Descendant of Mayflower passengers helps others trace roots

Nicholas Maher

By Cathy Carter Harley - Island Packet

Stephen Hopkins was a minister's clerk who survived a 1609 shipwreck, joined a mutiny then survived a death sentence before successfully sailing aboard the Mayflower in 1620. He's also one of the most colourful ancestors of Nicholas Maher of Lady's Island. 

Hopkins is one of three of Maher's ancestors -- including Thomas Rogers and William Brewster -- who were aboard the Mayflower when it left England Sept. 6, 1620, and arrived 66 days later in America.

"Stephen Hopkins was a bit of a rogue," Maher said. "He helped co-found Jamestown, Va., in 1607, which would have been the oldest English colony in America, but it failed after eight years.

He was in Bermuda where he participated in a mutiny and was sentenced to hang, just prior to joining the Mayflower."

Maher is a member of the Mayflower Society, which is composed of descendants of the more than 100 Pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 and established Plymouth Colony, in what was then called the northern part of Virginia.

Maher began serving as the South Carolina historian for the society two years ago, and 125 new members have since registered with the group. There are about 900 members statewide.

Historical records show Hopkins was fined for letting visitors drink beer at his residence on a Sunday, for allowing excessive drinking of beer in his home and for selling it without a license.

Maher joked that Hopkins actually did make a mark on history besides being fined for illegal ale.

He said Hopkins was also known for communicating with the American Indians and as having served as the governor's assistant. Maher's other well-known ancestor, Brewster, was the religious leader of the group that helped form the Mayflower Compact.

Maher said some of his family's oral histories passed down through the generations included references to having an ancestor on the Mayflower.

It wasn't until he started researching the family tree in 2006 that he confirmed his connections to the three men.

As Maher documented his ancestors aboard the Mayflower using birth and death certificates, he found many of those old family stories to be true.

Now Maher, 73, helps other society applicants document their family histories.

"It's a journey, and it is really fun to learn about your family. Joining the Mayflower Society is not about snob appeal, it is just fascinating to research your family and to find things you never knew.

"When you get past your great-grandparents it gets extremely difficult to find unless there are a lot of written records."

The society will accept secondary copies of documents such as gravestones, deeds, wills and family Bible records.

The society has genealogical records for the first five generations of those on the Mayflower.

It is the sixth through eight generations that can be tough to find, Maher said.