Person:John Billington (1)

John Billington
b.ABT 1580 England
  • HJohn BillingtonABT 1580 - 1630
  • WEleanorabt 1588 - aft 1650
  1. John Billington, Jr.abt 1605 - aft 1627
  2. Francis BillingtonBET 1606 AND 1609 - 1684
Facts and Events
Name John Billington
Gender Male
Birth? ABT 1580 England
Death[1] Sep 1630 Plymouth, Plymouth, Massachusetts, United StatesHanged for murder

Came on the Mayflower in 1620, the 26th signer of the Mayflower Compact on Nov. 11, 1620. He was accompanied by his wife Eleanor (Ellen or Helen) whom he m. before 1605 in England, and his two sons, John Jr., and Francis. They were not members of the Plymouth congregation in Leyden, but rather fled England to escape his creditors.[3] One family story posits that his family were people of high standing in England belonging to the Judges in Henry Eight's time, and they secured his passage away from England -- where not being a great priority.

Governor Bradford in his history says "The said Billington was one of the profanest men among us. He came from London and I know not by what friends shuffled him among us."

The Billington makeup was not in favor of obedience. Although he knew the power vested in Standish, that his mandates would be carried out by the strong arm of the law, he refused to obey him, uttering threats for his own satisfaction full well knowing that they could not be of avail. For his insubordination in insulting Standish in March 1621, "he was adjudged to lay for a time in a public place with his neck and heels tied together." But "upon humbling himself and craving pardon, and it being the first offence, he is forgiven."[4]

In 1624, Billington was implicated in the Oldham-Lyford scandal (a failed revolt against the Plymouth church), but played ignorant and was never officially punished for involvement.  In 1625, Governor Bradford wrote a letter to Robert Cushman saying "Billington still rails against you, ... he is a knave, and so will live and die."  [5]

John Newcomen had interfered with his hunting and was warned by Billington to desist. Not appreciating the manner of man he was dealing with, he continued his annoyance until on one occasion, Billington hid behind a tree on the approach of his enemy. The irresistible impulse to rid himself of this "cumberer of the ground" was too much for him and he fired a shot that proved fatal. The offence was a matter of great moment in the colonies. It was a proceeding that must be made an example of. The question of their rights in the case was a matter of much discussion. They decided to ask advice from Winthrop and other leaders of the Bay and they with much sorrow and prayerful regard decided that Billington ought to die and the land be purged from blood. The death sentence was carried out September 1630 memorable in American history as the first execution in the colonies.


The Billington family may have originated from around Cowbit and Spaulding, in Lincolnshire, England, where Francis Longland named young Francis Billington son of John Billington an heir. In 1650, a survey indicated that Francis Billington was then in New England. However, no other promising Billington records have yet been found.[6]

  1. Anderson, Robert Charles. The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England, 1620-1633. (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1995).

    Citing Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation 234; Winthrop's Journal 1:43

  2.   John Billington, in Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.

    the text in this section is copied from an article in Wikipedia

    John Billington (also spelled as Billinton) (c. 1580September 30, 1630) was an Englishman who travelled to the New World on the Mayflower and was one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact. He was hanged in Plymouth Colony in 1630.

  3. WIkipedia, John Billington [1]
  4. Johnson, Caleb. [2]
  5. Johnson, supra
  6. Johnson, supra; Great Migration