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Pilgrims – John Beauchamp, ‘Merchant adventurer’

The man who funded the Pilgrims

Before yesterday, I had no real idea on how the Pilgrims funded their Mayflower adventure to America.  It was a pleasure to spend time with Tom Bartlett, author and editor, who is researching this fascinating time in the joint history of Great Britain and the USA.   Tom tells part of the story in this short video.  If you want to know more then please follow Tom’s work here at The Pilgrim Principles.

John Beauchamp, Gentleman of Cosgrove

In the small Northamptonshire village of Cosgrove, on the edge of Milton Keynes in England, a boy was born to a well-established local family in 1592. The youngest of four brothers, there was little to hint that John Beauchamp (pronounced ‘Beacham’ in England) would rise to business success in London… which, at that time, was two days travel by horse (and much longer by foot) to the south.

Such was his swift rise to prominence that John was able, by age 28, to join a larger group of investors known as the ‘merchant adventurers’  in funding a new voyage to, and settlement in, America. The passengers on that voyage would make their mark in history as the Pilgrims; their vessel of delivery one of several ships at that time named the Mayflower.

How could a boy from Cosgrove have gained enough wealth before his thirties to be able to part with some of it, in a risky transatlantic speculation? One clue comes from Cosgrove’s location, and its proximity to the Roman road named Watling Street. This thoroughfare extends north from London, where it is today known as Edgeware Road, in a more-or-less straight line.

The lack of hills or any other natural barriers on this route later led to the development of the Grand Union Canal which, 200 years after John’s birth was built straight through Cosgrove (necessitating the digging of a pedestrian tunnel under the canal, where the village’s Main Street used to run) , followed in history by the West Coast Main (train) Line, then the M1 motorway. Watling Street survives as the A5.

John Beauchamp was the last of the investors to call in a debt from the Pilgrims, in the early 1640s; this coming after a couple of financial conflicts with both his co-investors and the colonists. Without his persistence and astuteness in funding not just the Mayflower but other ships which followed, and then negotiating trade and re-payment (sometimes through a brother-in-law named Freeman, who lived in Plymouth Colony) the Pilgrims might not have been motivated to set up a trading post in what is now Maine. This enabled them to establish an income stream through the export of beaver pelts and timber, thus relieving them of reliance on farming and fishing in and around Plymouth.

In summary, John Beauchamp of Cosgrove played a pivotal role in the events which led to Plymouth Rock and Thanksgiving; the only Englishman based in London who stayed involved in the colony from its uncertain start, through to its establishment as a fully-functioning community of English settlers.

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