More Pilgrim Thoughts

Mom and Dad's corner

I discovered on my visit to Plimoth Plantation that each dwelling mirrors one of the Pilgrim’s homes, reconstructed based on the diaries and journals they kept, and the archeological evidence unearthed, and on artifacts that were kept in families through the centuries. Though some were a bit larger than others, they shared more similarities than distinctions.

One room with open hearth

Each home was one or two rooms with an open hearth in one of the corners with a chimney directly above, and usually a loft for the children or boarders.  The homes had similar sparse furnishings–a bed in a corner, a trunk or two, a few baskets, some cooking utensils, and a shelf upon which sat the family books and table settings.

Before my visit to Plimoth Plantation, I had thought that when each family moved out of the colony on their own, they would choose large pieces of land–claiming acreage like they did in Oklahoma and Texas a couple centuries later.  But far from it!  Each adult in the colony looked forward to paying the collective debt, and then receiving their share, which was one acre per adult in the household and 1/2 acre per child.  What??  The families settling the new world would end up with less than five acres apiece?

It was then that a few thoughts came together for me. These folks came across the sea to purposefully begin a township with trade and merchants.

Leyden Street in 1627
Leyden Street today -- not much different than 1699

Though they needed to plant seed for corn, and herbs for cooking and medicine, nobody was hankering to go west as farmers and ranchers and leave civilization behind. These folks were bringing civilization, and looked forward to being in it again.  The difference in the new land for them was not city life and country life, but rather city life without religious persecution. (Unless, of course, you weren’t a separatist.)

The kitchen garden

They eagerly looked forward to the annual ships arriving with the goods they were used to in Holland and in England–fresh, ready-made clothes, sugar, and spices.  As they began to build their homes, they sent orders back to England for windows, dishes, linens, baskets, and other items they been without for a few years.

Basically, the Pilgrims were camping–roughing it by choice, until that glorious day when the debt was paid, and they could begin to invest in their livelihoods and build proper houses along Leyden Street.

A proper Pilgrim home

Pilgrim Fabrics

Mrs. William Bradford, hemming an apron

I’ve been traveling to Plymouth, MA from Texas for work over the last few months. As is typical of most business trips, I wasn’t seeing anything in the town other than the car, the hotel, and the conference room at the office. Finally, I just couldn’t bear it! Plymouth, of all places! I had to see at least something Pilgrim-ish, or never eat Thanksgiving dinner again. So, on my final trip, I went a day early to hang out at Plimouth Plantation,  a “living” museum of the village that operates perpetually in the year 1627. I was particularly interested in….of course…fabrics.

Mrs. William Bradford, enjoying the lovely weather while hemming an apron, was kind enough to let me get up close to see the weave on her clothing.

Notice the stitching on the hem

I asked her if anyone in the village had a spinning wheel (yes, they talk only in character!) and she said, “Oh, no! We buy our clothes ready made when the ship comes once a year.”

These actors were very knowledgeable, actually, about the characters they were portraying, and also lots of details about the village–Mrs. Alden was even cooking a tansy (spinach, bread, & eggs), taking coals from her open hearth and sticking them under an iron skillet on little legs to cook it. Fascinating!  My taxi driver said the actors come from all over the country and stay 6 months at a time in houses near the village. They study up on the history of the period, read the journals and diaries left behind, and love to chat about 1627! (The Pilgrims arrived in 1620.)

Sturdy cloth to withstand wear and tear

I also learned that back in Holland, where they lived as a community for some years before coming to Plymouth, this group of women did not do much spinning of their own to make fabrics.  Living in the large city of Leyden, they purchased their clothing ready made, or bolts of cloth if they wanted to sew something on their own. But it bears repeating that although they themselves weren’t the ones spinning the threads that were ultimately woven into the fabrics they were wearing or purchasing….someone’s pair of hands were, since every thread woven into a cloth in 1627 was handspun and handwoven!

Bed curtains for warmth and privacy in the one-room cottages