​The Morton’s were, for many generations, the premier family at Bawtry and once held the Manor of Harworth (now within the Parish of Bawtry, England). ​ The Hospital Chapel of St Mary Magdalene is known to have been the final resting place of many early members of the Morton Family. Indeed, Morton family members are known to have continued to have been interred within the Chapel after the Elizabethan Religious Settlement of 1558 despite subsequent laws that had legally denied them from receiving such rites of passage.

During Pilgrim Historian Dr Henry Morton Dexter's visit to Bawtry in in July 1851, he writes of speaking with an eye witness of an earlier excavation, whereby bones were unearthed from beneath a stone slab within the chapel and reinterred beneath the current chapel floor.

 An interesting post script to this account of the Morton family of Bawtry is that there is a possibility that they may be linked with the early Plymouth Colony.

The first published account of the coming of the Mayflower Pilgrims to the New World was a booklet titled ‘A Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimoth in New England.’ written between November 1620 and November 1621. It describes in detail what happened from the landing of the Mayflower  at Cape Cod, through  to the exploring and eventual settling of Plymouth Colony, the relationship with the surrounding native Americans,  the first Thanksgiving and the arrival of the ship Fortune in November 1621.

 ‘Mourt's Relation’, as this booklet became more commonly known, was first published in London in 1622, presumably by a man named ‘George Mourt’ who was closely associated with the Mayflower Pilgrims but there was no person named ‘George Mourt’ within this close Pilgrim circle. Therefore it is now concluded that the name ‘Mort.’ that appears in the original[1] is an abbreviation of ‘Mourton’ and can be none other than George Morton. George Morton was an active member of the Leiden Congregation and is known to have acted on their behalf in London and had been there the time ‘Mort’s Relation’ was first published.

In 1623 Morton joined the Plymouth Colony with his wife Juliana, who was the sister of Governor William Bradford's wife, Alice. Unfortunately Morton died the following year and after his death his son, Nathaniel, was raised by William Bradford. His son later served as the clerk of Plymouth Colony and became a close advisor to Bradford.

Although George Morton appears in records in Leiden, there is a further mystery surrounding his identity in that there is no firm evidence of where he originally came from in England. This mystery is further deepened by the fact that his son, Nathaniel, later authored a book ‘New England's Memorial’ (which was an important source of Plymouth history during the period that William Bradford’s manuscript ‘Of Plymouth Plantation’ was missing).

In his book Nathaniel says of the coming of the ship Anne:

‘Two of the principal passengers that came in this ship were Mr. Timothy Hatherly and Mr. George Morton.... The latter of the two forenamed, namely Mr. George Morton, was a pious, gracious, servant of God, and very faithful in whatsoever public employment he was betrusted withal, and an unfeigned well willer, and according to his sphere and condition, a suitable promoter of the common good and growth of the plantation of New Plimouth; laboring to still the discontents that sometimes would arise amongst some spirits by reason of the difficulties of these new beginnings but it pleased God to put a period to his days soon after his arrival in New England, not surviving a full year after his coming ashore. With much comfort and peace he fell asleep in the Lord, in the month of June, anno 1624.’

 However Nathaniel makes no mention of his father’s earlier life or family background and given the long time spent in the company of his Uncle Bradford, who must have known his father George Morton intimately, surely conversation between the two had turned at some point to those earlier years. If so then it seems unthinkable that Bradford would not have informed his young charge of his own lineage in detail, as well as perhaps that of Bradford himself. Yet it would appear that this was either not the case, or that a conscious decision had been taken to keep this information private.

As in the case of James Brewster, George Morton of Leiden’s reputation has been somewhat sullied by the attribution of records that belong to another person. Many historians have wrongly reported that George Morton of Leiden had been guilty of sexual misdemeanours prior to coming to Holland. As I have demonstrated, these records belong to Anthony Morton’s eldest son, George.

 At Leiden, George Morton is described as being a merchant of ‘York ’but as Dr Jeremy Bangs points out[2] ‘ …The Leiden records show us what the person told a clerk about where he had lived in England before coming to Leiden, not necessarily where the person was born.’ It may also be that the word ‘York’ had been used as an abbreviation of ‘Yorkshire’.

Due to this northern connection, many have tried to link George Morton of Leiden to the Morton family of Bawtry. However the stumbling block so far in making any such connection has been a lack of documentary evidence coupled with a definite age for this man at any known point in his life.

Many historians place George of Leiden’s age at marriage as being around the age of twenty-five. However as Historian Bob Anderson[3] points out, many of the estimated years of birth in the Great Migration volumes are just ‘placeholders’, estimated ages given in the absence of any better evidence and awaiting documentary proof.

Whereas most young men in the Tudor era had to wait to marry until such time as they could afford to support a wife; members of ancient landed families, such as the Mortons of Bawtry, had a tradition of often being betrothed as children and therefore tended to marry at a young age. (Consummation of some such marriages in the earlier Tudor era at around the age of 15 had not been unusual and was acceptable).

The Marriage of George Morton and Julian Carpenter (Translation from the Dutch).

 ‘Entered on 6 July, I6I2.

George Morton, Englishman, from York in England, unmarried man and merchant, accompanied by Thomas Morton his brother and Roger Wilson his acquaintance, with Julian Carpenter, single woman, from Bath, also situated in England, accompanied by Alexander Carpenter her father, with Alice Carpenter her sister and Agnes Robinson her acquaintance.

They were married before Frans Adriaensz van. Leewen and Jacob Paedts, sheriffs, this twenty-third of July, 1612.’

 George Morton of Leiden is noted as being a ‘merchant’ which would suggest that he had a certain amount of wealth and connection. Therefore he may have been financially grounded at an earlier age and therefore able to marry sooner and certainly on reaching the full age of twenty-one years.

At the time of James Brewster, Bawtry was a busy port abounding in merchants

Anthony Morton of Bawtry’s date of birth can be placed as being somewhere around 1547[4], therefore it is possible to place Anthony’s marriage and subsequent birth of eldest son, George to before 1570. A marriage for this George and the subsequent birth of an eldest son to him also named George within in the available timescale is conceivable. In short it is possible for George Morton at Leiden to have been a grandson of Anthony Morton of Bawtry.

According to the York Archdiocese Marriage Licence[5] records, a licence was issued for the marriage of a George Morton to a ‘Catherine’ Bown[6] but it does not show a date for the marriage.  Borthwick Institute confirms that according to the alternative ‘Paver’s Index of Marriage Bonds’ the entry in full reads as follows:

‘George Marton/Morton of Hardwick, gent and Catherine Bown, daur. of John B. of Nottingham, gent., to be married at Colne, dated 1591.’

 Although the ‘of Hardwick’ referring to George Morton leads one to think that this is not our man from Bawtry, it may be right. ‘Of Hardwick’ could describe where this particular George Morton was living at the time of his marriage and not necessarily where he hailed from. As stated previously, in a document of 1582 Anthony Morton was described as ‘servant’ of George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. The Earl was married to Elizabeth Talbot, otherwise known as the celebrated ‘Bess of Hardwick’and one of their residences was Hardwick Hall. It is therefore quite possible that as a young man George had spent time as a member of that household.

 Interestingly, during Mary Queen of Scot’s imprisonment, Bess of Hardwick had spent much time as her companion working together on sewing projects. In a double wedding, on the day that George Talbot married Bess, her daughter, Mary Cavendish, widely known as a supporter of the Catholic faith,[7]was married to George’s son and heir, Gilbert.

 Nottinghamshire Historian, Dr John Thoroton[8] writing in 1677 says of the Hospital Chapel:

‘…and amongst the rest there lies Katherine ( daughter of John Boun Esquire, by his first wife and so) half-sister to Gilbert Boun, Seargeant at Law, who was widow to George Moreton, elder brother of the aforesaid Robert…’

 Although Thoroton does not mention a source for this information, as his father-in-law was Gilbert Boun, there seems little reason to doubt this.

(Therefore the ‘Katherine Morton’ mentioned in some presentments at Harworth and later as ‘widow’ is almost certainly the wife of Anthony Morton’s son, George).

 It is very possible then that Anthony Morton’s son, George, having married in 1591 could therefore have sired a son, named George after himself. Any such son would have been a comparable age to the George Morton of Leiden who married in July 1612[9]. (His bride, Juliana Carpenter, is believed to have been born in 1584 which would therefore have made her somewhat older than her husband yet not unacceptably so).

In theory it is possible that George Morton of Leiden was the son of George Morton of Bawtry. However, as the Bawtry family were recusant Catholics, they would not have presented their children for baptism at the Protestant parish church and so as a result there are simply no records available to either confirm or deny this.

 At first it might also seem extremely unlikely that a young man from such a very staunch Catholic family might turn instead towards a strongly Protestant/ Separatist inclination but there are documented cases of this and even the opposite scenario happening at that time.

When Robert Morton was executed, his companion on the gallows was Hugh More, a layman[10] who was the son of a well to do Protestant Lincolnshire gentleman. In 1581, eighteen year old More had briefly attended Oxford University before entering Gray’s Inn in 1583 to study for the Bar and shortly after this time he came to the Catholic faith.

When More’s father heard about this ‘shameful act’ he immediately disinherited his son and a great enmity sprang up between them.

More then went overseas to study at the English College at Rheims but when his health broke down, he returned to England. Once home he was soon arrested and Hugh More’s own father was instrumental in gaining his conviction and subsequent execution. Therefore one could imagine the reaction of the Morton family at Bawtry should one of their number have turned away from Catholicism.

There is also a second possible twist in trying to unravel George Morton of Leiden’s family tree. Anthony Morton is widely believed to have had a sister Alice, who in turn is believed to have been the first wife of a certain William Bradford of Austerfield who owned 2 messuages with lands in Austerfield and Bawtry obtained from Anthony Morton [11]. While it would be highly expected to find a  Morton daughter named ‘Alice’, after her mother, amongst Anthony Morton’s siblings, again there are simply no baptismal records in existence to either confirm or deny this.

When met with an expected deficit in the written records, as in the case of recusant Catholics, absence of proof is not the same as proof of absence. Also to be considered is that in an alternative source of documentation used to work out the genealogy of families of this period, such as wills, women are quite often overlooked unless especially deserving of provision, such as widows or unmarried daughters. Herald’s visitations are also unreliable.

Hunter in his book on South Yorkshire,[12] supposes himself to have the correct information regarding the siblings etc. for Anthony Morton. However there must be room for doubt as in his family tree Hunter omits the names of Anthony Morton’s wife, Mary Plumpton and that his priest half-brother, Robert, once had a wife Ursula Thurland, or that Ursula’s widowed mother, Olive Bretton, had become the third wife his father, Robert Morton senior. All three are additions to the Morton tree that I have unearthed during recent research using court records and information found in State papers. Much of Hunter’s information for his version of the Morton family tree is reliant upon information gleaned piecemeal from wills and visitations and so it is understandable that there are and may be other omissions.

If George Morton, later of Leiden and Plymouth was indeed the grandson of Anthony Morton of Bawtry, then it is equally possible that Governor William Bradford could have been Anthony Morton’s great nephew by a sister Alice if she can be proven to have existed and married Bradford’s grandfather, William and therefore George Morton could possibly have been his second cousin. The traditional naming pattern of the wider Bradford family’s children at Austerfield certainly fit in with this theory and Alice features as a favoured name. By tradition the first Bradford son would be then have been expected to be named William, in honour of his father and the second son to be named after the mother’s father, in this case the name ‘Robert’ would have been appropriate, however this theory remains conjecture.

The Church records at Austerfield commence at the start of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in 1559. According to the registers ‘Robert Bradfourth son of William Bradfourth’ was baptized on 25th June 1561; therefore his older brother and the future father of Governor William Bradford, must have been born just prior to the start of this register.

There was no further baptism of a child of William Bradford until that of a daughter, Elizabeth, in 16th July 1570. In an age before the use of contraception such a long gap of nine years between children would seem to suggest the death of a first wife and marriage to second. The Burial records for Austerfield do not begin until 1577[13] so it is not possible to confirm this. There is also no second marriage for this older William Bradford recorded from the start of this register until the date of his death if therefore had he remarried, it must have been out of the parish, with any previous wife having to have deceased prior to 1577.

A William Bradford married Margaret Fox, daughter of William Fox, at nearby Harworth 19th October 1567.[14] Could this be the second marriage? If this is indeed a second wife she may have died in childbirth as there is no record of lHarworth are later definitely related to the Bradfords by marriage as Robert Bradford was married to Alice Wagstaffe whose mother was Joan Fox of Harworth. Could it be that Robert had married a member of his step-mother’s family?

In writings on Governor William Bradford ‘s earlier years, historian Cotton Mather (1663 – 1728)  relates that Bradford’s uncles had become bitterly opposed to their young nephew on religious grounds, as had others at Austerfield:

‘…some lamented him, some derided him: all dissuaded him…’

It is thought that Mather’s writings, made shortly after Bradford’s lifetime, had reflected original oral information given out by Bradford himself, thus giving rise to the impression that perhaps Bradford’s early life in Austerfield had been so bitter that he had been happy to let Austerfield slip from his mind.

Were these strong feelings against the young Bradford on his family’s part simply as Mather would have us believe, because the people of Austerfield were ‘a most ignorant and licentious people…’, or perhaps because the wider Austerfield populous were against Puritanism in all its forms or alternatively, could it be that some secretly harboured some Catholic sympathy?  We cannot know for certain nor can we be certain of any connection between the Mortons at Bawtry and the Bradfords at Austerfield other than through property agreements and by virtue of their proximity.

The fact that William Bradford’s uncle, Robert, had served as churchwarden at Austerfield in the years 1601, 1602 and in 1608 would suggest that he was definitely not of the Catholic faith. Instead he may have used his standing within the parish to protect his young nephew from being reported for any absence from the church there.

Robert died in April 1609 shortly after the future Governor William Bradford children were underage at the time of his death by his will he gives over the tuition of them to three of his close friends. Two of the children, Bradford’s son Robert and daughter Margaret were given into the care of Richard Richardson. The Richardsons were the next most influential family after the Mortons in Bawtry at that time.

 Richardson’s wife was Elizabeth Lindley, a daughter of William Lindley of Skegby near Mansfield in Nottinghamshire and Elizabeth’s sister in law was Jane Molyneux. There was once a brass memorial to Jane, who died in 1633 at the age of seventy-one in Bawtry church in celebration of her thus:

‘Here lies Innocence, Meekness, Piety
Chasity, Patience and Sobriety:
And what so ever else precious and good
Is requisite to complete womanhood.’

One of Jane’s daughters, Mary, later became the wife of Anthony Morton’s youngest son and heir, Robert. Robert Morton appears to have put off marriage until later in life after the death of his father, Anthony. Other than one presentment alongside his father, Robert Morton does not appear to have loomed large as a recusant. Could it be that Robert had turned away from his father’s staunch Catholic faith? Robert’s grandfather and namesake, who had died in 1575 had left several bequests to nearby churches and in his will made it known that it was his wish to be buried in the choir of the Anglican church of St Nicholas in Bawtry. Whether his recusant son Anthony had seen that this burial was carried out as directed is not known as there is no memorial in evidence.

With the expected problem of the absence of any paper records relating to the baptisms of the offspring of recusant Catholics of this era, this theory as to the identification of George Morton with the Bawtry Mortons might never be satisfactorily proved.  However, the Hospital Chapel may still hold the answer to this riddle as to the true identity of George Morton of Leiden. If burials have survived intact beneath the Chapel floor, then they might provide valuable DNA evidence to either prove or disprove that George Morton was indeed once related by blood, to this ‘trybe’ of wicked people.

[1] With a period after.

[2] Dr Jeremy D Bangs ‘Strangers and Pilgrims, travellers and Sojourners- Leiden and thee Foundations of Plymouth Plantation’ P297.

[3] Director of the Great Migration Study Project, New England Historic Genealogical Society.

[4] ‘A Topological History of Bawtry and Thorne’ W Peck p 42. Hillary Term 38 Elizabeth Morton’s age is given as being forty-three.

[5] Boyd’s 1st Misc. Series 1538-1775.

[6] There have always been some people who want to marry in a hurry or in private. The church allowed them to avoid the delay and publicity of calling banns on three successive Sundays by providing, for a fee, a marriage license. Catholics may have used these.

[7] Hunter’s Collections p26.

[8] Dr Thoroton’s Antiquities of Nottinghamshire, published London 1677, Page 478

[9] Pilgrim George Morton’s birth year is often given as being around 1584 when given he married in 1612 and without parental consent was probably of full age of 21 years, he is just as likely to have been born around 1591.

[10] Lives of the English Martyrs- The Martyrs Declared Vulnerable Vol 1.1583-1588 Burton and Pollen 1914.

[11] Yorkshire fines 1577.

[12] Rev. Joseph Hunter ‘South Yorkshire – the History and Topography of the Deanery of Doncaster in the Diocese and County of York’ 1828.

[13] Earlier records from before 1577 must be missing as it unthinkable that no deaths had occurred from 1569-1577.

[14]Hunt, J.G, ‘ A Possible Added Morton-Bradford Connection’  New England Historical and Genealogical Register 111, 1957,68.

Did George Morton of Leiden come from Bawtry?