A Lister Rode The Mayflower

homespun— Edward Lister: Mayflower Passenger
and Signer of the Mayflower Compact

With eager dreams and meager possessions
A Lister rode the Mayflower
He traded his oppressions
For one last chance at being free
He had his trusty musket
For clearing off the Injuns
He used an axe and handsaw
For clearing off the trees

— Excerpt from Homespun Song (Summer of ’77)

Well, Pilgrim, the first few lines of my Homespun Song (Summer of ’77) were inspired from having read an encyclopedia entry that my Dad had shown me about…, well, “Pilgrims.” In that entry, a Lister was listed among the passengers of the Mayflower and the signers of the Mayflower Compact. I had no clue as to whether my genetic code was any more closely related to that Mayflower Lister than to any other passenger on that little wooden ship (‘Cause, hey, we’re all related to every other human somehow, somewhere along the line — even if we have to follow widely-divergent branches of the Family Tree all the way back to its trunk and its proto-human roots. Right?). But still, I felt some sense of closer kinship with the Mayflower Lister, in particular, because I have a valid Poetic License, thank you very much, and because that early-Seventeenth Century voyager and I share the same last name. (Or do we?)

Recently now, but some 25+ years after my father first showed me the encyclopedia entry, I’ve returned to that original source. The short article simply titled “Pilgrims” was published on pages 3,912 and 3,913 of the Illustrated World Encyclopedia, volume 16 (P-Pue), as prepared and edited by The National Lexicographic Board; Albert H. Morehead, editor; Copyright 1968 by Illustrated World Encyclopedia, Inc., New York. Whew!

The simple style of the article (and, indeed, of the rest of the encyclopedia set) suggests it was intended more for a juvenile readership, I think, rather than being written primarily for adults. But, hey….

A short excerpt from the “Pilgrims” entry follows:

“Forty-one men and their families sailed to the New World on the ship
Mayflower. There were 102 people in all. Before the Pilgrims landed,
the men in the party signed the Mayflower Compact, an agreement that
set up the rules by which the colony would be governed. The signers of
the Mayflower Compact are known as the Pilgrim Fathers. They were:
…[The first 39 of 41 names are listed — blah, blah, blah, and then:]…
Edward Doty, and Edward Lister.”

…And blah, blah, blah. (Why I also include Doty’s name here will become evident shortly.)

When I decided to do a little more research on the Mayflower Lister, I “Googled” Edward Lister + Mayflower on the Internet.

As it turns out, Edward L’s last name is kinda squishy in the historical record. The surname is variously cited as: Lister, Lyster, Litster, Leister, and Lester.

Also, as it turns out, Edward L is often cited in context with the aforementioned Edward Doty. And Edward D’s last name is even more squishy, being variously cited as: Doty, Dotey, Dowty, Douttie, Doughty, Doughtie, Douty, Doten, Dotten, Dolton, Dolten, and Duty. Whew!

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You just thought something like, “Jeez, Brother Dave, why don’t you just find a copy of the original Mayflower Compact and see how Edwards L and D actually signed their own names so you can disregard and forget about all the other variations!?”

Well, Pilgrim, do I really look so dumb (rhetorically speaking, that is) as to not have already figured out on my own that checking the source document would easily and definitively resolve all that surname squishiness? Hey, give me some credit. ‘Kay? Of course, going back to the original source occurred to me early on. (So there!)

But get this: The original Mayflower Compact is no longer believed to be in existence!

Wowzers! The first historical document to advocate a new New World approach to freedom, justice, and equality does not now exist! Can you believe it!?

The Compact has been promoted as a sort of holy predecessor to the US Constitution and, yet, it is no more. It is thought to have disappeared sometime during the American Revolutionary War.

Sure, there are copies. But I have to wonder how accurate those are. Allegedly, a type-printed version appeared a year or so after the original signing. (Type-printed where and by whom, I do not know, but my skepticism is piqued.) A hand-written version of the Compact was set to paper some 10-to-25+ years after the fact by one of the original signers. Neither of those renditions, however, listed the names of the signers. It wasn’t until nearly 50 years after the boat had dropped anchor that someone published the text of the Compact with a list of alleged signatories.

I seem to recall having read somewhere sometime that, in general, the spelling of English words was all very casual and fluid and as individual as any individual writer might choose, back before publication and wide dissemination of the King James Bible and the printed works of William Shakespeare. Together, those two authoritative sources were greatly responsible for eventually standardizing the spellings of English words. Well, the KJV Bible had only been out for a few years when the Mayflower set sail. And Brother Bill Shakespeare was still busily writing ENGLISH LITERATURE ‘n’ stuff when that little wooden ship set to sea.

So, back when the Pilgrims, et al, came across on the boat in 1620, apparently, English spelling could still be as individual and stylized as a writer’s “voice” and his (Or her? Ha!) personal method of attack on syntax. Thus: Lister, Lyster, Litster, Leister, Lester, Doty, Dotey, Dowty, Douttie, Doughty, Doughtie, Douty, Doten, Dotten, Dolton, Dolten, and Duty.

Anyway,… Edward Lister (sp?) was a young “Stranger” (a non-Pilgrim) among the Mayflower / Plymouth Colony Pilgrims. He and young Edward Doty (sp?) were both indentured servants of Stephen Hopkins. And, most notably, Edwards L and D were the first two European colonists in the New World to fight a duel — over (What else?) a girl, Constance (or Constanta — still another squishy name, fer chrissake!), the 15-year-old daughter of Master Hopkins.

Was a 15-year-old girl deemed old enough to court and marry back then, or would she still have been considered “jail…,” I mean, “stockade bait”? I don’t know. But there weren’t yet a lot of available white chicks in the New World at that time. And for a young dude in the Plymouth Colony, the only potential girlfriends had arrived on the same boat. Edward L was a young bachelor. Edward D, however, is described as a bachelor by some sources, while other sources say he was a married man whose wife was still back in England (The cad!). And Miss Hopkins may have been flirtatious toward both men (That little cherry tart!).

Well, on the morning of June 18th, 1621, Edwards L and D met together down on the otherwise-deserted beach. Their intention was to resolve their differences and end their competition for Miss Hopkins’ affections in a time-honored, civilized manner: Bloody Mortal Combat. As was the custom among Elizabethan duelists of the day, each Edward armed himself with a cutlass in one hand and a dagger in the other. Then, there was nothing left to do but start slashing and hacking and stabbing at each other, which is how they proceeded.

The ruckus soon roused the other colonists, who came charging down to the beach to break up the fight. And it was Captain Myles Standish who put himself between the two combatants, with his own cutlass raised to stop and disarm both of the cut-and-bleeding-but-not-seriously-injured duelists.

This fight was considered the first major infraction in Plymouth Colony and required the other colonists to have to meet to decide a suitable punishment for the two Edwards, whose carnal sins included both regular lust and bloodlust.

As it turns out, not only spelling but punishment, too, can sometimes be a squishy thing in the historical record. Some sources suggest that the two Edwards were bound together in punishment, head to head and feet to feet. Other sources relate that each Edward had his own ankles bound to his own neck. (I don’t know, but for this method I’m assuming that a prisoner was placed face-down on the ground, then had his legs bent up and back at the knees, and then had rope tied from his ankles to his neck. Ouch!) But no matter what the exact method of punishment was, most sources agree that it was painful enough to elicit cries of agony, apology, and contrition within an hour. So the sentence was commuted and the prisoners freed early to go their own ways.

Edward L is said to have died the following year down in Virginia, in the Indian-led “Massacre of 1622” (which kinda brings a special touch of irony to the part of my Homespun lyric that says: “He had his trusty musket for clearing off the Injuns”). Other sources, however, say that Edward L packed it in and went back home to England. And still other sources confess a lack of knowledge as to what the hell became of Edward L, suggesting that he just kinda-sorta disappeared from the squishy historical record.

Edward D stayed in the vicinity and added other charges to his rap sheet during the next 30 years after the duel, charges including: breach of contract, slander, disorderly conduct, assault, theft, and destruction of property. Whew!

And Miss Hopkins went on to marry a man named Nicholas (and not Edward) Snow, give birth to a dozen babies, and live to the relatively-old age of 70-or-so.

The Umpteenth Signing of the Mayflower Compact — ”Prithee, Brother, signeth only thy name this time. Commence ye not the writing of song lyrics again, that thou mayest yet live to write anon. An’ on, an’ on, an’ on,….”Why, Hollywood should make a movie!

homespunAnd so it goes.


And that, Pilgrim, is that.

And now, m’Dear, I’m outta here.

Be well, be happy. Know peace, know love. Find joy wherever it awaits you. Live in light, live in bliss. Bless your heart.

Love ‘n’ sticky stuff, Brother Dave Lister (not Lyster, Litster, Leister, Lester, etc.)

PS: For another entertaining essay that, among other things, further considers the Lister (and Lyster) surname(s) within a historical (if not hysterical) context, check out Don’t Call Me Listerine!, published elsewhere on this site. —BD

PPS: Having been coined in 1594 or thereabout, the term “cutlass” was still fairly new when the Mayflower made her voyage in 1620. To distinguish it from other varieties of sword, the “cutlass” name referred to a slightly-shorter-than-average, curved-bladed sword that was most commonly used by sailors on warships. It is my belief that, if this sort of sword had not been invented until recent times, and if the modern-day inventor had fancied (for whatever reason) the name “cutlass” for his prototype, well, the Marketing Department would still insist on another name for the production model(s).

An authentic replica of a simple, one-piece, Early-Seventeenth Century cutlass

In an uptown, upper-story, up-scale conference
room, MARKETING PERSONs 1, 2, and 3 are in
conference with DAVE CUTLASS — the baby-faced
“Wunderkind” inventor of a new kind of sword.
“Cutlass?” Why, that sounds too much
like “Cut Less!” And except for those who
are very clumsy and prone to accidental
self-injury, most swordsmen…
You mean, swordspersons?
Yes, thank you. Most swordspersons would
prefer blades that cut more, not cut
Right, and that’s from hearing the name
spoken aloud — you know: word-of-mouth,
or from radio and TV spots. But seeing it,
in print, it’s too much like “Cut Lass!”
And that seems to suggest the stabbing
and/or mutilation of young women in
general, and young Scottish women in
Sure, your Jack-the-Ripper-types might
be compelled to buy solely on seeing the
“Cutlass” name in a glossy magazine ad.
But that’s just a niche market, isn’t it?
And a very small niche market at that,
one should hope.
So while we propose brand names such as
“The Kutting Edge” and “Haxoff Z” for our
product lines, we still think the generic
name for all such swords should be
something like….
Excuse me, but what does the “Z” stand
for in “Haxoff Z”?
What? Oh, well, it’s a mystery really.
There are a b’zillion products that have
a Z, or X, or Q, or XL, or whatever in
their brand names. But what it all means,
not a living soul can say.
You might as well ask why there’s a “W”
in the word “sword.”
Well, yeah, why is there a “W” in the
word “sword”? That’s always bothered me.
Sorry. Off topic, I know. So back to the
“cutlass” name. Did you guys have this
same sort of discussion with the inventors
of the broadsword and the rapier? ‘Cause
let me tell ya, neither of those names
sounds all that P.C. if you really stop
and think about ’em. But, hey, what would
a crusader or musketeer be without one?
Why, in the movies The Three Musketeers
rely almost exclusively on their rapiers
when they fight. Ironically, and counter
to their job title, they so seldom, if
ever, use muskets. Granted, calling them
The Three Rapiereers would be awkward on
a variety of levels. But,….

(And blah, blah, blah…. Or perhaps this is a scene in a musical, and so now our quartet of characters should break into song. Maybe it’s an introspective, angst-ridden power ballad featuring Cutlass singing lead, with the Marketing flaks singing backup while also performing frenetically-choreographed variations on some traditional — yes, you guessed it — sword dance. Whew!) —BD

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