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The women who came in the Mayflower by Annie Russell Marble - HTML preview

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"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 al 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 dwel ing," [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 chal enged their physical and spiritual fortitude.

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,"

fel 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 pul ed 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 the delays and necessary sales to satisfy their "merchant adventurers"

before they left England. They slept on damp bedding and wore musty clothes; they lacked exercise and water for drink or cleanliness.

Joyful for them must have been the day recorded by Winslow and Bradford, [Footnote: Relation or Journal, etc. (1622).]--"On Monday the thirteenth of November our people went on shore to refresh themselves and our women to wash, as they had great need."

During the anxious days when the abler men were searching on land for a site for the settlement, first on Cape Cod and later at Plymouth, there were events of excitement on the ship left in the harbor.

Peregrine White was born and his father's servant, Edward Thompson, died. Dorothy May Bradford, the girl-wife of the later Governor of the colony, was drowned during his absence. There were murmurings and threats against the leaders by some of the crew and others who were impatient at the long voyage, scant comforts and uncertain future.

Possibly some of the complaints came from women, but in the hearts of most of them, although no women signed their names, was the resolution that inspired the men who signed that compact in the cabin of _The Mayflower_,--"to promise al due submission and obedience." They had pledged their "great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundation for ye propagating and advancing ye gospell of ye kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of ye world; yea, though they should be but as stepping-stones unto others for ye performing of so great a work"; with such spirit they had been impel ed to leave Hol and and such faith sustained them on their long journey.

Many of the women who were pioneers at Plymouth had suffered severe hardships in previous years. They could sustain their own hearts and encourage the younger ones by remembrance of the passage from England to Holland, twelve years before, when they were searched most cruel y, even deprived of their clothes and belongings by the ship's master at Boston. Later they were abandoned by the Dutchman at Hul , to wait for fourteen days of frightful storm while their husbands and protectors were carried far away in a ship towards the coast of Norway, "their little ones hanging about them and quaking with cold."

[Footnote: Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation; ch. 2.]

There were women with frail bodies, like Rose Standish and Katherine Carver, but there were strong physiques and dauntless hearts sustained to great old age, matrons like Susanna White and Elizabeth Hopkins and young women like Priscilla Mul ins, Mary Chilton, Elizabeth Tilley and Constance Hopkins. In our imaginations today, few women correspond to the clinging, fainting figures portrayed by some of the painters of

"The Departure" or "The Landing of the Pilgrims." We may more readily believe that most of the women were upright and alert, peering anxiously but courageously into the future. Writing in 1910, John Masefield said: [Footnote: Introduction to Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers (Everyman's Library).] "A generation fond of pleasure, disinclined towards serious thought, and shrinking from hardship, even if it may be swiftly reached, will find it difficult to imagine the temper, courage and manliness of the emigrants who made the first Christian settlement of New England." Ten years ago it would have been as difficult for women of our day to understand adequately the womanliness of the Pilgrim matrons and girls. The anxieties and self-denials experienced by women of all lands during the last five years may help us to "imagine" better the dauntless spirit of these women of New-Plymouth. During those critical months of 1621-1623 they sustained their households and assisted the men in establishing an orderly and religious colony. We may justly affirm that some of "the wisdom, prudence and patience and just and equal carriage of things by the better part" [Footnote: Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation; Bk. II.] was manifested among the women as wel as the men.

In spite of the spiritual zeal which comes from devotion to a good cause, and the inspiration of steady work, the women must have suffered from homesickness, as wel as from anxiety and il ness. They had left in Holland not alone their loved pastor, John Robinson, and their valiant friend, Robert Cushman, but many fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters besides their "dear gossips." Mistress Brewster yearned for her elder son and her daughters, Fear and Patience; Priscilla Mullins and Mary Chilton, soon to be left orphans, had been separated from older brothers and sisters. Disease stalked among them on land and on shipboard like a demon. Before the completion of more than two or three of the one-room, thatched houses, the deaths were multiplying. Possibly this disease was typhus fever; more probably it was a form of infectious pneumonia, due to enervated conditions of the body and to exposures at Cape Cod. Winslow declared, in his account of the expedition on shore, "It blowed and did snow all that day and night and froze withal. Some of our people that are dead took the original of their death there." Had the disease been "galloping consumption," as has been suggested sometimes, it is not probable that many of those "sick unto death" would have recovered and have lived to be octogenarians.

The toll of deaths increased and the illness spread until, at one time, there were only "six or seven sound persons" to minister to the sick and to bury the dead. Fifteen of the twenty-nine women who sailed from England and Hol and were buried on Plymouth hil side during the winter and spring. They were: Rose Standish; Elizabeth, wife of Edward Winslow; Mary, wife of Isaac Allerton; Sarah, wife of Francis Eaton; Katherine, wife of Governor John Carver; Alice, wife of John Rigdale; Ann, wife of Edward Fuller; Bridget and Ann Til ey, wives of John and Edward; Alice, wife of John Mul ins or Molines; Mrs. James Chilton; Mrs. Christopher Martin; Mrs. Thomas Tinker; possibly Mrs. John Turner, and El en More, the orphan ward of Edward Winslow. Nearly twice as many men as women died during those fateful months of 1621. Can we "imagine" the courage required by the few women who remained after this devastation, as the wolves were heard howling in the night, the food supplies were fast disappearing, and the houses of shelter were delayed in completion by "frost and much foul weather,"

and by the very few men in physical condition to rive timber or to thatch roofs? The common house, twenty foot square, was crowded with the sick, among them Carver and Bradford, who were obliged "to rise in good speed" when the roof caught on fire, and their loaded muskets in rows beside the beds threatened an explosion. [Footnote: Mourt's Relation.]

Although the women's strength of body and soul must have been sapped yet their fidelity stood wel the test; when _The Mayflower_ was to return to England in April and the captain offered free passage to the women as well as to any men who wished to go, if the women "would cook and nurse such of the crew as were il ," not a man or a woman accepted the offer. Intrepid in bravery and faith, the women did their part in making this lonely, impoverished settlement into a home. This required adjustments of many kinds. Few in number, the women represented distinctive classes of society in birth and education. In Leyden, for seven years, they had chosen their friends and there they formed a happy community, in spite of some poverty and more anxiety about the education and morals of their children, because of "the manifold temptations" [Footnote: Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation, ch. 3.] of the Dutch city.

Many of the men, on leaving England, had renounced their more leisurely occupations and professions to practise trades in Leyden,--Brewster and Winslow as printers, Allerton as tailor, Dr.

Samuel Fuller as say-weaver and others as carpenters, wool-combers, masons, cobblers, pewterers and in other crafts. A few owned residences near the famous University of Leyden, where Robinson and Brewster taught. Some educational influences would thus fal upon their families. [Footnote: The England and Hol and of the Pilgrims, Henry M. Dexter and Morton Dexter, Boston, 1905.] On the other hand, others were recorded as "too poor to be taxed." Until July, 1620, there were two hundred and ninety-eight known members of this church in Leyden with nearly three hundred more associated with them. Such economic and social conditions gave to the women certain privileges and pleasures in addition to the interesting events in this picturesque city.

In _The Mayflower_ and at Plymouth, on the other hand, the women were thrust into a smal company with widely differing tastes and backgrounds. One of the first demands made upon them was for a democratic spirit,--tolerance and patience, adaptability to varied natures. The old joke that "the Pilgrim Mothers had to endure not alone their hardships but the Pilgrim Fathers also" has been overworked. These women would never have accepted pity as martyrs. They came to this new country with devotion to the men of their families and, in those days, such a call was supreme in a woman's life. They sorrowed for the women friends who had been left behind,--the wives of Dr. Fuller, Richard Warren, Francis Cooke and Degory Priest, who were to come later after months of anxious waiting for a message from New-Plymouth.

The family, not the individual, characterized the life of that community. The father was always regarded as the "head" of the family. Evidence of this is found when we try to trace the posterity of some of the pioneer women from the Old Plymouth Colony Records. A child is there recorded as "the son of Nicholas Snow," "the son of John Winslow" or "the daughter of Thomas Cushman" with no hint that the mothers of these children were, respectively, Constance Hopkins, Mary Chilton and Mary Al erton, all of whom came in _The Mayflower,_ although the fathers arrived at Plymouth later on _The Fortune_ and _The Ann_.

It would be unjust to assume that these women were conscious heroines.

They wrought with courage and purpose equal to these traits in the men, but probably none of the Pilgrims had a definite vision of the future. With words of appreciation that are applicable to both sexes, ex-President Charles W. Eliot has said: [Footnote: Eighteenth Annual Dinner of Mayflower Society, Nov. 20, 1913.] "The Pilgrims did not know the issue and they had no vision of it. They just loved liberty and toleration and truth, and hoped for more of it, for more liberty, for a more perfect toleration, for more truth, and they put their lives, their labors, at the disposition of those loves without the least vision of this republic, or of what was going to come out of their industry, their devotion, their dangerous and exposed lives."