The women who came in the Mayflower by Annie Russell Marble - HTML preview
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COMMUNAL AND FAMILY LIFE IN PLYMOUTH 1621-1623
Spring and summer came to bless them for their endurance and unconscious heroism. Then they could appreciate the verdict of their leaders, who chose the site of Plymouth as a "hopeful place," with running brooks, vines of sassafras and strawberry, fruit trees, fish and wild fowl and "clay excel ent for pots and will wash like soap."
[Footnote: Mourt's Relation] So early was the spring in 1621 that on March the third there was a thunder storm and "the birds sang in the woods most pleasantly." On March the sixteenth, Samoset came with Indian greeting. This visit must have been one of mixed sentiments for the women and we can read more than the mere words in the sentence,
"We lodged him that night at Stephen Hopkins' house and watched him."
[Footnote: Mourt's Relation.] Perhaps it was in deference to the women that the men gave Samoset a hat, a pair of stockings, shoes, a shirt and a piece of cloth to tie about his waist. Samoset returned soon with Squanto or Tisquantum, the only survivor of the Patuxet tribe of Indians which had perished of a pestilence Plymouth three years before. He shared with Hobomok the friendship of the settlers for many years and both Indians gave excel ent service. Through the influence of Squanto the treaty was made in the spring of 1621 with Massasoit, the first League of Nations to preserve peace in the new world.
Squanto showed the men how to plant alewives or herring as fertilizer for the Indian corn. He taught the boys and girls how to gather clams and mussels on the shore and to "tread eels" in the water that is still cal ed Eel River. He gathered wild strawberries and sassafras for the women and they prepared a "brew" which almost equalled their ale of old England. The friendly Indians assisted the men, as the seasons opened, in hunting wild turkeys, ducks and an occasional deer, welcome additions to the store of fish, sea-biscuits and cheese. We are told [Footnote: Mourt's Relation] that Squanto brought also a dog from his Indian friends as a gift to the settlement. Already there were, at least, two dogs, probably brought from Hol and or England, a mastiff and a spaniel [Footnote: Winslow's Narration] to give comfort and companionship to the women and children, and to go with the men into the woods for timber and game.
It seems paradoxical to speak of child-life in this hard-pressed, serious-minded colony, but it was there and, doubtless, it was normal in its joyous and adventuresome impulses. Under eighteen years of age were the girls, Remember and Mary Al erton, Constance and Damaris Hopkins, Elizabeth Tilley and, possibly, Desire Minter and Humility Cooper. The boys were Bartholomew Al erton, who "learned to sound the drum," John Crakston, Wil iam Latham, Giles Hopkins, John and Francis Bil ington, Richard More, Henry Sampson, John Cooke, Resolved White, Samuel Fuller, Love and Wrestling Brewster and the babies, Oceanus Hopkins and Peregrine White. With the exception of Wrestling Brewster and Oceanus Hopkins, al these children lived to ripe old age,--a credit not alone to their hardy constitutions, but also to the care which the Plymouth women bestowed upon their households.
The flowers that grew in abundance about the settlement must have given them joy,--_arbutus_ or "mayflowers," wild roses, blue chicory, Queen Anne's lace, purple asters, golden-rod and the beautiful sabbatia or "sentry" which is stil found on the banks of the fresh ponds near the town and is cal ed "the Plymouth rose."
Edward Winslow tells [Footnote: Relation of the Manners, Customs, etc., of the Indians.] of the drastic use of this bitter plant in developing hardihood among Indian boys. Early in the first year one of these fresh-water ponds, known as Billington Sea, was discovered by Francis Billington when he had climbed a high hill and had reported from it "a smal er sea." Blackberries, blueberries, plums and cherries must have been delights to the women and children. Medicinal herbs were found and used by advice of the Indian friends; the bayberry's virtues as salve, if not as candle-light, were early applied to the comforts of the households. Robins, bluebirds, "Bob Whites" and other birds sang for the pioneers as they sing for the tourist and resident in Plymouth today. The mosquito had a sting,--for Bradford gave a droll and pungent answer to the discontented colonists who had reported, in 1624, that "the people are much annoyed with musquetoes."
He wrote: [Footnote: Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation, Bk. II.] _"They_ are too delicate and unfitte to begin new plantations and colonies that cannot enduer the biting of a muskeet. We would wish such to keep at home til at least they be muskeeto proof. Yet this place is as free as any and experience teacheth that ye land is tild and ye woods cut downe, the fewer there wil be and in the end scarce any at all." The _end_ has not yet come!
Good harvests and some thril ing incidents varied the hard conditions of life for the women during 1621-2. Indian corn and barley furnished a new foundation for many "a savory dish" prepared by the housewives in the mortar and pestles, kettles and skillets which they had brought from Hol and. Nuts were used for food, giving piquant flavor both to
"cakes" baked in the fire and to the stuffing of wild turkeys. The fare was simple, but it must have seemed a feast to the Pilgrims after the months of self-denials and extremity.
Before the winter of 1621-2 was ended, seven log houses had been built and four "common buildings" for storage, meetings and workshops.
Already clapboards and furs were stored to be sent back to England to the merchant adventurers in the first ship. The seven huts, with thatched roofs and chimneys on the outside, probably in cob-house style, were of hewn planks, not of round logs. [Footnote: The Pilgrim Republic, John A. Goodwin, p. 582.] The fireplaces were of stones laid in clay from the abundant sand. In 1628 thatched roofs were condemned because of the danger of fire, [Footnote: Records of the Colony of New Plymouth.] and boards or palings were substituted. During the first two years or longer, light came into the houses through oiled paper in the windows. From the plans left by Governor Bradford and the record of the visit of De Rassieres to Plymouth, in 1627, one can visualize this first street in New England, leading from Plymouth harbor up the hil to the cannon and stockade where, later, was the fort. At the intersection of the first street and a cross-highway stood the Governor's house. It was fitting that the lot nearest to the fort hill should be assigned to Miles Standish and John Alden. Al had free access to the brook where flagons were fil ed for drink and where the clothes were washed.
A few events that have been recorded by Winslow, Bradford and Morton were significant and must have relieved the monotony of life. On January fourth an eagle was shot, cooked and proved "to be excellent meat; it was hardly to be discerned from mutton." [Footnote: Mourt's Relation.] Four days later three seals and a cod were caught; we may assume that they furnished oil, meat and skins for the household.
About the same time, John Goodman and Peter Brown lost their way in the woods, remained out al night, thinking they heard lions roar (mistaking wolves for lions), and on their return the next day John Goodman's feet were so badly frozen "that it was a long time before he was able to go." [Footnote: _Ibid._] Wild geese were shot and used for broth on the ninth of February; the same day the Common House was set ablaze, but was saved from destruction. It is easy to imagine the exciting effects of such incidents upon the band of thirteen boys and seven girls, already enumerated. In July, the cry of "a lost child" aroused the settlement to a search for that "unwhipt rascal,"
John Billington, who had run away to the Nauset Indians at Eastham, but he was found unharmed by a posse of men led by Captain Standish.
To the women one of the most exciting events must have been the marriage on May 22, 1621, of Edward Winslow and Mistress Susanna White. Her husband and two men-servants had died since _The Mayflower_ left England and she was alone to care for two young boys, one a baby a few weeks old. Elizabeth Barker Winslow had died seven weeks before the wedding day. Perhaps the Plymouth women gossiped a little over the brief interval of mourning, but the exigencies of the times easily explained the marriage, which was performed by a magistrate, presumably the Governor.
Even more disturbing to the peaceful life was the first duel on June 18, between Edward Lister and Edward Dotey, both servants of Stephen Hopkins. Tradition ascribed the cause to a quarrel over the attractive elder daughter of their master, Constance Hopkins. The duel was fought with swords and daggers; both youths were slightly wounded in hand and thigh and both were sentenced, as punishment, to have their hands and feet tied together and to fast for twenty-four hours but, says a record, [Footnote: A Chronological History of New England, by Thomas Prence.] "within an hour, because of their great pains, at their own and their master's humble request, upon promise of better carriage, they were released by the Governor." It is easy to imagine this scene: Stephen Hopkins and his wife appealing to the Governor and Captain Standish for leniency, although the settlement was seriously troubled over the occurrence; Elder Brewster and his wife deploring the lack of Christian affection which caused the duel; Edward Winslow and his wife, dignified yet tolerant; Goodwife Helen Billington scolding as usual; Priscilla Mul ins, Mary Chilton and Elizabeth Til ey condoling with the tearful and frightened Constance Hopkins, while the children stand about, excited and somewhat awed by the punishment and the distress of the offenders.
Another day of unusual interest and industry for the householders was the Thanksgiving Day when peace with the Indians and assured prosperity seemed to fol ow the ample harvests. To this feast, which lasted for three days or more, came ninety-one Indians bringing five deer which they had kil ed and dressed. These were a great boon to the women who must prepare meals for one hundred and forty people. Wild turkeys, ducks, fish and clams were procured by the colonists and cooked, perhaps with some marchpanes also, by the more expert cooks. The serious prayers and psalms of the Pilgrims were as amazing to the Indians as were the strange whoops, dances, beads and feathers of the savages marvel ous to the women and children of Plymouth Colony.
In spite of these peaceable incidents there were occasional threats of Indian treachery, like the theft of tools from two woodsmen and the later bold chal enge in the form of a headless arrow wrapped in a snake's skin; the latter was returned promptly and decisively with the skin filled with bul ets, and the danger was over for a time. The stockade was strengthened and, soon after, a palisade was built about the houses with gates that were locked at night. After the fort of heavy timber was completed, this was used also as a meeting-house and
"was fitted accordingly for that use." It is to be hoped that warming-pans and foot-stoves were a part of the "fittings" so that the women might not be benumbed as, with dread of possible Indian attacks, they limned from the old Ainsworth's Psalm Book:
"In the Lord do I trust, how then to my soule doe ye say, As doth a little bird unto your mountaine fly away?
For loe, the wicked bend their bow, their arrows they prepare On string; to shoot at dark at them
In heart that upright are."
Even more exciting than the days already mentioned was the great event of surprise and rejoicing, November 19, 1621, when _The Fortune_
arrived with thirty-five more Pilgrims. Some of these were soon to wed _Mayflower_ passengers. Widow Martha Ford, recently bereft, giving birth on the night of her arrival to a fourth child, was wed to Peter Brown; Mary Becket (sometimes written Bucket) became the wife of George Soule; John Winslow; later married Mary Chilton, and Thomas Cushman, then a lad of fourteen, became the husband, in manhood, of Mary Al erton. His father, Robert Cushman, remained in the settlement while _The Fortune_ was at anchor and left his son as ward for Governor Bradford. The notable sermon which was preached at Plymouth by Robert Cushman at this time (preserved in Pilgrim Hal , Plymouth) was from the text, "Let no man seek his own; but every man another's wealth." Some of the admonitions against swel ing pride and fleshly-minded hypocrites seem to us rather paradoxical when we consider the poverty and self-sacrificing spirit of these pioneers; perhaps, there were selfish and slothful malcontents even in that company of devoted, industrious men and women, for human nature was the same three hundred years ago, in large and smal communities, as it is today, with some relative changes.
Among the passengers brought by _The Fortune_ were some of great helpfulness. Wil iam Wright, with his wife Priscil a (the sister of Governor Bradford's second wife), was an expert carpenter, and Stephen Dean, who came with his wife, was able to erect a small mil and grind corn. Robert Hicks (or Heeks) was another addition to the colony, whose wife was later the teacher of some of the children. Philip De La Noye, progenitor of the Delano family in America, John and Kenelm Winslow and Jonathan Brewster were eligible men to join the group of younger men,--John Alden, John Howland and others.
The great joy in the arrival of these friends was succeeded by an agitating fear regarding the food supply, for _The Fortune_ had suffered from bad weather and its colonists had scarcely any extra food or clothing. By careful allotments the winter was endured and when spring came there were hopes of a large harvest from more abundant sowing, but the hopes were kil ed by the fearful drought which lasted from May to the middle of July. Some lawless and selfish youths frequently stole corn before it was ripe and, although public whipping was the punishment, the evil persisted. These conditions were met with the same courage and determination which ever characterized the leaders; a rationing of the colony was made which would have done credit to a "Hoover." They escaped famine, but the worn, thin faces and "the low condition, both in respect of food and clothing" was a shock to the sixty more colonists who arrived in _The Ann_ and _The James_ in 1623.
The friends who came in these later ships included some women from Leyden, "dear gossips" of _Mayflower_ colonists, women whose resources and characters gave them prominence in the later history of Plymouth. Notable among them was Mrs. Alice Southworth soon to wed Governor Bradford. With her came Barbara, whose surname is surmised to have been Standish, soon to become the wife of Captain Standish.
Bridget Ful er joined her husband, the noble doctor of Plymouth; Elizabeth Warren, with her five daughters, came to make a home for her husband, Richard; Mistress Hester Cooke came with three children, and Fear and Patience Brewster, despite their names, brought joy and cheer to their mother and girlhood friends; they were later wed to Isaac Al erton and Thomas Prence, the Governor.
Fortunately, _The Ann_ and _The James_ brought supplies in liberal measure and also carpenters, weavers and cobblers, for their need was great. _The James_ was to remain for the use of the colony. Rations had been as low as one-quarter pound of bread a day and sometimes their fare was only "a bit of fish or lobster without any bread or relish but a cup of fair spring water." [Footnote: Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation; Bk. II.] It is not strange that Bradford added: "ye long continuance of this diete and their labors abroad had somewhat abated ye freshness of their former complexion."
An important change in the policy of the colony, which affected the women as wel as men, was made at this time. Formerly the administration of affairs had been upon the communal basis. Al the men and grown boys were expected to plant and harvest, fish and hunt for the common use of al the households. The women also did their tasks in common. The results had been unsatisfactory and, in 1623, a new division of land was made, allotting to member householder an acre for each member of his family. This arrangement, which was cal ed
"every man for his owne particuler," was told by Bradford with a comment which shows that the women were human beings, not saints nor martyrs. He wrote: "The women now went wil ingly into ye field, and tooke their little-ones with them to set corne, which before would aledge weaknes and inabilitie; whom to have compel ed would have bene thought great tiranie and oppression." After further comment upon the failure of communism as "breeding confusion and discontent" he added this significant comment: "For ye yong-men that were most able and fitte for labour and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense.... And for men's wives to be commanded to doe servise for other men, as dresing their meate, washing their cloathes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slaverie, neither could many husbands well brooke it."
If food was scarce, even a worse condition existed as to clothing in the summer of 1623. Tradition has ascribed several spinning-wheels and looms to the women who came in _The Mayflower_, but we can scarcely believe that such comforts were generously bestowed. There could have been little material or time for their use. Much skilful weaving and spinning of linen, flax, and wool came in later Colonial history. The women must have been taxed to keep the clothes mended for their families as protection against the cold and storms. The quantity on hand, after the stress of the two years, would vary according to the supplies which each brought from Hol and or England; in some families there were sheets and "pil ow-beeres" with "clothes of substance and comeliness," but other households were scantily supplied. A somewhat crude but interesting bal ad, cal ed "Our Forefathers' Song," is given by tradition from the lips of an old lady aged ninety-four years, in 1767. If the suggestion is accurate that she learned this from her mother or grandmother, its date would approximate the early days of Plymouth history. More probably it was written much later, but it has a reminiscent flavor of those days of poverty and brave spirit:
"The place where we live is a wilderness wood, Where grass is much wanted that's fruitful and good; Our mountains and hil s and our val eys below, Are commonly covered with frost and with snow.
"Our clothes we brought with us are apt to be torn, They need to be clouted soon after they are worn, But clouting our garments they hinder us nothing, Clouts _double_ are warmer than _single_ whole clothing.
"If fresh meate be wanted to fil up our dish, We have carrots and turnips whenever we wish, And if we've a mind for a delicate dish, We go to the clam-bank and there we catch fish.
"For pottage and puddings and custards and pies, Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies!
We have pumpkin at morning and pumpkin at noon, If it was not for pumpkin we should be undoon."
[Footnote: The Pilgrim Fathers; W. H. Bartlett, London, 1852.]
What did these Pilgrim women wear? The manifest answer is,--what they had in stock. No more absurd idea was ever invented than the picture of these Pilgrims "in uniform," gray gowns with dainty white collars and cuffs, with stiff caps and dark capes. They wore the typical garments of the period for men and women in England. There is no evidence that they adopted, to any extent, Dutch dress, for they were proud of their English birth; they left Hol and partly for fear that their young people might be educated or enticed away from English standards of conduct. [Footnote: Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation, ch. 4.] Mrs. Alice Morse Earle has emphasized wisely
[Footnote: Two Centuries of Costume in America; N. Y., 1903.] that the
"sad-colored" gowns and coats mentioned in wills were not "dismal"; the list of colors so described in England included (1638) "russet, purple, green, tawny, deere colour, orange colour, buffs and scarlet."
The men wore doublets and jerkins of browns and greens, and cloaks with red and purple linings. The women wore full skirts of say, paduasoy or silk of varied colors, long, pointed stomachers,--often with bright tone,--ful , sometimes puffed or slashed sleeves, and lace collars or "whisks" resting upon the shoulders. Sometimes the gowns were plaited or silk-laced; they often opened in front showing petticoats that were quilted or embroidered in brighter colours. Broadcloth gowns of russet tones were worn by those who could not afford silks and satins; sometimes women wore doublets and jerkins of black and browns. For dress occasions the men wore black velvet jerkins with white ruffs, like those in the authentic portrait of Edward Winslow. Velvet and quilted hoods of al colors and sometimes caps, flat on the head and meeting below the chin with fullness, are shown in existent portraits of English women and early colonists.
Among relics that are dated back to this early period are the slipper
[Footnote: In Pilgrim Hal , Plymouth.] belonging to Mistress Susanna White Winslow, narrow, pointed, with lace trimmings, and an embroidered lace cap that has been assigned to Rose Standish.
[Footnote: Two Centuries of Costume In America; Earle.] Sometimes the high ruffs were worn above the shoulders instead of "whisks." The children were dressed like miniature men and women; often the girls wore aprons, as did the women on occasions; these were narrow and edged with lace. "Petty coats" are mentioned in wil s among the garments of the women. We would not assume that in 1621-2 _al _
the women in Plymouth colony wore silken or even homespun clothes of prevailing English fashion. Many of these that are mentioned in inventories and retained heirlooms, with rich laces and embroideries, were brought later from England; probably Winslow, Allerton and even Standish brought back such gifts to the women when they made their trips to England in 1624 and later. If the pioneer women had laces and embroideries of gold they probably hoarded them as precious heirlooms during those early years of want, for they were too sensible to wear and to waste them. As prosperity came, however, and new elements entered the colony they were, doubtless, affected by the law of the General Court, in 1634, which forbade further acquisition of laces, threads of silver and gold, needle-work caps, bands and rails, and silver girdles and belts. This law was enacted _not_ by the Pilgrims of Plymouth, but by the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony.
When Edward Winslow returned in _The Charity_, in 1624, he brought not alone a "goodly supply of clothing" [Footnote: Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation, Bk. 2.] but,--far more important,--the first bul and heifers that were in Plymouth. The old tradition of the white bul on which Priscilla Alden rode home from her marriage, in 1622 or early 1623, must be rejected. This valuable addition of "neat cattle" to the resources of the colony caused a redistribution of land and shares in the "stock." By 1627 a partnership or "purchas" had been, arranged, for assuming the debts and maintenance of the Plymouth colony, freed from further responsibility to "the adventurers" in London. The new division of lots included also some of the cattle. It was specified, for instance, that Captain Standish and Edward Winslow were to share jointly "the Red Cow which belongeth to the poor of the colony to which they must keep her Calfe of this yeare being a Bul for the Companie, Also two shee goats." [Footnote: Records of the Colony of New Plymouth In New England, edited by David Pulslfer, 1861.] Elder Brewster was granted
"one of the four Heifers came in _The Jacob_ cal ed the Blind Heifer."
Among interesting sidelights upon the economic and social results of this extension of land and cattle is the remark of Bradford:
[Footnote: Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation, Bk. 2.] "Some looked for building great houses, and such pleasant situations for them as themselves had fancied, as if they would be great men and rich all of a suddaine; but they proved castles in air." Within a short time, however, with the rapid increase of children and the need of more pasturage for the cattle, many of the leading men and women drifted away from the original confines of Plymouth towards Duxbury, Marshfield, Scituate, Bridgewater and Eastham. Agriculture became their primal concern, with the allied pursuits of fishing, hunting and trading with the Indians and white settlements that were made on Cape Cod and along the Kennebec.
Soon after 1630 the families of Captain Standish, John Alden, and Jonathan Brewster (who had married the sister of John Oldham), Thomas Prence and Edward Winslow were settled on large farms in Duxbury and Marshfield. This loss to the Plymouth settlement was deplored by Bradford both for its social and religious results. April 2, 1632,
[Footnote: Records of the Colony of New Plymouth In New England, edited by David Pulslfer, 1861.] a pledge was taken by Alden, Standish, Prence, and Jonathan Brewster that they would "remove their families to live in the towne in the winter-time that they may the better repair to the service of God." Such arrangement did not long continue, however, for in 1633 a church was established at Duxbury and the Plymouth members who lived there "were dismiste though very unwillingly." [Footnote: Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation, Bk. 2.] Later the families of Francis Eaton, Peter Brown and George Soule joined the Duxbury colony. Hobomok, ever faithful to Captain Standish had a wigwam near his master's home until, in his old age, he was removed to the Standish house, where he died in 1642.
The women who had come in the earlier ships and had lived close to neighbors at Plymouth must have had lonely hours on their farms in spite of large families and many tasks. Wolves and other wild animals were sometimes near, for traps for them were decreed and allotted. Chance Indians prowled about and the stoutest hearts must have quailed when some of the recorded hurricanes and storms of 1635
and 1638 uncovered houses, felled trees and corn. In the main, however, there was peace and many of the families became prosperous; we find evidence in their wil s, several of which have been deciphered from the original records by George Ernest Bowman, editor of the
"Mayflower Descendants," [Footnote: Editorial rooms at 53 Mt. Vernon St., Boston.] issued quarterly. By the aid of such records and a few family heirlooms of unquestioned genuineness, it is possible to suggest some individual silhouettes of the women of early Plymouth, in addition to the glimpses of their communal life.