John Alden (1599–September 22 1689) was a tradesman who emigrated to America in 1620 with the Pilgrims on the Mayflower and was among the founders of the Plymouth Colony. He was originally hired by William Bradford and others to be their cooper. Though he could have returned to England the following year, he chose to stay in the new colony. On the 12th of May, 1622, he married Priscilla Mullins, with whom he had many children. He was one of the first settlers of Duxburrough or Duxborough, known today as Duxbury, Massachusetts, where he lived for most of his life. From 1633 until 1675 he was assistant to the governor of the colony, frequently serving as acting governor and also sat on many juries, including one of the two witch trials in the Plymouth Colony.
There are several theories regarding Alden's ancestry. According to William Bradford's Of Plimoth Plantation, he was hired as a cooper in Southampton, England just before the voyage to America. In The English Ancestry and Homes of the Pilgrim Fathers, Charles Edward Banks suggested that John was the son of George and Jane Alden and grandson of Richard and Avys Alden of Southampton. However, there are no further occurrences of the names George, Richard, and Avys in his family which would have been unusual in the seventeenth century.
Another theory is that John Alden came from Harwich, England where there are records of an Alden family who were related by marriage to Christopher Jones, the Mayflower's captain. In this case, he may have been the son of John Alden and Elizabeth Daye.
In 1634 Alden was jailed in Boston for a fight at Kenebeck in Maine between members of the Plymouth Colony and the Massachusetts Bay Colony. While Alden did not take part in the fight (which left one person dead) he was the highest ranking member the Massachusetts Bay colonists could get their hands on, and it was only through the intervention of Bradford that he was eventually released.
In later years Alden became known for his intense dislike of the Quakers and Baptists, who were trying to settle on Cape Cod. A letter survives complaining that Alden was too strict when it came to dealing with them.
At the time of his death, at Duxbury on September 12, 1687, he was the last male survivor of the signers of the Mayflower Compact of 1620, and with the exception of Mary Allerton, he was the last survivor of the Mayflower's company.
He is remembered chiefly because of a popular legend, put into verse in 1858 as The Courtship of Miles Standish by his descendant Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, concerning his courtship of Priscilla Mullins, whom he married in 1623 after having wooed her first on behalf of his friend, Miles Standish. There is no known historic basis to the legend.
John Alden's House, in Duxbury, built in 1653, is open to the public as a museum. It is run by the Alden Kindred of America, an organization which provides historical information about him and his home, including genealogical records of his descendants.
Alden and his wife Priscilla lie buried in the Miles Standish Burial Ground in Duxbury.
John and Priscilla had the following children who survived to adulthood: Elizabeth, John (accused during the Salem witch trials), Joseph, Priscilla, Jonathan, Sarah, Ruth, Mary, Rebecca, and David. They have the most descendants today of all the pilgrim families.