Mayflower descendants keep history alive


Kathleen Loftman was doing some online research about 15 years ago on her family when she stumbled across a striking bit of information.

She learned she was descended from a passenger on the Mayflower and among those who settled at Plymouth, Mass., in 1620.

“I absolutely couldn’t believe it,” the Rancho Santa Fe resident said during a recent interview. “I wasn’t expecting to have any connection to that. ... It was really hard to imagine that our history went back that far.

“My first instinct was to tell my father, but he’d passed away. Nonetheless, I told the rest of my family. Some were very interested and some were not very interested.”

Further inquiry established that she was related to three members of the colony: a Pilgrim, Degory Priest, and two merchant adventurers, Peter Browne and Francis Cooke, all of whom were men on her father’s side of the family.

“If you’re related to one person, you’re very likely to be related to other passengers, because they intermarried,” said Loftman, who works as a project manager.

Her discoveries led her to join the General Society of Mayflower Descendents and become the leader of the organization’s San Diego Colony, one of 13 in California.

In anticipation of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s crossing of the Atlantic and landing at Plymouth, the Society’s San Diego chapter is embarking on a series of activities over the next couple of years.

The kickoff event was held Nov. 11 at the House of England in San Diego’s Balboa Park to commemorate the 398th anniversary of the signing of the Mayflower Compact, a set of rules for the colony’s self-governance.

“Plimoth Plantation West,” as the event was titled, offered interactive displays, food and refreshments, while members wore costumes, re-enacted historical scenes, and provided informational handouts.

About 15 reenactors along with 48 volunteers and donors participated and hosted an estimated 500 guests, according to Loftman.

“The people were great, the costumes were great, the displays were great, and so were the baked cookies, scones and tarts they had for sale,” commented guest Lore Meanley.

Over the next two years, the society intends to host speakers as well as hold dinners and parties, participate in parades, and do presentations at schools. The group is bidding to have a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2020.

“We’re absolutely ramping up,” Loftman said. “We’re trying to get as many people involved by 2020 as we possibly can. Even if you’re not a descendant, you can participate.”

Knowing her own ancestral connections to the Mayflower colonists led Loftman to learn much more about their journey and experiences after the Plymouth landing.

“Doing some of that research, you learn so much about history and you learn a little bit about yourself,” Loftman said. “It’s made history for me very real. It makes me eager to explore more about what was going on and what my family was doing at that time.”

Of the 102 people aboard the Mayflower, only 41 were Pilgrims seeking religious freedom from the Anglican Church. Other passengers were merchants striving to make their fortunes in the New World.

The Mayflower was supposed to land farther to the south in the Virginia Colony, but rough seas and the potential for shipwreck led the travelers to halt the voyage, with about half the group disembarking to establish the original settlement on Cape Cod.

Only 51 survived the first year and participated in the first “Thanksgiving.”

As legend has it, the survivors were befriended by members of the Wampanoag tribe. They were helped in particular by Tisquantum, called Squanto by the colonists. In the years before their arrival, Tisquantum had been taken as a slave to Europe, and then returned a free man, having learned English along the way.

“I think we’re all really proud that (the colonists) did get along with the Native Americans that were there,” Loftman said. “”Certainly, the native Americans set up a great relationship, and they, in particular Squanto, helped the Europeans to survive. Without him, it would have been very difficult for them to survive.”

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