Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Carver, John
CARVER, JOHN (1575?–1621), leader of the ‘pilgrim fathers,’ was an Englishman and agent of the English congregational church at Leyden in Holland. When he sailed in the Mayflower (1620) he was ‘of good age,’ father of several children, one daughter being aged 14. In his time the name of Carver, alias Calver, was common in the midland counties, and the best conjecture is that he came from Nottinghamshire. He was one of the chief exiles who took refuge in Holland in 1607–8. Carver became a deacon of Robinson's church at Leyden, and was agent for the expedition to New England. In 1619, through Sir Edward Sandys, the exiles obtained a patent for South Virginia. Carver made agreements with London merchants to assist the expedition with shipping and money, the emigrants mortgaging their labour and trade for seven years. Carver's estate and others were thrown into one common fund. The Speedwell, of Holland, 60 tons, and the Mayflower, of London, 180 tons, were provided. The pastor, Robinson, addressed his parting letters to Carver. The Speedwell proving unfit for the voyage, the Mayflower after various delays left Plymouth on 6 Sept. 1620, with Carver and a hundred other emigrants. After a difficult passage they reached Cape Cod harbour in Massachusetts, where a new compact was drawn up and signed by 41 persons, including 39 colonists proper, who, with 18 wives, 1 spinster, 19 sons, 6 daughters, 12 serving-men, 5 serving-boys, and 2 maidservants, constituted the colony of 104 persons.
Carver was chosen governor for the first year, and was in the two boat expeditions to discover a site for a settlement. On 11 Dec. a fine bay was found with a good site for buildings. Carver, Howland (his future son-in-law), Standish, Bradford (second governor), and fourteen others stepped from the shallop on to a rock in the district called Patukset. The upper portion of that rock now stands as a memorial in the public square of New Plymouth, built on the spot, and is known as the ‘Forefathers' Rock.’ Having brought the ship round, in five days they commenced building the town of Plymouth. On 31 Jan. 1620–1 divine service was held ashore for the first time, and, in accordance with the resolve made on leaving home that they should form ‘an absolute church by themselves,’ the American independent church was established. The winter was mild, but a heavy mortality followed. Carver suffered much from January to March. On 22 March 1621 Carver made a treaty with the Indian chiefs. The next day he was confirmed governor for the ensuing year; but in April, after the Mayflower returned to England, he received a sunstroke while toiling in the field, and died soon after.
By every writer Carver is described as grave, pious, prudent, self-denying, and judicious. His wife survived him six weeks only. The records of Leyden church show that her christian name was Catharine. Carver's family in the Mayflower consisted of eight persons—himself, his wife, Desire Minter, a maid-servant, two men-servants and two boys (John Howland, Roger Wilder, William Latham, and Jasper More). The last died in 1620. In 1627 there was not a person named Carver in the colony. Many pedigrees have been constructed asserting lineal descent from Carver, who does not seem to have had any children. The William Carver who died in 1760, aged 102, could not have been Carver's grandson, as reputed. John Howland, grandson of a brother of Bishop Howland, married Elizabeth Tilley, and, although unrelated to Carver, shared in the early divisions of property. He died, the last but three of the pilgrim fathers, in 1673; his wife died in 1687. Their four sons and four daughters have left numerous descendants.
Carver's chair is preserved in the Pilgrims' Hall, Plymouth, and his broadsword is in the cabinet of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston. In 1790 the southern portion of the township of Plympton, county Plymouth, was incorporated as ‘Carver.’