The Mayflower and Clapham

Two of the original Merchant Adventurers who financed the Mayflower, John Beauchamp and James Sherley, took a joint lease in Clapham in 1634. It is not clear how they divided the property they leased together, but there may well have been more than one house on the land. Sherley was certainly there during the serious outbreak of plague in London in 1636 when he wrote in a letter to the New Plymouth Colony,

‘You will and may expect I should write more and answer your letters, but I am not a day in the week at home in town, but carry all my books to Clapham. For here is the miserablest time that I think hath been known in many ages. I have known three great sicknesses, but none like this. And that which should be a means to pacify the Lord and help us, that is taken away, preaching put down in many places, not a sermon in Westminster on the Sabbath, nor in many towns about us; the Lord in mercy look upon us!’

James Sherley was one of the two original Treasurers of the Mayflower and he and Beauchamp were two of the four who in 1626 took over the financing in return for a six year monopoly of the fur trade with the Indians and the responsibility for procuring the goods that the Settlers still needed from England, a task that went well with their other trading activities. The fur trade was particularly interesting to them because beaver pelts provided the raw material for beaver hats, a major fashion item of the early seventeenth century and one that gave ample opportunity for considerable profit. They may have been responsible for bringing two beaver makers to Clapham, William Daniel of All Hallows Lombard Street, and William Hubbard, one of the Presbyterian elders at St Mary Woolnoth.

Beauchamp came from a yeoman farming family in Northamptonshire and with a small legacy as a second son became apprenticed as a Salter dealing in dyes and related chemicals. He began trading as an interloper in wool, bringing back a variety of consumer goods on the return journey from the Netherlands. He became one of the largest importers of these goods, often working jointly with James Sherley. Sherley was a Goldsmith, a trade which often acted as a banker, and also an investor in the East India Company in 1624. Both Beauchamp and, particularly, Sherley, get a rather bad press from the historians of the Mayflower. They may well have been involved principally because they saw a business opportunity rather than for any specific religious or political reason, but Samuel Morison concedes that Sherley did share the Pilgrim’s religious beliefs and his letters are full of language to support this. For example Sherley wrote to William Bradford, the Governor of the Plymouth colony, in December 1627 saying,

‘Assuredly, unless the Lord be merciful to us and the whole land in general, our estate and condition is far worse than yours. Wherefore if the Lord should send persecution or trouble here (which is much to be feared) and so should pit into our minds to fly for refuge, I know no place safer than to come to you, for all Europe is at variance one with another, but chiefly with us.’

A desire to do business did not always go down well with the Settlers who might well have wanted to break up with Sherley and his associates, but were constrained by their debt to them and constant need for clothing, trading goods, and other supplies from home. There were innumerable disagreements between those financing the exercise who sometimes thought the Settlers were not doing enough to return goods for sale, and the Settlers who thought the financiers were engaged in sharp practice including sending them goods they had not asked for. Beauchamp also fell out with Sherley for not giving him a sufficient share of the income (or information) about incoming goods, and ended up taking Sherley to the Chancery Court. (Beauchamp lost). This was about the time that Beauchamp left Clapham.