Pilgrims’ Progress: 7 Celebrities Who Are Mayflower Descendants

Family History, Lifestyle
30 December 2014
by Sabrina Rojas Weiss

[Photo credit: Boston Public Library via Flickr]
Visit any town in Massachusetts for a day, and there’s a good chance someone will point to a big fancy house and say, “That family’s been here since the Mayflower.”

But it isn’t just wealthy New Englanders who can claim they’re descended from those first Pilgrims. Not at all.

Given how far and wide families spread in this country, and the fact that those 102 English Separatists who stepped foot on this continent in 1620 are about 14 generations away from us, a lot of people from varied walks of life can find an ancestor among that ship’s manifest.

And among those people, there’s a different set of rarefied Americans: celebrities. Here are some of the famous faces whose family trees contain a Plymouth settler or two.

1. Ashley Judd

In Season 2 of “Who Do You Think You Are?” the actress discovered she’s a descendant of Plymouth Church elder William Brewster, who was a wanted man in England for printing Separatist tracts on his own press.

2. Katharine Hepburn

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Oscar winner, with her distinctive upper-class Connecticut accent, had deep New England roots, going back to Brewster as well.

3. Marilyn Monroe

Norma Jeane Mortenson had a tough early life, spending time in foster homes due to her mother’s mental illness. But there was at least one success story in her genes: John Alden, who came to America as the Plymouth Colony’s cooper and married fellow passenger Priscilla Mullins, eventually founding the town of Druxbury and having 10 children. Another of his descendants is Dick Van Dyke.

4. Alec Baldwin (and his famous siblings)

Everybody thinks of the famous Baldwin brothers as being Irish-Catholic Long Island boys to the core. On their father’s side, however, they can trace their roots back to John Howland, who came over as a young indentured servant to first Plymouth governor John Carver and fell overboard during the Mayflower journey. Humphrey Bogart, Joseph Smith, George W. Bush, and Christopher Lloyd are all Howland cousins.

5. Clint Eastwood

Though the “Dirty Harry” star-turned-Oscar-winning director came from a working-class California family, further back into his ancestry he’s actually related to Plymouth’s second governor, William Bradford. Bradford’s first wife drowned while the Mayflower was docked in Cape Cod, but he remarried and had three children, whose offspring are also found in the family trees of Hugh Hefner, Christopher Reeve, and John Lithgow.

6. Sally Field

The Lincoln actress discovered that she, too, is a descendant of Governor Bradford in a recent episode of PBS’s Finding Your Roots.

7. Richard Gere

Gere is a rarer breed than his fellow actors, with six Mayflower passengers among his ancestors on his father’s side: Samuel Fuller, Francis Eaton, Francis Cooke, George Soule, Degory Priest and Richard Warren.

Do you wonder if you’ve got Pilgrims in your roots? Maybe you’re even Marilyn Monroe’s long-lost cousin. Start your research now with a free trial.