They Knew They Were Pilgrims

The 17th Century Adventures of Plimoth Plantation's Colonial Interpreters

Thus Sayeth The Pilgrim

May 6th, 2015 by Sally

Before I go on, dear friends, I must make a confession. I almost didn’t publish this post. Once I had written it, I read it through and thought “well, this makes us sound like a bunch of history obsessed weirdos”. But then it occurred to me that we actually ARE a bunch of history obsessed weirdos. And perhaps at least some of us are proud of this fact! So here it is, for all the internet to see, some deep insight into the hearts and minds of Plimoth Plantation’s Historical Interpreters.


Being an Historical Interpreter comes with many unique work-based situations. For instance, one day at the office, I plucked and gutted a chicken. Then I cooked the liver and fed it to my child volunteer who was actually looking forward to eating it. On beautiful spring days, I get to look out of my office window and see this:


In addition to the uniqueness of both our surroundings and our work, all our Interpreters are special in another way. We like to talk. As legendary veteran Scott Atwood likes to say, “if we got paid by the word, we’d all be rich”. We talk about anything and everything with our visitors, no topic is taboo. Bathroom habits of the early modern man, how to geld a rooster, the terrible conditions of our prisons, the biblical arguments for predestination, we’ve got it all covered. In addition to these, potentially embarrassing or controversial, conversations, there are things we say between us Pilgrims that one would never expect to say IRL. That’s what this post is about.

Stuff Pilgrims Say.

“If we’re not married next year, we should be brother and sister.”

mr and mrs

Perhaps one of the strangest things about our workplace is the fact that so many of our colleagues have been our fake family members. And not too unlike our real families, or perhaps in your “normal” workplace, there are some people you work well with and some people you may not. You may not even realise how annoying your fake sister actually is until you spend your first rainy day together stuck in the house…ahem…Anyway, I think there is something pretty special about finding a coworker who can be both a convincing fake husband/mother/father/sister/brother/child and a good friend at the same time. Some of my best friends are ex-fake-family. We are lucky enough to work with a surprisingly diverse range of really incredible people, so there’s a fake someone for everyone!

“I’m really sorry I’m not going to get to see you die tomorrow.”

Mary Brewster Dying

Throughout the interpretive year, we schedule special events based on real things that we know happened in Plymouth Colony that year. For instance, we know that on April 17th, 1627, Mary Brewster passes away. So, we have been known to plan a sickness and dying scenario around this actual historical event. It may sound morbid, and I can attest to the fact that sitting at your (albeit fake) mother’s bedside as she fades from this vale of tears is certainly an emotional experience, but it is an important reality of life (and death). If we are to accurately represent our early settlers, and out of respect for their real lives, I believe we should represent their losses as well as their gains. Of course, our Separatist friends, like the Brewster family, would say that “to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), so a sickness and dying scenario is not necessarily all doom and gloom.

“Can you help me get my belly on straight?”


Here’s another reality of life: pregnancy. Last year, I “played pregnant” for a month or so. We have a pregnancy pillow which affixes underneath your petticoats and makes you look approximately nine months pregnant. I think it’s fairly convincing, although it’s certainly challenging to work out how that much extra weight on your front should change the way that you move in general. This year, I’ve been experiencing it all for real. Coming soon to a blog near you, a post entitled “Yes, I am really pregnant (but no, I’m not really going to give birth in that bed)”. I’m not quite as far along as the pregnancy pillow, but when I am, I’ll make sure to post a comparison picture. I will say that (at least for now) a real pregnant belly is much more comfortable than a pretend one. For one thing, I don’t have to worry about my real belly falling off as I walk down the hill…!

“I made somebody cry! Yay!”

sad barrel man

When we head up the dressing room at the end of the day, the conversation inevitably turns to sharing the day’s highs and lows. The one that tends to get the biggest cheer is when someone has created such an emotional moment that the guest has been moved to tears. That’s the true beauty of our first-person interactions. We don’t just teach history by telling stories of “they” and “them”. We teach it from the perspective of “me” and “us”. That is what makes it all feel so real, what enables us to draw our guests in to this incredible story with all of their senses. We know from our primary sources that settling in the New World was not all Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows. William Bradford reminds us that “they had now no friends to welcome them nor inns to entertain or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies; no houses or much less towns to repair to, to seek for succour.” It was a hard life for our colonists, and we should not take that for granted.

“Would you mind watching my coffin?”

pie man

Pie crust. She means PIE CRUST. Coffin is the wonderfully descriptive term for the pastry that holds your pie filling in seventeenth-century England. Why am I asking someone to watch it for me? In this job, you learn by experience. One fateful day a couple of years back, I had painstakingly crafted a rather large and beautiful pie, I think it was a herb tart, actually, which I was planning on carrying up the modern oven for baking. I placed the tart in a basket and covered it with a cloth. Perhaps ten minutes or so went by, when a child of about ten years old ran into the house, stopped at the basket, and punched the contents. Yes, he punched my pie. I cannot explain the reasoning behind it, but after he did it, he exclaimed “argh, why is that warm?” and promptly ran out of the house, never to be seen again. This may have been the saddest day in the history pie interpretation, but all was not lost! The pie was still in tact, it just had a rather unfortunate, ten-year-old-boy-fist imprint in the middle of it. So we cooked it and ate it anyway.

“I saw my grave yesterday. It was awesome.”

kyle an dmary winslow

Naturally, we all form attachments to the characters we play throughout the year. Often, part of understanding the best way to represent a settler in the early days of Plymouth is to look at what happens to them afterwards. For instance, we know from court records that Stephen Hopkins gets in some trouble for drunkenness and other such licentious behaviour in later years. Therefore, if you’re playing Hopkins, you might like to complain about the lack of a tavern in our English Village. For some of our characters, there is not much information at all that can be relied upon. Some even disappear after the 1627 Division of Cattle, never to be heard of again. Conversely, some of them go on to become leading members of their communities, we know where they lived, where their children went and where they are buried. For our 102 Mayflower passengers, there are only a handful of known burial sites, so to play someone who you can actually “visit” is something to get excited about! At the time of the above picture, Kyle was playing Mary (Chilton) Winslow who is buried with her husband John in King’s Chapel Burying Ground in the centre of Boston.


The bad news (or is it good? I’m not sure) for us Pilgrims is that it never leaves you. As the saying goes, “once a Pilgrim, always a Pilgrim”. The other day, the following joke came through my newsfeed from someone who used to work here, and seeing as I’m a sucker for a bad joke, I thought it deserved to be shared with the world!


You’re welcome!


What A Difference A Day Makes

March 25th, 2015 by Sally

Twenty four little hours

Brought the sun and the flowers

Where there used to be rain snow.

- Stanley Adams

Ok, so maybe the flowers are a bit of an exaggeration…but, we are finally beginning to see some signs of thaw around these parts. The redwing blackbird is singing his song by the Eel River, so it can’t possibly be long before the grass reveals itself from underneath a blanket of snow fallen on ice frozen over snow, can it?

Can't you tell it's the first day of spring?

Can’t you tell it’s the first day of spring?

This past weekend, our old friends at MLB Restoration came by to help us out. We’re really lucky to have a guy like Michael L. Burrey literally on our doorstep (I mean, I could walk to his house for lunch every day, if only he invited me…).

He’s a veritable encyclopaedia of knowledge when it comes to all sorts of historic crafts and trades, but of particular use to us is his understanding of early American architecture and building techniques. It takes a brain like his to fathom the great mysteries of our timber framed houses – nothing happens to them that he couldn’t have predicted. Michael has been both brains and brawn behind a project or two in the English Village over the years. You know that little fence thing that goes all the way around the entire village we call the palisade? Yeah, that was him.

The problem house in this case was Winslow, the two-chamber house at the top end of town. This house was built in two phases. First, a typical for us one room house with a cooking hearth was built, as an example of something that might have been here in Plymouth in the first year or two of the colony. Then, an “extension” was added a few years later, abutting the ocean side of the existing house, which we refer to as the Parlour. It’s a great house in which to interpret the growth and development of the colony, as you can clearly point out to our visitors how the house itself has been improved over the years. The clapboards that once were without are now within.

The Winslows upgraded their standard room to a suite.

The Winslows upgraded their standard room to a suite.

The parlour really is one of our prettiest interpretive spaces.

Their parlour really is one of our prettiest interpretive spaces.

The houses in our exhibit are not built to last forever. We build them to exemplify early period, timber frame and earth-fast methods. They are meticulously researched exercises in experimental archeology which is exactly what makes them so interesting to a man like Michael Burrey. I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to thank Mr Preston Woodburn for his vision and determination to push historical recreation to its limits – that’s a huge part of what makes our village so special. I believe it was in 1994 that Standish house was the first to be built entirely in front of the public using period techniques. Now that’s what I call a legacy. Anyway, because they don’t have foundations (as the first houses here likely didn’t), the oaken posts that are set directly into holes in the ground are guaranteed to rot. The problem is, not all oak rots alike. In the case of Winslow, the two chimney posts on the outside wall of the house rotted much quicker than the two inside, causing a really fairly shocking wonk.

That chimney really should point up, not over.

That chimney really should point up, not over.

This is a problem we’ve seen before and certainly expect to see again. Remember what happened to Bradford house back in the winter of 2011/12?

He's standing up straight, honest!

Thanks to Rick McKee for digging this old chestnut out from the archives, and no, I’m not referring to Mr. Atwood.

All you’ve got to do is jack up the chimney, dig up the internal posts, saw a chunk off the bottom of each, replant them on top of some flat stones and then ease the whole rest of the chimney back to straight and level. Easy, right?!

Easy does it.

Easy does it.

The measurements told us that the chimney was 24 inches away from plumb:

Looks to me to be the equivalent of about one Mattheo off plumb.

Looks to me to be the equivalent of about one Mattheo off plumb.

Uncovering the principal rafter pair at the opposite end to the chimney enabled the guys to free up those rafters for the big move – the rafters and purlins are intentionally designed to move together as the house settles, kind of like a modern house designed to move with the shake of an earthquake. It also very clearly revealed the other end of the problem.

Look closely at the uncovered rafter - it's not exactly straight...

Look closely at the uncovered rafter – it’s not exactly straight…

The hearth lintel had to be jacked up to give the entire chimney freedom to move once tension was applied. Then, in the space of five minutes, just like a trip to the chiropractor, the whole problem was put right. It seems like we corrected the weather, as well!

photo 3-2


photo 4

Rome may not have been built in a day, but we certainly got significantly closer to plumb!

"Thou and I shoudst bumpeth fists for the chimney is now plumb."

“Thou and I shoudst bumpeth fists for the chimney now is plumb.”

Thanks go out to our artisans for all the preparations they made so that MLB could come in and do his thing, their work is not usually glamorous, nor is there much glory involved in it, but it’s so essential to the success of our exhibit. Thanks as well to Michael, Justin, Rick and Evan for coming out on such an inclement day to get this job done, Master Winslow and his family will soon be able to eat their turkey pottage in peace.

It really is a lovely house.

It really is a lovely house.

In other news, well, actually, this is fairly big news in the scheme of things, we’re interpreting a different year this season! Typically, we set our English Village in the year 1627. This was decided upon during the inception of our full-immersion first-person program for a variety of reasons both known and unknown. This year, however, we thought we could try something new, ermm… I mean, old. So we have gone back further in time for the whole year. We keep the Julian calendar around here, so today is New Year’s Day. This means that the first two weeks of our interpretive year have been set in 1623. A court day was called to elect a new Governor (And we elected Bradford again, but this time only for the third time) and decided that he needed five assistants, for, as he says, “if it was any honor or benefit, it was fit others should be made partakers of it; if it was a burden (as doubtless it was) it was but equal others should help to bear it”.

Now we can officially begin our 1624 adventure! There are a few things this year change requires us to forget, some of us have less children, less spouses, less beaver fur, more hope, you know, minor things…We don’t know that the newly arrived salt maker won’t make a lick of salt or that the Reverend Lyford will turn out to be a rather terrible liar, or that our highly-productive ship carpenter won’t survive his first year here…but for now, you can come down and meet them all! What a fantastic opportunity for us to refresh and renew our interpretation of our primary sources and look again at history through new (old) eyes.

Happy New Year, let’s make it a good one!

The Winter’s Tale.

March 15th, 2015 by Alexandra

Like little frosts that sometimes threat the spring

To add a more rejoicing to the prime

And give the sneaped birds more cause to sing

Pain pays the income of each precious thing…

- Shakespeare, “Lucrece”


I don’t know if you’ve heard, but it’s been a bit of a tough winter here in New England. Even though in 1620 the Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower found it often “blowed and did snow…and froze withal,” the most snow they mention during their explorations is “half a foot thick.” Not great, sure, but also not 108.6 inches – which, congratulations Boston, you broke your snowfall record!

But we’ve made it through the winter of our discontent and we’re more determined than ever – no amount of mud or chilly days or late spring snow on top of already existing 4 foot drifts will stop us Pilgrims from doing what we love.  We dug ourselves out, we’re still here, and we can’t wait for you to visit – because Plimoth Plantation is officially open for its 2015 season!

So winter do your worst – we’ve got our woolen stockings on and we’re ready. And if you tough it out with us, we promise to keep the fire warm for you.

See you soon.

Thanksgiving Should.

November 27th, 2014 by Sally

Thanksgiving should be a celebration of how far we’ve come.


“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together…

Thanksgiving should give us opportunity to appreciate how much we have…


“after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week…

…and time to spend with those we love.


“at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms…


Thanksgiving should join us together in one common cause…


“many of the Indians coming amongst us…

…and give us humility.


“and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit…


Thanksgiving should remind us that we are not the centre of the universe.

house“with some ninety men…


Thanksgiving should make us to care deeply for those who are marginalised.


“ whom for three days we entertained and feasted…


Thanksgiving should cause us to realise that so few of us have so much, and so many have so little.


“and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. 


Thanksgiving should encourage us to be generous with what we have, whether it be a lot or a little. 


“And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.” 


Thanksgiving should call us to thankfulness. 


“Rejoice evermore.

Pray continually.

In all things, give thanks…”

1 Thessalonians 16-18a (GNV).



Words in italics by Edward Winslow.



Many thanks to the fabulous Kristen Oney for always knowing how to find just the right photo.

Chicken Soup For The Pilgrim Soul.

November 11th, 2014 by Alexandra

Nor practize snuffingly to speake,

for that doth imitate

The brutish Storke or Elephant

yea and the wralling cat.

- Richard West, The Booke of Demeanor, 1619

It’s that time of year again – leaves are changing, there’s a crispness to the air, and if you’re like me, you’ve spent at least part of it clutching a steaming mug of tea and a pile of Kleenex, and hoping that Sudafed you just took kicks in quick.  Sort of you know, like this:



Yes, autumn is well documented as an amazing season here at Plimoth Plantation, and while there are indeed sundry and diverse wonderful things happening now at this time of year, the change in weather also brings with it something rather unpleasant: sickness.

Coughs, colds, allergies, or as Richard West put in the 17th Century, “snuffling in the nose when you speak,” the change of seasons brings it all. And if you work outside while being surrounded by schoolkids with grabby hands and runny noses, there’s no escaping.  Every year brave Interpreter after brave Interpreter succumbs to their annual round of Pilgrim Plague, and I’m sure our managers dread the phone calls every morning that say another one of our dear colleagues won’t be making it in today.

So sure we know what to do for a cold in this day and age – CVS, aisle 4 – but what about the real Pilgrims? Because people get stuffy noses no matter the century, right? Of course they did, which Richard West again advised not to wipe “Upon thy cap..Nor yet upon thy clothes…not with thy fingers or thy sleeve,” but rather to use a “handkerchiffe, provided for the same.”‘

And while there definitely wasn’t Nyquil in the 1600s, there was still the Mary Poppins cure – Gervase Markham recommended in his book A Way To Get Wealth that one should take “a spoonful of sugar” with a drop of Aqua vitae (a kind of distilled liquor) for a “cough or cold but lately taken.” And after one took that concoction? Why, then you were to “so cover you warm in your bed.” (Some things it seems, really do never change):

A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, in the most delightful way.

The idea of being in a warm place while having a cold would have been particularly important to a 17th century person, as the doctrine of “humors” was still prevalent at the time. Humors were four fluids which made up the body – blood, choler, phlegm and melancholy – and each had certain qualities which corresponded to the elements.  Like air, blood was thought to be hot and wet, while melancholy was cold and dry, like earth.  On the other hand, choler was like fire – hot and dry – and phlegm was like water, cold and wet.  People were usually born with a certain disposition to creating one humor the most, which gave them their unique constitutions and personalities.  But good health was achieved by keeping one’s humors in the proper proportions and good balance – meaning that to rectify something cold you needed something hot (Duh).

Thus Philip Barrough’s 1624 advice for a cough caused by a cold makes perfect sense, saying that it “shall be cured by the remedies that can make them hot.” He advises that one should “let the neck be wrapped about with warm wool,” and that the ill person in question should be kept in “a hot house” and treated with “hot ointments” (Get the idea?):

Hot stuff.

The inability to get warm certainly proved a problem for the Pilgrims in 1620, who were forced to still live for a time on the Mayflower even after it arrived in New England, in November no less. It was written in Mourt’s Relation that “cold and wet lodging has so tainted our people, for scare any of us were free from vehement coughs” and that wading through water to reach land “brought to most, if not to all, coughs and colds…which afterwards turned to scurvy, whereof many died.”

The moral of the story? Try to keep warm and dry this season kids! (Which will hopefully be easier for you, since you don’t have to live on the Mayflower.) And if all else fails, you’ll always have one of these to tuck yourself into:

Goodnight sleep tight.

Goodnight sleep tight.

Well, that and CVS.

Somewhere Over The Rainbow.

October 26th, 2014 by Alexandra

Geneva Bible, 1560 Edition

Waterscape with Rainbow - Allart van Everdingen, 17th Century

Waterscape with Rainbow – Allart van Everdingen, 17th Century

English Village, 2014

English Village, 2014




Happy Fall!

October 21st, 2014 by Alexandra

Autumn is in full swing here in the English Village  - the sky is blue, the sunshine is golden, the leaves are red, and the Pilgrims are coordinating their outfits for the occasion.

Doesn’t that sound like the perfect time to come visit us?



See you soon!

If I knew you were burning, I’d have baked a cake.

September 18th, 2014 by Sally

Or, I Fell Into a Sugary Pit of Goodness.

Here at They Knew They Were Pilgrims, we pride ourselves on our innovation. We do things that no man has ever done before…well, for at least a few hundred years, anyway. Today, however, we bring to you, what we are 99.9% sure is a world first*. I really, truly believe that we are the only people in the world who are doing this kind of groundbreaking research. Because of this precedent, I wasn’t really surprised to find myself having the following conversation:

“Hey Ana, wanna come over and help me make a replica charcoal pit in cake form?”

“How are you going to make this cake, did you google it?”, Ana replied.

“Yes. Because making an edible charcoal pit is DEFINITELY what normal people do.”

(It’s not.)

Earlier this week, I might have mentioned a little thing called Charcoal Burn, an autumn tradition in the English Village. Our Artisans work long days and nights to make this happen, and after hours, we keep them company and spur them on. When I told them I was thinking about making breakfast muffins, you know, the kind that is supposed to be good for you, with fruit, or bran, or both in it, they said “what, no cake?“. Ah yes, cake. Good idea.

So here it is folks, probably a world first.

How To Build A Charcoal Pit, As Illustrated Through The Medium Of Cake

Step 1

Construct a tunnel, triangular in shape, in which you will set your fire.


Step 2

Keep building that tunnel until it is as tall as you would like your pit to be. Pretzel sticks are very hard to stack this way. Don’t worry, it will be easier with real sticks.


Step 3

Begin stacking your wood/pretzels around the tunnel. The first layer or two needs to be stacked pretty carefully and evenly. It helps if you can get some chocolate fudge breeze in which to stick your sticks.


Step 4

Keep building up your pit. This time, we made two layers. It needs to be a smooth and rounded as possible, so take some smaller pieces of wood/pretzel and fill in the gaps. The more gaps that are left between the wood, the more likely dangerous air pockets are to form, which causes the wood to burn too hot, and turn to ash not coal! Nooooo!!


Step 5

Cover the whole pile of pretzels with hay. Or cover the wood with cake. I forget which.


Step 6

Starting at the bottom of the stack, cover all the pretzels and cake, or wood and hay with chocolate fudge or breeze. Note the pretzels placed at regular intervals around the bottom of the pit – these will become vents for fueling the fire later. Don’t forget to keep the opening to your tunnel open, otherwise you’ll have some digging to do!


Step 7

As a final, finishing touch, sprinkle on cookie crumbs to represent the little bits of charcoal that remain in the breeze from past years of burning. Don’t worry, the cookie crumbs are not actually from last year. This part of the cake making process is the only part that isn’t based on an actual part of the coal pit building process. The breeze is dirt and ash and bits of charcoal all mixed together. We had to add our “charcoal” afterwards.


Step 8

Construct a windshield to protect the cake from the weather. If you noticed the ring of marshmallow in the first couple of pictures, this is where that comes in handy. The marshmallow made a built up ring of breeze around the very edge of the pit/plate. That ring of breeze, in reality, is where the posts are set for the actual wind screen. I set my pretzel wind screen into the marshmallows covered in chocolate. YUM.


Step 9

Admire said work.

This step happens in the construction of a real pit, too.


Step 10

Upon cutting into the cake, Mr Atchinson cried “WE HAVE COAL!”

And then, more seriously, he said “that’s exactly what it’s supposed to look like”. I’d call that a success.


And, here’s a picture of Mark in his element lighting the pit. Just because.



*If you happen to know anyone who has attempted such a feat, please let me know. I’d love to compare notes on the best way to stack a pretzel stick tunnel.

Burn, Baby, Burn.

September 16th, 2014 by Sally

Tumbling like the leaves,
Yeah, we are spiralling on the breeze,
Almost to the point of no return,
Everything will burn, baby, burn.

Ash – Burn Baby Burn (live on Jools Holland 2001)

(If you’re anything like me, and you like a good soundtrack to accompany all areas of your life, I can recommend that you right click that link above to open it in another tab, and embrace the sounds of early 2000s Brit Pop, ie., Sally’s teenage years, while you read this post. Yes, the band really is named Ash, you can’t make these things up!)


Well folks, there’s a lovely autumnal chill in the air, I’ve seen a few leaves beginning to turn from green to golden, most of our harvest has been gotten in, and that can only mean one thing in the 1627 Village. It’s time to make a whole lot of smoke at our annual Charcoal Burn.

Charcoal burners, or colliers, have been building pits and burning coal for thousands of years, and we ourselves have been smoking out New Plimoth in the autumn each year for more than twenty. What’s the point, you ask? Well, there’s certainly no sense in spending all this time and effort to produce coal for a goodwife’s hearth, that’s for sure. This is for the benefit of William Palmer, nail maker and blacksmith in 1627 Plymouth. If you want to work metal, you need to burn coal. Typically, early 17th century blacksmiths in England would choose stone coal, you know, the kind you mine for, for their forges. But, given that there’s an abundant supply of wood in New England, and a distinct lack of coal mines, charcoal it is. Mark Atchison, our incredibly knowledgable artisan-blacksmith guides us through the process by way of his scrupulous research and vast wisdom learnt through years of hands on coal-making experience.

Here’s the Pit Boss himself, doing what he does best:

it's really hard to tell what he's thinking...most of the time...

Mark is standing on what looks like an unruly pile of hay. It’s actually very orderly hay. For us, the process begins with the clearing of the already existing pit. It’s a round and flat area, on which the earth has been blackened through years of burning in the same spot. This is a good thing. Mark lays out the middle of the pit with a central, triangular tunnel around which billets of wood are stacked.

now that's what I call a charcoal pit.

This photo is from 2011′s burn. This year’s is a little smaller, about a cord of wood.

but dad...I'm almost a man grown...I wanna stand on the pit!

Here, Mark and his apprentice Mattheo check out the hay placement, ensuring that the tunnel is kept open. It’s Mattheo’s first burn…initiation, anyone?


Once all the wood is stacked, making the dome as smooth as possible, it’s then covered with the hay, which is in turn covered with the previously mentioned blacked, ash ridden earth that surrounds the pit. We in the coal making business refer to this as “breeze”. The breeze will be used to control the burn, keeping it as slow and even as possible. Below, the guys are sitting/standing on the breeze that has been piled up around the edge of the pit. They’re shooting the breeze (sorry, I had to) before they have to start shovelling the breeze. There will be a ring of piled up breeze all around the pit which will be used later.

what now?

Once the pit is lit, it’s all a game of “Prevent The Pit From Burning Too Hot While Ensuring It Burns Hot Enough To Make Something Other Than Just Slightly Blackened Wood”. To protect the burn from inevitable gusts of wind, a protective shield of leafy boughs is erected around the entire pit – posts are set at regular intervals and then branches are woven betwixt and between to fill in all the gaps. Here’s Goody Bassett weaving branches in between a hurdle to make a door:


The fire will be lit at the bottom of Mark’s triangular tunnel and fueled as the pit smolders. He’s not looking for flames. Then, he and the guys will continue to control the burn by either making holes to allow air in, or filling in holes with more breeze to slow down the combustion. Every once in a while, he’ll climb up on top of the pit and dance on it. I think the technical (and perhaps more manly) term is “jumping the pit”. That’ll make sure any pockets of air are filled in before we have a bonfire on our hands. It’s not November 5th YET.

Come Wednesday, this is what we’ll be seeing, breathing and smelling – the smell is so distinctive, you’ve gotta come and give it a sniff.



The charcoal will burn from Wednesday morning until Friday around midday. If you can’t make it out this week, the pit will remain warm but not burning at least until the end of the season. And if you can’t get here before then, here’s a video from two years ago that’ll show you what you’re missing.


September 6th, 2014 by Sally

We’re back!

It has been a (surprisingly cool) wonderful summer, and I can’t wait to tell you more about our most recent interpretive antics…however…we have BIG news to talk about first.

Today, we’re celebrating the official opening of the all-new Francis Cooke house in the 1627 English Village. That’s right! The house is complete and ready to be “lived in”. For those of you that have been following us a while, you’ll know it has been quite the journey – the previous house was lost to fire back in 2011.

Personally, this new incarnation of the Cooke house will always have a special place in my heart. This is the first house I’ve seen go up from start to finish, and I’ve been involved in its construction throughout (as much as a seventeenth-century housewife can be, and probably a little more). “No, of course I didn’t raise these rafters myself”, you’ll frequently hear me say as Priscilla Alden…

This house is a testament to all the incredible work that has been done and continues to be done every single day. It speaks to the character, resolve and determination of all of those who worked towards the building of it. The hours of meticulous research, the carefully sharpened broad axes, every ounce of sweat, every decision that has been poured over, it all comes together beautifully in this one small portion of our exhibit.

And it is beautiful.

I don’t even think we can begin to count the number of hands that have contributed to the completion of this house, but by far, the hands that have made the most significant impact on the shaping of it are the hands of our artisans. These guys are rock stars. Really. When we’re all hiding in the shade on those brutal August days, they’re out there, wielding axes with the sun beating down on their backs. While we’re keeping ourselves warm and cosy, making a piece of toast on those dark November evenings, they’re out there, digging a hole or repairing a roof. Every detail of this house has been thought through, discussed at length, and created with scrupulous attention to historical accuracy. Thank you, all of you. We wouldn’t be where we are without you.

I guess coming to the end of this project caught me in a reflective mood. So, inspired by the sermon that Robert Cushman preached on his visit to Plymouth in 1621 (The Sin and Danger of Self-Love), and by the blood, sweat and tears that have been poured in to this house, here’s one perspective on the whole story.

© 2003-2011 Plimoth Plantation. All rights reserved.

Plimoth Plantation is a not-for-profit 501 (c)3 organization, supported by admissions, grants, members, volunteers, and generous contributors.