My Mayflower ancestors
My Fortune and Anne ancestors
Now let's sum it up and see what it tells us:
The Answer is '141'
The staff at the Plimoth Plantation historic site (they use the archaic spelling) puts the number of Indian participants at 90.
Ninety Indians plus 51 Pilgrims adds us to 141 participants.
41 Pilgrims Left 35 Million Direct Descendants
An estimated 35 million people are direct descendants of the 41 Mayflower Pilgrims who signed that famous compact in 1620 to form a "civil body politick for our better ordering and preservation" just before anchoring at Plymouth Harbor.
Once considered political and social outcasts, they have left a vast progeny who inhabit all 50 states, Canada, Australia and at least a dozen other nations. The Pilgrim's offspring may be the bluest of America's blue bloods, but they are hardly exclusive.
And note that more than 250 English ships and 7,100 English families arrived in America in the early 1600s. Although the Mayflower was the first to stop permanently in New England, it was only the 54th English ship to reach America. A veritable armada of ships arrived between 1602 and 1639.
Many people could trace their ancestry to any of the 7,100 families and say their ancestors were here before or soon after the Mayflower passengers. Basically, anyone whose family has been here a long time and is part English probably had ancestors on these ships. Their family has been here as long as mine has.
On the other hand...
The tally above includes only some ancestors from my mother's mother's line. It's possible the Pilgrims and their descendants married into the lines of my other three grandparents. This is especially true of my mother's father's line, another old New England family descended from William Palmer of Connecticut in 1636. Palmer's descendants probably intermarried with the descendants of the first Pilgrims.
And although I can't prove it, the number of Mayflower ancestors may correlate with the number of ancestors on the other English ships. That is, the greater the number of Mayflower ancestors, the greater the number of early English ancestors. In other words, the number of Mayflower ancestors may be a good proxy for how old and established one's family is. Therefore, I presume that looking at one's Mayflower ancestry is significant.
Sure, a lot of people have one or two ancestors from the Mayflower, but how many have 17? Not many, it seems. Here's someone who claims to have the most Mayflower ancestors:
Thomas Knowlton Gibson, "The Mayflower Man," Most Mayflower Ancestors and Plymouth Plantation Founders
With thirty-one direct Mayflower ancestors, some multiple, ten more by marriage, and more than thirty additional blood lines to the founders of the Plymouth Plantation, our immediate family is extremely unique in our multiple descent from all Compact signers with colonial ancestry, and a direct descent from most of the "first comers" of the Plymouth Colony.
For even more perspective, consider some of the most aristocratic families in US presidential history. According to Famous Descendants of Mayflower Passengers, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had 11 Mayflower ancestors. George W. Bush had six. John Adams had four. Not too impressive when you've got 17 Mayflower ancestors like me.
What it means
So I have 13 ancestors who sat down with the 90 Wampanoag Indians at the first Thanksgiving. That's cool. And two or more ancestors who participated in the Pequot War against the Indians. That's not cool. But both facts are interesting to me.
The relevance of these facts is this: We hear frequently from conservative pundits like Pat Buchanan who say their (white) ancestors built America. Looking at Buchanan's family tree, he has a few ancestors who were born in Connecticut in the late 1630s and 1640s. That's nice, but I don't see any Mayflower ancestors on his tree. I'm guessing many of Buchanan's ancestors emigrated from Ireland in the 19th century.
Judging by the evidence, my family did more to "build America" than Buchanan's family did. Having lived here longer than almost anyone except the Indians, I'd say my family is especially qualified to judge the matter. And I say America was a mix of Indian, European, and African influences from the beginning. Our roots are multiracial and multicultural, not white and Christian.
If you disagree, find someone who has more "first English" ancestors than I do (30 of 218 on the first three ships). Because who knows better than those of us who have been here the longest? No one, I'd say.
Fact is, without the immeasurable help and influence of Indians, my Pilgrim ancestors would be dead and there'd be no America. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Buchanan.
For more on the subject, see Indians Gave Us Enlightenment and America's Cultural Roots.