First white woman born in New England.

Commons Burial Ground, Little Compton

In the Old Burying Ground in Little Compton, you can find a very special grave monument. It belongs to Elizabeth Alden, the first white girl born in New England. Her parents, John Alden and Priscilla Mullin (or Mullens), came to America on the Mayflower in 1620. Elizabeth, sometimes spelled "Elisabeth," was born in 1624 or '25 in Plymouth, the first of John and Priscilla's ten children.

Described by a contemporary as, "dignified, a woman of great character, and fine presence, very tall and handsome," Elizabeth married William Pabodie (or Paybody or Peabody) on December 26, 1644. They settled in Duxburough (later Duxbury, Massachusetts), close to other Mayflower families, including the Brewsters and Standishes. William served as town clerk there, succeeding Alexander Standish, and held other jobs at various times as well, including yeoman, boatman, planter, and surveyor. When he became Duxbury town clerk, the town records having been destroyed in a fire, he very carefully recorded his own marriage and the births and marriages of his thirteen children. Interestingly, one of the thirteen, Priscilla, died at only three months old and the next girl child was given the same name.

William was one of the original purchasers in 1673 of portions of "Saconett," lands that would become Little Compton, and he also, along with Constant Southworth, performed the surveying work behind the purchases.

Around 1684 William and Elizabeth moved to Little Compton (then still part of Plymouth Colony), and several of their children and grandchildren followed and established their own families there. William traded on his employment experience in Duxbury to become Little Compton's first town clerk, a position that he held well into his old age. He also served as a school teacher. Around 1690, William and Elizabeth built a home on West Main Road. Much changed and expanded, it's now known as the Peabody-Wilbour Farm. (The "Wilbour" was Isaac C. Wilbour, who lived there in the 1890s, and the appearance of the house today reflects the tastes of his day. It originally was a simple two-story building consisting of four rooms).

William died on December 13, 1707, and Elizabeth followed him ten years later, on May 31, 1717, at the ripe age of ninety-three or ninety-four. Her obituary in the Boston Newsletter said in part, "She was exemplary, virtuous and pious, and her memory is blessed. She left a numerous posterity. Her granddaughter Bradford is a grandmother." In fact, it's estimated that at the time of her death she had eighty-two grandchildren and 556 great-grandchildren!

Benjamin Franklin Wilbour, in his Notes on Little Compton (1970), speculated that Elizabeth never learned to read or write, "for when her husband's estate was settled, she signed by making her mark, drawn like a capital E about an inch in length."

Elizabeth's current monument, erected in June 1882, incorporates her original headstone. William's marker, "recut by the Colonial Daughters of the seventeenth century," is to the left of his wife's as you face the United Congregational Church. The current church building, originally just a plain meeting house, was not erected until 1832, and so was never attended by the Pabodies. Ditto the previous building on the same site, which was first occupied in 1724. For a while it was used concurrently with the original meeting house, built circa 1693, which was located nearby.

Other first births

It's very difficult to pin this sort of thing down, not least of all because no-one can really agree on when the first European set foot in the New World, let alone who he or she was. So we end up with a lot of qualifications, and must acknowledge that earlier births may have gone unrecorded.

It's generally agreed that Elizabeth Alden was the first white girl born in New England. Three or four years prior to her birth, on November 20, 1620, a boy was born to William and Susanna White on board the Mayflower in Provincetown Harbor. His name was Peregrine White. But even he is not the first European child known to have been born in the New World. The ill-fated Virginia Dare, born on Roanoke Island (today part of North Carolina), in 1587, is said to be the first baby born in America of English parents. We can also go all the way back to the year 1007 or '08, when Norse sagas say that a Viking woman named Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir gave birth to the first European baby in North America, a son named Snorri, somewhere along the Vinland coast.

Old Burying Ground

Little Compton is unusual in Rhode Island in that the village is organized around a church, which served as both civic and spiritual center. This organization reflects Little Compton's origin as a Massachusetts town, founded by descendants of the Puritan Pilgrims. In Rhode Island, which was founded on the principals of religious liberty and the separation of church and state, towns and villages weren't generally organized around a church and a common. When people died in Rhode Island, they were usually buried on family property, or later, in municipal burying grounds. That's why Rhode Island has over 3,000 historic cemeteries, and relatively few churchyard cemeteries.

Little Compton was declared a township by Plymouth Colony in 1674, and incorporated in 1682. It didn't become part of Rhode Island until 1746, when the eastern boundary of the colony was adjusted under a decree from the King of England.

While in the Old Burying Ground, be sure to check out the graves of Elizabeth Palmer (who "should have been the wife of Simeon Palmer"), and Indian fighter Captain Benjamin Church, as well.

Elizabeth Alden Pabodie's Grave Inscriptions

West side

Here lyeth the Body
of Elisabeth the wife
of William Pabodie
who dyed may ye 31st
1717 and in the 94th
year of her age

North side

ELISABETH PABODIE,
DAUGHTER OF PLYMOUTH PILGRIMS,
JOHN ALDEN &
PRISCILLA MULLIN,
THE FIRST WHITE WOMAN
BORN IN NEW ENGLAND.

East side

A BUD FROM PLYMOUTH'S MAYFLOWER SPRING
TRANSPLANTED HERE TO LIVE AND BLOOM
HER MEMORY EVER SWEET AND YOUNG
THE CENTURIES GUARD WITHIN THIS TOMB.

South side

ERECTED JUNE 1882

William's stone

HERE LYETH BVRIED
Ye BODY OF WILLIAM
PABODIE WHO DEPARTED
THIS LIFE DECEMBR Ye 13TH
1707 IN Ye 88 YEARE
OF HIS AGE

Information

Cost: free

Time required: allow five minutes, unless you like hanging out in boneyards

Hours: dawn to dusk

Remember, this is a cemetery. Please be respectful.

Finding it: from Route 195 take Massachusetts exit 8A to Route 24 south. From Route 24 take exit 5 to Route 77 south. Go about ten miles and take a left onto Meeting House Lane. You soon come to a Y-intersection. The churchyard is located in the crotch of this intersection. Elizabeth's grave is marked by an obelisk a few rows from the west side of the church.

What’s nearby

Distances between points are actual distances, without regard to highways or amorous wombles. Your travel distance will be longer.

This article last edited June 8, 2015

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