Yesterday we discussed the epic story of the bad boys of the puritans, the Billingtons, John and Eleanor (Ellen or Elinor). But, wait one minute, Oscar....
First, this author opines that the Billington lads are saddled with an undeservedly bad reputation.
...say much maligned because one author in Mourt’s Relation saw fit to mention them by saying, “The fifth day [of December, 1620] we, through God’s mercy, escaped a great danger by the foolishness of a boy, one of Francis Billington’s sons, who, in his father’s absence, had got gunpowder, and had shot off a piece or two, and made squibs; but there being a fowling-piece charged in his father’s cabin, shot her off in the cabin; there being a little barrel of [gun] powder half full, scattered in and about the cabin, the fire being within four foot of the bed between the decks, and many flints and iron things about the cabin, and many people about the fire; and yet, by God’s mercy, no harm done.”
Boys will be boys; who hasn't set off fireworks to celebrate an event?
Young John Billington, lost in the woods for 5 days, needed native help to find his way home. However this introduced an entire new cache of friends to Plimouth colony:
Francis’s brother John also gave the Pilgrim leaders some headaches. In July 1621, the 16 year old lost his way in the woods. For five days he wandered aimlessly until he stumbled on the Indian village of Manomet, some 20 miles from Plymouth. He was passed onto the Nausets of Cape Cod, who had attacked the Pilgrims during the first encounter back in December and from whom the Pilgrims had taken corn and disturbed graves. When he heard of the news, Bradford ordered a party of 10 men to go for the boy with Squanto and another Indian as guides. They met with the Nausets in present day Eastham and promised to replenish their corn. More than 100 warriors armed with bows and arrows watched the discussion and John was carried in one of the men's arms, looking none the worse for wear, wearing a string of shell beads around his neck. The Nauset sachem Aspinet was presented with a knife and peace was declared.
Lastly, the entire 'murder' thing might just be trumped up. Appears that John Newcomen was a 17 year-old neighbor of Billingtons, who liked to poach on the Billington's 4 acre land. Although warned several times, Newcomen continued to hunt on Billington land. On the fateful day of the shooting, it is reported John Sr was about to warn Newcomen again, when the teenager hid behind a tree. Billington may have been firing a warning shot, at precisely the time Newcomen peered around the tree. Oops, shoulder shot.
Billington quickly summoned assistance and helped the injured man into the village to get medical care. It was a wound but survivable. It may have been Newcomen’s own carelessness that he caught a cold. From there a major infection developed and then gangrene. After several days Newcomen died. Governor William Bradford then had Billington arrested and held on a murder charge.The charge stated that Billington “waylaid” the young man and maliciously shot him in the woods. Both a grand jury and a petty jury heard the case against Billington. John Billington stated he took aim against Newcomen with regret, yet was found guilty of Newcomen’s murder.
The Redux is: Poor misunderstood Billington family.