Pilgrim's Pride

Madison resident has a story
to tell about his ancestors

His seventh great-grandfather
was Edward Doten

By Tara Gentile
Contributing Writer

(August 2009) – While scanning the signatures subscribed below the text of the Mayflower Compact, it is easy to skip over the name Edward Doten without appropriate appreciation. It is slightly below the more recognized names of Pilgrim Fathers, such as William Bradford, Myles Standish and John Alden.

Ken Robertson

Photo by Tara Gentile

Madison, Ind., resident
Ken Robertson is a
direct descendent
of one of the Pilgrim’s
who traveled from
England on the
Mayflower to
Plymouth Rock in
1620 and signed the
famous Mayflower
Compact. He has
compiled a family
history book to
document his lineage.

Unlike Doten, they were the more eminent passengers of the Mayflower that landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. They are the ones most often remembered as the founders of Plymouth, Mass., and the first permanent Puritan settlement. But through the meticulous accounts of Gov. Bradford, Madison, Ind., resident Kenneth Doten Robertson II has pieced together the colorful history of his ancestor, Doten, who was his seventh great-grandfather, documenting a story rich in both lawlessness and honor.
Robertson is originally from Boston but moved to Fort Wayne, Ind., in the early 1990s. He came to Madison in 1999. Robertson, now 77, lost his wife not long after moving to the area and currently lives just down the road from several of his children. Though he remembers learning about the Mayflower and the early Plymouth settlers as a boy, he says his genealogical research didn’t actually begin until his later years – around 2002.
“I remember my father telling me briefly about the Mayflower ancestors, but he never told me how we were related,” says Robertson. “It lay dormant in my mind for a while, and then I decided to do more research and eventually start the (genealogy) book.”
The Robertsons’ genealogy book is more like a large binder and its three rings contain an almost four-inch stack of papers. There is sufficient amount of pedigree charts, family tree charts and genealogy reports on both his father’s heritage and his mother’s. It’s through his father’s ancestors, the Robertson side, that he traced Doten.
The story he uncovered begins in August 1620 when the Mayflower left its English harbor with 102 passengers. The voyage lasted 66 days before the sighting of land off what is now Cape Cod. Soon-to- be-governor Bradford kept a passenger’s list in which he wrote a thorough description of each passenger and their family during their journey.
In the list, Bradford identifies Doten and Doten’s cousin, Edward Liester, as servants to the Hopkins family. The Hopkins were wealthy English Separatist Purists. Doten and Liester had little political or religious affiliation and were more interested in prospective adventures in the New World.
Before the ship dropped anchor, it was Doten who took some of the first steps onto Plymouth Rock with a small scouting party of about 10 others. It was shortly after that he added his signature to the 41 others below the text of the Mayflower Compact, the first governing document of Puritan settlers in America. Interestingly, this is the first record of Doten changing the spelling of his surname from Doty to Doten.
But most of the awaiting experiences were more grim than the cousins expected. By the end of the first year at Plymouth, the 102 passengers had dwindled to fewer than half that number.
A year after arrival, Bradford documented the first duel ever fought in an English settlement. According to criminal records, Doten and Liester dueled with swords and knives before being separated and sentenced. Their punishment; “Twenty-four hours of head tied to neck.” Reportedly, the two protested with such vehemence that they were released within an hour.
“He was a very colorful character, but he was also a dignified character, according to historical accounts,” Robertson says. “He was one of the 21 survivors who raised their families at Plymouth Colony. He led a very upstanding life and raised seven children with his wife. He died at 55 and buried right there in Plymouth.”
Despite the years of work and pages of documentation that have already gone into the compilation of Robertson’s genealogy book, he doesn’t consider the project finished. He is currently in the process of applying to the Mayflower Society, made up of only those who can document their descent from one of the 21 settlers who survived the first year. Each applicant must supply appropriate documentation to gain admittance into the society.
“We still need a birth certificate for Edward Louis Doten, which would be my great-grandfather, to complete the process of supplying all necessary documentation,” he explains. “There are so many little towns around Plymouth that might have it. But I’m sure we’ll find it eventually.”
When one of Robertson’s sons, Brian, is asked if he has an interest in continuing the project, he is quick to assure.
“Documenting and familiarizing yourself with the stories of your predecessors gives you a sense of belonging,” he says. “And it keeps it alive. If you talk about Edward Doten and his life and the things he did, it’s as if he’s in the room with you; as if he never died.”
Robertson tells a story about his childhood in which he recounts how he and his young friends would ride their bikes along the side of the road, scanning the ditches for pieces of scrap and discarded trinkets that they could turn into toys.
“You know – things that other people weren’t interested in anymore, things they had thrown out. I think this project is a little like that.” he says.
“Today, we get in the car and zoom down the street. We don’t take the time to look at anything around us, to study what other people have left behind.”

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