They Knew They Were Pilgrims

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

A Tale of Two Husbands: The Sequel

November 18th, 2012 by Sally

This time of year, a good store of our museum guests are asking the question “how did you get here?” Essentially, they want to know whether or not the 17th century person they are interacting with came on the Mayflower. Therefore, I think it’s only fair to ask you, our blog guests, “how did you get here?” No, seriously, what brought you to our blog? If the answer is not “I got an email telling me you posted”, then you should probably become a subscriber!

Speaking of subscribers, those of you who have been following They Knew They Were Pilgrims for a while may remember my ramblings on the (fake) polyandrous life of a pilgrim housewife. Well, the adventure continued last weekend, when my (real) husband spent a day playing my (fake) future husband. Confused?! It only gets worse from here.

Here’s a quick recap: My character, Christian, is the third wife of Mayflower passenger Francis Eaton. She is widowed in 1633 and the next year marries another (this one’s infamous) Mayflower Francis, Francis Billington. Every fourth grader in Massachusetts learns about the mischievous Billingtons, and parents everywhere breathe a sigh of relief upon learning that boys will be boys, no matter what the century.

For your entertainment, here are my two favourite Billington Boy stories, as documented in Mourt’s Relation:

The fifth day, [of December, 1620] we through God’s mercy escaped a great danger by the foolishness of a boy. One of John Billington’s sons, who in his father’s absence, had got gun powder, and had shot off a piece or two, and made squibs and there being a fowling piece charged in his father’s cabin, shot her off in the cabin, there being a little barrel of powder half full scattered in and about the cabin, the fire being within four foot of the bed between the decks, and many flints and iron things about the cabin and many people about the fire, and yet by God’s mercy no harm done.

Yes, that’s right. Two boys, some gunpowder, a musket and plenty of potential for trouble. Then, a month or so later:

This day [January 8th, 1620/21], Francis Billington, having the week before seen from the top of a tree on an high hill, a great sea as he thought, went with one of the Masters mates to see it. They went three miles and then came to a great water, divided into two great Lakes, the bigger of them five or six miles in circuit, and in it an isle of a Cable length square the other three miles in compass; in their estimation they are fine fresh water, full of fish and fowl. A brook issues from it, it will be an excellent help for us in time.


Anyway, on with the story. On November 11th, 2012, the 392nd anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival at Cape Cod, and to honour those who serve their country in the armed forces, we exhibited a militia muster in the 1627 village. The settlers in early Plymouth would have been accustomed to seeing their men practicing as part of a company of musketeers or pike-men very regularly. We at Plimoth Plantation, on the other hand, hardly ever have fifteen men in the village on one day. Here’s the scene:

men with pikes

First of all, special thanks go to Kathy Devlin, aka Mistress Winslow, for coming in on her day off and taking these excellent photos! Next, let me say a huge THANK YOU to our friends who volunteered their time for this muster. I think I counted ten in total, and one of them was only a few months old and therefore counts as at least a Pilgrim and a half, if not two. See the one in the back of the company of pikes in the blue cassock and the floppy hat? That’s my REAL husband! You blog readers are an intelligent bunch, I’m sure that from the first half of this post you can deduce who he was playing….Yes, that’s right, none other than Francis Billington himself! This was his first day pilgrimming, so naturally I wanted to do everything I could to make it a good one. We practiced our dialect, he learned the names of all the articles of clothing he would be wearing, I even read him Bradford when he couldn’t sleep the other night, and best of all, I (along with Mistress Alden) planned a delicious seventeenth century dinner for us all to enjoy. The menu consisted of fricasse of coney, herb tart, boiled roots and pancakes. You may be wondering where my fake husband, Goodman Eaton, was during all of this merrymaking…Well, he doesn’t work on Sundays, so I did what every other self-respecting fake housewife would do:

I set a place for him at the table and made it look like he ate and ran. Sorry about the poor quality of this picture, it’s just that I had to literally jump out of my seat, whip out the camera and point and shoot in between visitors! Needless to say, I was impressed by how quickly my (real) husband began to look like he belonged in 1627. I’m pretty sure he fooled all the visitors into thinking he’s been living there all along…

Of course, a day spent with Francis Billington could not possibly be a mischief-free one. He, encouraged by his profane father, made us all jump out of our seats by throwing a squib into the hearth like it was 1620.

Well played, real husband, well played.

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17 Responses to “A Tale of Two Husbands: The Sequel”

  1. Pat CLaus says:

    Great story and photos! Thanks for sharing. I’m an Alden descendant and would love to visit there one day soon.

  2. Vickie Fisher says:

    Thou dost continue to use the word “profane” as ascribed by the theocrats of the plantation to describe your future father-in-love. Hadst thou ever considered that only by the providence of the Lord most high, that all of the family of John Billington survived that most arduous journey on that small cargo ship and survived also their time spent on these foreign shores in the uncivilized climes of new England in the earliest years before the arrival of the Anne and Little James? An omnipotent God had great things destined for this family not of the congregation of Leyden but embarked on the passage to swell the ranks of the settlers and were destined to leave behind the only natural landmark named after a Mayflower settler. Ponder these things in your heart as you see the fall beauty of Billington Sea.

    PS. I came to the blog by a facebook posting of a dear pilgrim friend.

    • Sally says:

      You are absolutely right, of course, the Billington’s did endure great hardships here in Plymouth. By referring to them as profane, however, I am actually quoting our esteemed governor, William Bradford himself, who, in 1630 describes them as “one of the profanest families amongst them”. That year, Billington was the first man to be hung for murder in Plymouth Colony. There is much speculation over why Bradford mentions Billington’s name as many times as he does (often in a negative context); could it be that he felt some guilt in sentencing this man to death after all they had endured together? Possibly, but unless more evidence comes to light, we’ll never know.

      Thanks for contributing to the discussion, I always like to hear other perspectives on things!!
      And I’m so glad you enjoy the blog!

  3. Vickie Fisher says:

    In my diatribe, I forgot to say how VERY MUCH I enjoy each posting. Please continue to share!

  4. Kelley says:

    The wonderful writers and special people who are my co-workers brought me to the blog!

  5. Brian says:

    Sally, glad to see a Rothemich with talent. I do think we were a bit late for the Mayflower. According to my genealogy record, we Rothemiches arrived around 1838 from the fatherland probably in steerage on a cattle barge. Keep up the good work. Brian Rothemich MD Spartanburg,SC

    • Sally says:

      Thanks for reading, Brian! I married into a Rothemich family here in New England, and I’m slightly embarrassed to say (considering my job!) that I haven’t done any research into genealogy at all, so that’s great to hear. Where exactly is the fatherland?!

  6. CB says:

    Being a biased observer of the muster, your future-fake husband / current-real husband did a great job! The governor, along with others gave young Billington quite a time! Truly enjoyed your pipe playing and Mistress Alden gathering the ladies for some dancing – fabulous afternoon to step back in time.

  7. [...] it’s like to juggle fake 17th century spouses with real 21st century spouses, you should read Sally’s blogs on the subject (They made her famous! She’s in the Wall Street [...]

  8. Connie says:

    I found your blog while doing research on Francis Billington and Christian Penn – my 9th great-grandparents! I’m enjoying the blog very much, and I really need to come visit in person one day.

  9. [...] is, in fact, my wonderful (real life) husband on our wedding [...]

  10. [...] into a small river running under the town, and so into a great pond or lake of a mile broad [ours go to Billington Sea], where they cast their spawn, the water of the said river being in many places not above half a [...]

  11. Teva Schuler says:

    My famlily are the decendents of the billington boys

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