The History of the Journey – Part 1

This is a telling of Stearns family heritage from our ancestors’ arrival to the America on the Arabella in 1630 to present.

This telling is just that a telling. When possible to verify anything I will have a link or notation to the source to the source of conformation, otherwise this telling is based on our family lore.

History tells us that the settling of Massachusetts was of two groups with similar ancestry yet with different religious beliefs. The Stearns ancestors were part of the second group that arrived about ten years later. Of course I am talking about the Pilgrims and the Puritans.

 You learned about the Pilgrims in school. That they were common sense people with little education or wealth. They arrived in America to separate themselves from the Church of England and to practice their religion as they saw fit. You learned of their arrival on the Mayflower and about their struggles the first years in America. Our ancestor’s struggles were not that different from the Pilgrims.

The Puritans also came to America to practice religion as they saw fit. Their approach was different from the Pilgrims who separated themselves from the church. The Puritans felt that they should work within the church, to make changes and “purify the church.” It is believed that is how they became known as Puritans. As with any family or group there are different beliefs in how to achieve that goal; as such, this group of people established the Congregational, Baptist, and Methodist and to some extent establishing the Presbyterian sect as well. Many of the Puritans were educated, wealthy, Parliament members and clergymen.  They arrived in groups rather than just one family.  The “congregation” of the church would follow their clergyman.

A year before the Stearns ancestors set sail for America, there was a crisis in England between the Parliament and King Charles. King Charles imprisoned the parliament and continued to rule without them. Those feeling the religious persecution felt God had called them to serve in America. Many were silenced ministers who had lost their churches because they did not conform to the High Church beliefs. The Stearns ancestors were persuaded to follow suit a year later when the governor of the “company,” purposed to give the government to the people who immigrated to America. Several wealthy, quality commoners and zealous Puritans decided it was time to get out of town or should I say England.  Greed and power were motivators even back than. The telling goes that twelve wealthy men would make that trip with their families and congregation, in what is called the “Winthrop Fleet,” if the government was transferred to America. That is how the Stearns ancestors became part of the Winthrop Fleet that carried the Charter for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I mention the Massachusetts founding charter because originally New Hampshire was part of Massachusetts. The Stearns family history is linked to the State of New Hampshire as one of its’ founding families. [Go to this link for more info on its founding.


It was called the Winthrop Fleet because John Winthrop purchased the charter and funded the trip. There were eleven ships that launched from Yarmouth Isles of Wright, England during the months of April to June in1630.  The Stearns ancestors were aboard one of the four ships that set sailed on April 8, 1630 that included the Arabella flagship, Ambrose, Hopewell and the Talbot arriving on June 13, 1630. The destination according to family telling was to Watertown, Massachusetts, but records show they landed in Naumkeag, known as Salem. The family did settle in Watertown becoming part of its founding and government.

The other ships that set sail in May 1630 were the Charles, Jewel, Mayflower, Success, Trial, Whale, William and Francis. No, not the same Mayflower that brought the Pilgrims over ten years earlier.

Winthrop wrote to his wife just before they set sail that there were seven hundred passengers. Six months after their arrival, Thomas Dudley wrote to Bridget Fiennes, Countess of Lincoln and mother of Lady Arabella and Charles Fiennes, that over two hundred passengers had died between their landing April 30 and the following December, 1630.  That letter traveled via the Lyon April 1, 1631 and reached England four weeks later. Sadly some of Stearns ancestor’s kinsmen were included in the two hundred who died that first year.

The Winthrop Fleet of 1630_: (An Account of the Vesselseake, Robert Fien English Homes from Original Authorities)
by Charles Edward Banks.]

Now you want to know the names of those ancestors that set sail, of course you do. Our telling differs from what the passenger list documents state. The passenger list mentions Isaac, his wife Mary their off spring, John, Abigail, Elizabeth and Hannah all from Stoke Nayland Suffolk, England but no other Stearns are listed on the Winthrop Fleet list. The telling includes three brothers Daniel, Isaac and Shubael all set sail with their families and settled in the Watertown area. That Daniel died unmarried without issue, Shubael and his wife died shortly after arriving in America leaving the care of their 8 and 10 year old boys, named Charles and Nathaniel to their uncle Isaac. It is also said that upon reaching anchorage in America, Isaac went forward to select a place to settle. During this time the two boys were trying to decide who would be the first to step foot on land, as they sprang from the ship, Charles lost his footing and fell into the river, which was then christened the Charles River. Historian lay claim that the river was of royal origin. It is said back in 1901 when the State of New Hampshire genealogy was done that all Stearns families in America could lay claim back to one of the three brothers.

Genealogical and Family History of the State of New Hampshire compiled by Ezra S. Stearns Vol I pg 385-394]


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