Elizabeth Poole left the comforts of her family manor house in England to join the Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony.
She was 48, unmarried, rich and well-connected. Her family had come to England with William the Conqueror. Her father had been knighted by King James I. Her mother was the daughter of the Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, who had been knighted by Queen Elizabeth I.
John Winthrop called Elizabeth, ‘a gentlewoman, an ancient maid.’
She was a devout Puritan. A sister and a brother, William, also migrated to Plymouth Colony. Elizabeth decided she wanted to convert Native Americans to Christianity. She would become the first woman to found a town in the Americas.
Elizabeth Poole left England on April 22, 1637 on the Speedwell with two friends, 14 servants, goods and 20 tons of salt for preserving fish. William and his family were probably already there. Another sister married the Rev. Nicholas Street, one of the first ministers in Taunton.
Soon after she arrived, Elizabeth Poole bought a large tract of land in a settlement called Cohanett from Massasoit. A few Pilgrims had already settled there.
Winthrop wrote that she ‘endured much hardship, and lost much cattle.’
By the beginning of 1639, there were seven freemen in the settlement, probably with their families and servants and possibly others.
On March 3, 1639, Taunton was incorporated as a town. Within four years, there were 54 men between the age of 16 and 64 living in Taunton. A meetinghouse, the First Parish Church, was built on Church Green in 1640. In 1652, Elizabeth Poole helped found an ironworks, one of the first in North America, on the Two Mile River.
Elizabeth Poole died at the age of 65. She is buried in Taunton, and her gravestone reads:
Here rest the remains of Elizabeth Poole, a native of Old England, of good family, friends and prospects, all which she left in the prime of her life, to enjoy the religion of her conscience, in this distant wilderness; a great proprietor of the township of Taunton, a chief promoter of its settlement, and its incorporation in 1639-40; about which time she settled near this spot, and having employed the opportunity of her virgin state in piety, liberality, and sanctity of manners, died May 21, 1664, aged 65.
The descendants of her family lived in the Shute-Barton Manor House until 2009, when it became a National Trust property.