Richard Warren was born by about 1578 based on the date of his marriage. He married Elizabeth Walker on April 14, 1610 at Great Amwell, Hertfordshire, England. Elizabeth was the daughter of Augustine Walker.
More erroneous information has been published about Richard Warren than any other Mayflower passenger, probably because he has so many descendants (note that all seven of his children grew up and married). Many attempts, all fruitless, have been made to discover the English origin of Richard Warren and only recently has the identity of his wife been found.
Richard Warren is not a proven descendant of any royalty, whether it be Sir John de Warrene or Charlemagne. Richard Warren's parents have not even been identified, despite extensive searches in the records of England.
The only concrete things we know about Richard Warren's ancestry are that he was a merchant of London--whether he was born there or not is an entirely different question. Richard apparently resided in London, and became associated with the Pilgrims and the Mayflower through the Merchant Adventurers. Joining the Pilgrims at Southampton, he sailed as one of the "Strangers" who helped the "Saints" finance the voyage.
When Richard came over on the Mayflower in 1620, he left behind Elizabeth and five daughters, planning to have them sent over after things were more settled in the Colony. In his accounting of the passengers of the Mayflower Bradford included "Mr. Richard Warren, but his wife and children were left behind and came afterwards."
Richard was the twelfth signer of the Mayflower Compact. He was in the party of ten men who explored the outer cape (Cape Cod) in early December 1620 while looking for a place to settle.
Judging from land transactions of his widow, Elizabeth, the family appears fairly well-to-do. In the 1623 Plymouth division of land Richard Warren received an uncertain number of acres (perhaps two) as a passenger on the Mayflower, and five acres as a passenger on the Anne (presumably for his wife and children). In the 1627 Plymouth division of cattle Richard Warren, his wife Elizabeth Warren, Nathaniel Warren, Joseph Warren, Mary Warren, Anna Warren, Sarah Warren, Elizabeth Warren and Abigail Warren were the first nine persons in the ninth company.
Richard Warren is unusual because, although Bradford in his "decreasings and increasings" gives him the honorific title "Mr.", he rarely mentions him at all in the rest of his history, and very little is known about him except for a few brief mentions elsewhere. "Grave Richard Warren, a man of integrity, justice and up-rightness, of piety and serious religion, a useful citizen, bearing a deep share of the difficulties and troubles of the plantation."
Nathaniel Morton wrote in his book New England's Memorial, first published in 1669, the following about Richard Warren: "This year  died Mr. Richard Warren, who was an useful instrument and during his life bare a deep share in the difficulties and troubles of the first settlement of the Plantation of New Plymouth."
As of 1651, Bradford reported that "Mr. Richard Warren lived some four or five years and had his wife come over to him, by whom he had two sons before he died, and one of them is married and hath two children. So his increase is four. But he had five daughters more came over with his wife, who are all married and living, and have many children."
Richard Warren is an ancestor to many famous Americans. Among them are Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Alan B. Shepard, Jr., the first American in space. Since we are also descendants of Richard Warren, these famous folks are also our cousins.
The Pilgrim Mothers are mysteries. They are known only by their husbands, and known by their children. While the court records of Plymouth Colony reveal much about the daily activities of the law-abiding men of the Colony, they tell us little about the women, except for those few women who broke the law. According to the accepted legal convention of the times, all married women, even those conducting business independently, were regarded as representatives of their husbands. Only widows could be legally recognized as agents in their own right. Very few widows availed themselves of the privileges and the responsibilities that such independent status would entail.
One Pilgrim woman, however, broke through the patriarchal conventions of 17th century society. By the longevity of her widowhood and by the independence of her actions, Elizabeth Warren emerges from the collective category of "Pilgrim Mother" as a highly individual woman.
Some of the Mayflower families, with many young children or other family responsibilities, separated and sailed separately. The Warren family was separated for three years. It was not until 1623 that two ships, the Anne and the Little James, arrived in Plymouth carrying members of the separated families. Among them were Elizabeth Warren and the five Warren daughters.
The Warrens joined in the life of the small but growing agricultural community. Richard would have played a role in public affairs and worked the fields. Elizabeth would have run the large household that included not only the immediate family but also their farm workers and hired help. On occasion, she would have joined Richard in the fields. The Warren home would have been small and modestly furnished.
Two sons were born to the Warrens after Elizabeth's 1623 arrival in Plymouth Colony. Richard's death left Elizabeth a widow with seven children (five young women ranging from early teens to probably early twenties, and two small boys under the age of 5). She never remarried and outlived her husband by 45 years.
Unlike the majority of Plymouth Colony women, Elizabeth Warren's name appears regularly in the records of Plymouth Colony during the long period of her widowhood. She appears first as paying the taxes owed by all heads of household. She appears next as executor of her husband's estate.
Elizabeth then appears as one of the Plymouth Colony "Purchasers." In 1626, 53 (male) citizens of Plymouth Colony agreed to underwrite some of the Colony's debt in a complicate arrangement with its financial backers. Richard Warren was one of the original 1626 Purchasers. The list of names of the Purchasers did not appear in the Plymouth Colony Records, however, until several years had passed. During that time, Richard Warren had died. Elizabeth has the unique distinction of having a law passed unanimously by the whole court to give her the Purchaser status her deceased husband had had. On March 7, 1636/7 "it is agreed upon, by the consent of the whole Court, that Elizabeth Warren, widow, the relict of Mr. Richard Warren, deceased, shall be entered, and stand, and be purchaser instead of her said husband, as well because that (he dying before he had performed the said bargain) the said Elizabeth performed the same after his decease, as also for the establishing of the lots of lands given formerly by her unto her sons-in-law Richard Church, Robert Bartlett and Thomas Little, in marriage with their wives, her daughters."
As an owner of real estate Elizabeth is frequently mentioned in the records. She was one of the Proprietors of Puncatest, and an original Proprietor of one share of the Dartmouth purchase.
On July 5, 1635, Elizabeth Warren appears in the Records of Plymouth Colony in a totally new role. No longer seen as acting to fulfill the obligations of her long-deceased husband Richard, Elizabeth now enters the recorded life of the Colony as a totally independent agent. There is not only a court case involving Elizabeth, but one can hear an echo of her actual words.
Elizabeth brought her servant Thomas Williams before the Court for "speaking profane & blasphemous speeches against the majesty of God." In a disagreement between mistress and servant, Elizabeth Warren had exhorted Thomas Williams "to fear God and do his duty." He answered, "he neither feared God, nor the devil." Although Governor William Bradford advocated "bodily punishment," the judgment of the Court was that a reproof was sufficient, Williams having "spoken in passion and distemper," and making "humble acknowledgment of his offense."
Elizabeth's activities continue to be documented to an unusual extent in the Records of Plymouth Colony. In the late 1630s, she appears in the Records deeding land from the Warren holdings in Plymouth's Eel River Valley to her sons-in-law.
On January 5, 1635/6 widow Warren paid 30s. to Thomas Clarke for borrowing his boat, and although returning it to a place of usual safety, an extraordinary storm wrecked it.
On June 3, 1639 "Mr. Andrew Hellot" was ordered to pay Mrs. Warren 10s. to settled an account between them.
In the March 25, 1633 Plymouth tax list Widow Warren was assessed 12s. and in the list of March 27, 1634, 9s.
On July 1, 1633 "Mrs. Warren and Robt. Bartlet" were allowed to mow where they did the previous year, and again March 14, 1635/6.
On October 28, 1633, a grant of Richard Warren's land on which he required to erect a dwelling, returned to the court "for want of building" and it was regranted to Mr. Ralph Fogg, provided he pay Widow Warren sufficiently for her fence remaining there.
On May 5, 1640 "Richard Church, Rob[er]te Bartlett, Thomas Little & Mrs. Elizabeth Warren are granted enlargements at the heads of their lots to the foot of the Pyne Hills, leaving a way betwixt them and the Pyne Hills, for cattle and carts to pass."
By this time, the Warren daughters had matured and married. In 1652, trouble suddenly loomed. Elizabeth's deeds to her sons-in-law, deeds that had been executed 15 years previously, were challenged by persons unnamed. The Colony Records report a petition brought by Elizabeth's son-in-law Robrt Bartlett asking for clarification of Elizabeth's right to deed land because "sundry speeches have passed from some who pretend themselves to be the sole and right heirs unto the lands on which the said Robert Bartlett now liveth, at the Eel River, in the township of Plymouth, which he, the said Robert, had bestowed on him by his mother-in-law Mistress Elizabeth Warren."
The Court decided, unequivocally, in Elizabeth's favor, finding that she had the power to give the land, since she had been "by an order of Court bearing date March the 7th 1637, and other acts of the Court before, invested into the state and condition of a Purchaser." The Court once again ratified and confirmed her status as a Purchaser and specifically ruled that Elizabeth Warren had the right to dispose of her lands, including the gifts of land she had made to her sons-in-law.
Even this clear-cut Court ruling was insufficient to settle the quarrel. And as the dispute continued, the identity of those "who pretend themselves to be the sole and right heirs" was revealed to be Elizabeth's own son Nathaniel Warren and his grandmother-in-law Jane Collier.
Nathaniel, now married and in his mid-to-late 20s, claimed that he "hath right unto as heir unto the lands of Mr. Richard Warren, deceased." The two sides in the quarrel agreed to submit the argument to arbitration, each choosing two members to sit on the 4-man arbitration panel. Elizabeth chose William Bradford and Thomas Willett. Nathaniel chose Thomas Prence and Myles Standish.
The arbitration panel came swiftly to its unanimous conclusion. Nathaniel Warren received an acknowledgment of his right to share in the Warren lands. The panel confirmed what had never seemed to be in doubt, namely that Nathaniel could continue to hold the land he currently possessed. Nathaniel was also granted 2/3 of the Warren "Purchase Lands" which had not as yet been assigned and possession, after Elizabeth's death, of three acres of land near his current holdings.
The major finding of the arbitration panel, however, must have come as a severe shock to young Nathaniel. The expected outcome by law and by custom would certainly have favored Elizabeth's son. But, far from vindicating his patriarchal claims, the panel issue a stunning and resounding confirmation of Elizabeth's status as head of her household and of her authority to act as an independent agent. The panel not only found that she "shall enjoy all the rest of her lands and all of them to whom she hath already at any time heretofore disposed any part thereof by gift, sale or otherwise, or shall hereafter do the same, to them and their heirs for ever without any trouble or molestation" but severely rapped Nathaniel's unfilial knuckles.
The Court concluded by bidding Nathaniel to "forever cease all other or further claims, suits, questions, or any molestations or disturbance at any time hereafter concerning the premises, but that his said mother and all her children, or any other to whom she has any way disposed any lands or shall hereafter do the same, but that they may quietly and peaceably possess and enjoy the same."
Elizabeth seems to have quietly and peaceably enjoyed the remainder of her days. When she died in 1673, this remarkable woman received the unprecedented but well-earned tribute of a eulogy in the Records of Plymouth Colony: "Mistress Elizabeth Warren, an aged widow, aged above 90 years, deceased on the second of October, 1673. Who, having lived a godly life, came to her grave as a shock of corn fully ripe. Shee was honorably buried on the 24th of October aforsaid."
Please send e-mail to Sam Behling.
See lineage of Warren Family
Return to Story Page