widow Mary Prower at St. Mary Magdalene Church, Great Burstead on 26.2.1607 and had a son Nathaniel in 1609.  Despite becoming the church warden of St. Mary Magdalene 1611-12, Martin began to adopt ‘Separatist’ views which led them into conflict with the Great Burstead vicar and Church of England authorities. 

Martin had developed business connexions with a group called the Merchant Adventurers of London who were putting money into a project to found a colony in America.  They had secured the participation of about 50 English religious exiles living in Holland and needed another 50 new potential colonists to make the venture viable.  Martin was attracted by the prospect and was made Governor (a sort of treasurer-cum-victualler) of the voyage.  The Merchant Adventurers hired a London ship, the May-Flower, to undertake the Atlantic crossing and Martin provisioned it.

Before leaving Billericay on 15th July 1620 to board the May-Flower, probably off Leigh-on-Sea, Martin had sold off all his properties and was probably living as a tenant in The Chantry House in the High Street – now the music shop and café, Slipped Discs, and Kosthuree, an Indian restaurant. 

MARY MARTIN was also born between 1575 and 1578.  She had first married a merchant from Great Hallingbury, Edward Prower, who did much business in Billericay and eventually moved there in about 1596.  She had at least four children by him until his death in the early years of the 17th century.   After her second marriage, to Christopher Martin, she followed his religious views and was censured for them.  Before leaving England she and her husband seemed to have made arrangements for their son Nathaniel to stay in England either as an apprentice or with a relative until they had established themselves safely in their new home in America.  

SOLOMON PROWER Christopher Martin’s stepson was born about 1596.  He was one of two surviving children from his mother’s first marriage and had adopted his mother and stepfather’s views on religion and had got into trouble over them.  He was still living at home and had become a member of the King’s Watch in Billericay, a sort of local militia-police.  He too emigrated on the May-Flower in 1620.

JOHN LANGEMORE was born between 1602 and 1605 and was employed as a servant by the Martins.  It is likely that he shared his master and mistress’s views on religion and he accompanied them on the voyage to America.

There is currently no accurate memorial to these four brave individuals in Billericay, a situation which, it is hoped, will be rectified in 2020.

Taken from The May-Flower Pilgrims 1620 and the Founding of Billerica, Massachusetts 1655 by Julian Whybra (One Slice Books, 2020).

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