The women who came in the Mayflower
"So they left ye goodly and pleasante citie, which had been ther
resting-place near 12 years; but they knew they were pilgrimes, &
looked not much on those things, but lift up their eyes to ye
heavens, their dearest cuntrie, and quieted their spirits."
--_Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantations. Chap. VII._
December weather in New England, even at its best, is a test of
physical endurance. With warm clothes and sheltering homes today, we
find compensations for the cold winds and storms in the exhilarating
winter sports and the good cheer of the holiday season.
The passengers of _The Mayflower_ anchored in Plymouth harbor,
three hundred years ago, lacked compensations of sports or fireside
warmth. One hundred and two in number when they sailed,--of whom
twenty-nine were women,--they had been crowded for ten weeks into a
vessel that was intended to carry about half the number of
passengers. In low spaces between decks, with some fine weather when
the open hatchways allowed air to enter and more stormy days when they
were shut in amid discomforts of all kinds, they had come at last
within sight of the place where, contrary to their plans, they were
destined to make their settlement.
At Plymouth, England, their last port in September, they had "been
kindly entertained and courteously used by divers friends there
dwelling," [Footnote: Relation or Journal of a Plantation Settled at
Plymouth in New-England and Proceedings Thereof; London, 1622
(Bradford and Winslow) Abbreviated In Purchas' Pilgrim, X; iv; London,
1625.] but they were homeless now, facing a new country with frozen
shores, menaced by wild animals and yet more fearsome savages.
Whatever trials of their good sense and sturdy faith came later, those
days of waiting until shelter could be raised on shore, after the
weeks of confinement, must have challenged their physical and
There must have been exciting days for the women on shipboard and in
landing. There must have been hours of distress for the older and the
delight in adventure which is an unchanging trait of the young of
every race. Wild winds carried away some clothes and cooking-dishes
from the ship; there was a birth and a death, and occasional illness,
besides the dire seasickness. John Howland, "the lustie young man,"
fell overboard but he caught hold of the topsail halyard which hung
extended and so held on "though he was sundry fathoms under water,"
until he was pulled up by a rope and rescued by a boat-hook.
[Footnote: Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation; ch. 9.]
Recent research [Footnote: "The Mayflower," by H. G. Marsden;
Eng. Historical Review, Oct., 1904; The Mayflower Descendant, Jan.,
1916] has argued that the captain of _The Mayflower_ was probably
not _Thomas Jones_, with reputation for severity, but a Master
Christopher Jones of kindlier temper. The former captain was in
Virginia, in September, 1620, according to this account. With the most
generous treatment which the captain and crew could give to the women,
they must have been sorely tried. There were sick to be nursed,
children to be cared for, including some lively boys who played with
powder and nearly caused an explosion at Cape Cod; nourishment must be
found for all from a store of provisions that had been much reduced by