Dr. Patricia Moseley Stanford



by Jane Porter

It was March, 1624. The long New England winter had passed and there were signs of spring in the air. One day a sail was seen entering the harbor at Plymouth. Imagine the eagerness with which the men, women, and children gathered on the beach to await the landing of the ship's boat.

In the group gathered on the beach we might have found Bartholomew Allerton, twelve years old, and his sister Mary, eight; Richard More, eleven years old; Oceanus Hopkins and Peregrine White, both four, and born on the "Mayflower" during the trip which brought the colonists from England; and little Elizabeth Alden, about two years old, the daughter of the famous Priscilla and John Alden. Many other children were there.

Those first four years had been very hard indeed. The "Mayflower" had arrived in Plymouth Harbor in the middle of winter. On the shore there were no towns or houses, but only fields and woods. The nearest white men were in Virginia, six hundred miles to the south, and in Canada, an equal distance to the north.

The men went on shore and began cutting down trees to build houses, but the work was slow and they were hindered by storms and sickness.

Most of the time there was not enough food to eat. The supplies they had brought from England were running low. Although there were fish in the sea, these people did not know very much about catching fish. In the forests were deer and turkey, but the people were afraid at first to go very far into the woods for fear of getting lost or being attacked by the Indians.

Before that first long winter was over, half of the little band had died. But those who were left had endured many hardships before coming to America and they felt that God would help them in their trials. The few who were healthy nursed the sick, cooked the little food they had, and worked to build houses.

In the spring a friendly and helpful Indian, Squanto, came to live with the colonists and taught them many useful things about the new country.

Probably the most important thing that the colonists learned was how to grow and use com. Corn was not grown in Europe so the settlers did not know what good food it could be. Think of the many foods we eat that are made from corn: roasting ears, succotash, hominy, and corn bread are a few. Everyone worked, and when the harvest was gathered in the fall it seemed that there would be enough food to last the winter. They gave thanks to God for the good harvest.

The food problem was, however, not yet solved. Each spring and fall, ships would arrive bringing more settlers. Among the new arrivals were some mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends who had not been able to come on the "Mayflower." But many were "strangers" who had been sent over. These newcomers brought no food or clothing with and both boys and girls wore cloaks (long capes) in cold weather.

We can imagine that after living for four years in the wilderness with almost no new clothes, these children of Plymouth were a rather ragged-looking group as they waited on the beach that day in March. 1624.

The arrival of the ship as it anchored in Plymouth Harbor thrilled the Pilgrims. There would be letters from friends in England and Holland. There would be joyful reunions as some old friends arrived to join the little band. Word had been received that this ship would bring badly needed fanning tools, fishing equipment, and new clothes.

But there was also a very pleasant surprise on board this ship. The Pilgrim Fathers had asked their friends in England to send them some cattle. To ship a cow across the ocean in those days was very difficult, but this boat brought three cows and a bull. Imagine the wonder with which the children watched as those strange animals were unloaded. Most of them could not remember ever having seen a cow, and some of the younger boys and girls had never tasted cow's milk.

From this time on, life in the colony was a little easier. There were no more winters of starving. Enough corn was raised so that after everyone had been fed there was some left over to sell. Timber and furs were sent to England and in return the Pilgrims could get some things they needed.

The children of Plymouth were not unlike boys and girls today.- In winter they skated on the ice and in summer they ran races, jumped, and played games.

There were few toys except those that the children made themselves, but there were pets. Two dogs, a mastiff and a spaniel, had been brought over on the "Mayflower."

The Pilgrims did not celebrate Christmas or any other religious holiday because they believed that the things people did on Christmas. such as decorating their houses. burning Yule logs, singing Christmas carols, and giving gifts, had been taken from pagan religions and were not connected with the birth ot Christ at all.

The Pilgrims did have many thanksgiving days. Some of these were days of prayer and the giving of thanks to God for some particular favor, such as a good harvest, a much-needed rain, or a ship brought safely into harbor.

Sunday, or "the Sabbath" as the Pilgrims called it, was a very important day. All work, even to the preparation of food, was finished by Saturday night. On Sunday they were called to church by the beat of a drum. They gathered in front of Captain Standish's house and walked three abreast. Each man ocarried his gun because they were always afraid of attack.

In the meetinghouse, the men and boys sat on one side and the women and girls on the other side.

Church was an all-day affair running roughly from eight to twelve and two to five. The Pilgrims sang the psalms as part of their worship service. Elder William Brewster "taught twice" each Sabbath, meaning that he gave a sermon both morning and afternoon. The sermons were usually very long, and we can imagine that the boys and girls sometimes had a hard' time staying awake.

Following the afternoon service, the members of each family gathered together (including the servants), and they were questioned by the head of the household as to the meaning of the sermons they had heard. For it was the duty of the head of the house to see that everyone therein was receiving proper religious instruction.