Historic bloodlines?

Olson’s 10th great grandfather was Stephen Hopkins, but not the one who signed the Declaration of Independence When she was young, Sauk Centre journalist Roberta Olson’s mother often told her that she had an illustrious ancestor, Stephen Hopkins, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  But when she shared this fact in her high school history class, she was brought sharply down to earth. Roberta says, “Miss Finley totally ripped me apart and ridiculed me.  As the coming class valedictorian, I was upset and embarrassed and never spoke of it again.  My mother died quite young, and I kept that fact firmly in the back of my mind.  In the last couple of years, when I was semi-retired, I said to myself, “For future generations I’m going to prove this family legend one way or another.”   She queried several cousins who had been doing family tree research, but none of them had ever heard of this connection, or would admit they had. “I decided that 2010 was going to be the year to prove it or not. So I decided to join Ancestry.com., I’m hooked on Ancestry.com because I’ve learned so much about my family,” she says of this premier site for tracing family roots. Today she is the proud owner of a certificate proclaiming her a member of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, through her 10th great grandfather, Stephen Hopkins, who was quite a few years removed from signing the Declaration of Independence, but who had his own colorful history and claims to fame. It required hours of painstaking research. “In the process, and keeping this business about Stephen Hopkins in the back of my mind, I came across a couple of cousins named Shambeau, which was my mother’s grandparents’ name, and I also found  a Peterson on my mother’s father’s side.” The result was a trip to Waupaca, Wisconsin, to see the town, visit the cemetery, and do further research. There Roberta’s second cousin, Tom Shambeau, invited her to look at his research and photo albums, in which she found they shared some identical pictures.  But when she broached the subject of the signer of the Declaration of Independence, she was taken aback. “He looked up at me and said, ‘That is absolutely not true. Your ancestor, Stephen Hopkins, came over on the Mayflower.’  He opened his desk drawer and pulled out his Society of Mayflower Descendants certificate, and showed me the detailed paperwork that he had to go through to be certified.” It seems there was indeed a Stephen Hopkins who had signed the Declaration, but he was a different person entirely from the Mayflower passenger. To say Stephen Hopkins of Mayflower fame was a colorful character would be a vast understatement. His occupation in Gloucestershire, England, isn’t known, but he apparently had enough money to undertake long sea voyages and keep servants.  In 1609 he attempted to take supplies to Jamestown colony on a ship called the Sea Venture  and wound up stranded in Bermuda, an adventure that is said to be the inspiration for Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Some members of the crew attempted to get to Jamestown, but were never heard from.  The others apparently liked Bermuda and wanted to stay, but Hopkins wanted to get back home to his wife and three children.  He led a mutiny which almost ended in his death sentence, but he talked his way out of it, pleading that if he died, his family would be bereft and scandalized.  Eventually, they built two small ships using cedar wood from Bermuda and materials scavenged from the Sea Venture, and made it to Jamestown. There Hopkins made friends with the legendary Squanto and other Native Americans.  Two years later he returned to England. There he found his wife and one of his children had died.  Two years later, he remarried and had a son. “So when it came time for another adventure he decided to take his pregnant wife, his two children by his first marriage, the son by his second wife, and his two servants.”  Roberta explains that Hopkins was not one of the religious pilgrims who left England because of their faith.  He was one of the “Strangers” who accompanied them, in it for the adventure or, in Hopkins’ case, for his experience with sea voyages and his knowledge of the Native Americans he had met in Jamestown. A plaque in Plymouth, England, mounted outside the inn where the pilgrims spent the night of September 15, 1620, lists among the Mayflower passengers: Stephen Hopkins; Elizabeth his wife; Giles and Oceanus (born on the voyage) his sons; Constanta and Damaris, his daughters; Edward Doty and Edward Litster his servants Oceanus, the only baby born on board, and Damaris died in childhood in the New World, where Stephen and Elizabeth had six more children.  Roberta points that when the passengers arrived at Provincetown Harbor, now Cape Cod, 66 days after setting sail, it was too cold for them to build houses.  They spent the rest of the winter aboard the cramped cargo ship before sailing to Plymouth in March, 1621, by which time, about half of them had died.  She says that many early settlers were wealthy and used to depending on their servants for everything, so they had no idea of how to work and live independently. “They had no background and no concept of how to work and fend for themselves.  They didn’t know how to raise food.  That’s why they were shipping supplies over from England.” Hopkins, however, was competent to shift for himself.  He opened a tavern in Plymouth, where he often ran afoul of the law for illegally selling “wine, beer, strong waters and nutmeg,” and for allowing patrons to play shuffleboard on the Sabbath. He also refused to provide for a servant girl who became pregnant by someone else.  He was the first to construct a wharf in Plymouth Harbor which he sold, using the money to build his family a home, described as a “castle.” He died in early July 1644 in Plymouth. Roberta notes that in order to obtain a certification such as hers, it is necessary to trace one’s history on both sides all the way back to the original ancestor.  Since her cousin Tom had done most of the work, and she only had to trace her family back to his. “My tree proceeds from Stephen to his oldest son Giles, grandson Stephen, down to the eighth generation before a woman enters. My great-great-grandfather, Simeon Hopkins, arrived in Waupaca County in the early 1800s, and his daughter, Silvina, married Ambrose Shambeau.  The next generations are women:  Mary Belle, Beverly, and Roberta.” Roberta plans to continue her research, which has resulted not only in clarifying her history but in finding a whole new family. She has put the results of her research into a booklet called “Stephen Hopkins and the Mayflower Connection.” She muses that if her mother hadn’t remembered, or misremembered, a scrap of history, it would have been lost forever. “Family legends are based on some truth,” she says.  “Although the truth got a little bit askew, it still was Steven Hopkins and we traced it correctly.  It’s pretty awesome.  I’m glad I did it.”

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