My So-Called Pilgrim Life

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A chronicle of daily life in the 1627 English village at Plimoth Plantation from both a modern and historical perspective.

The English-Dutch Connection at the Peabody-Essex

May 11th, 2011 by admin

On my last weekend, I made the trip from Plymouth up to Salem, on Massachusetts’ fabled North Shore. While the American public knows Salem primarily for its role in the notorious witchcraft trials of 1692, Salem has a much broader and equally interesting maritime history that contributed to the formation of its fantastic Peabody-Essex Museum. The museum’s current highlighted exhibit is called “Golden: Dutch and Flemish Masterworks from the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection,” running through June 19. With so many of the first English settlers in New Plimoth coming from Amsterdam and Leiden in the Dutch Republic, this exhibit offers a chance to glimpse the intriguing but frighteningly foreign country that led the Leiden congregation to seek the more desirable isolation of the New World.

The collection includes works of art from the leading Dutch painters of the 1600s, such as Rembrandt and Jacob van Ruisdael. Visitors will view examples of still-life and landscape painting and decorative arts, all divided into sections that showcase Dutch lifestyles, culture, and power both military and economic.

If you look closely, you can see echoes of the Pilgrims. The wide-brimmed hats, the trappings of Protestant Christianity. In one interactive exhibit, you can zoom in and view an image of the magnificent Westerkerk (Western Church), the construction of which began in Amsterdam in the same year that the Mayflower left England. In another, a barber-surgeon (perhaps a colleague of Samuel Fuller?) examines the foot of a peasant. An especially lively painting shows a winter street scene in a Dutch town in which warmly dressed townspeople cavort in the streets. It was this type of behavior, along with the growing concern that children born in Holland were beginning to lose their “English-ness,” that led the sober and hardworking English community in Leiden to immigrate to the Americas.

I would highly recommend that anyone interested in learning more about the Old World adventures of the Pilgrims take a trip up to Salem to view this fascinating collection. In the meantime, stay tuned to this blog for the New World adventures of the Colonial Interpreters.


Saint George’s Day

April 27th, 2011 by admin

Good day, everyone! It was a long winter, but we’re finally seeing signs that spring is thinking of staying a while. And After months in hibernation, the English colonists are back in their canvas and wool suits; sharpening knives, repairing fences, and working diligently to improve the land that they’ve settled.

Last Saturday (the 23rd of April) was Saint George’s Day, a feast day observed by the English, Portuguese, Lithuanians and others. According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, the historical Saint George was a martyr who may have been a Roman soldier in the third century, although that could be a fanciful invention. He may also have organized a Christian community in Iran, traveled to Britain as an emissary from the Emperor Diocletian, and possibly slain a dragon.

During the fourteenth-century reign of King Edward III of England, George was adopted as the patron saint of England, and went on to lead Henry V to victory over the French at the 1415 Battle of Agincourt. The Saint George’s Cross was the official flag of the English nation from the thirteenth century until the union with Scotland in the seventeenth. Any English flags displayed by the Pilgrims would have been either the Saint George’s Cross or the British flag, a combination of George’s Cross with the Saint Andrew’s Cross of Scotland.

Saint George’s greatest feat, according to the Christian legends, was his victory over the dragon that had ravaged the city of Silene in modern Libya. In true draconian fashion, the monster had so terrified Silene’s inhabitants that they had started offering their children as sacrifices, the victims to be chosen by lottery. It wasn’t until the king’s daughter was chosen to feed the beast that Saint George makes his appearance, wounding his foe with his spear. He waits to deliver the death-blow, however, striking off its head with his sword only after the king and fifteen thousand men accept Jesus Christ and are baptized.

A strange combination of knight-errant and wandering priest, George has since become associated with the triumph of Christianity over idolatry and sin, making him an attractive patron to the seventeenth-century nation of England and its isolated colony in Plymouth Bay. However, while the Church of England may have recognized Saint George’s Day as a legitimate celebration, the Reformists who governed New Plimoth most likely did not, as the day was not specifically referenced in the Bible. An interesting contrast in this tiny community, and one that could provide good conversation the next time you visit.

Aaron Dougherty
Interpretation Apprentice

The Winter Season

December 6th, 2010 by admin

Hello, all. As some of you might know, Plimoth Plantation is now closed for the season, to be reopened on March 20th, 2011. The Pilgrim Village is empty and quiet, its buildings shuttered against the weather, animals and even human intruders. Although its inhabitants are away for the season, work at the site goes on. The new Brewster house is still being constructed at the crossroads. The houses of John Howland and Isaac Allerton have been emptied of furniture and will be thoroughly cleaned and repaired in anticipation of future residents. New soil will be spread in the goat and sheep pens so that the animals can make their triumphal return.

And what of the Pilgrims? Well, some of us have found employment for the winter in the Education Department, traveling to various schools in New England and beyond so that children may interact with a costumed settler in the comfort and convenience of their very own classrooms. Some of us have taken jobs with the Artisan department down in the village, working to prepare the site for the next tourist season. Some are reviewing and revising dossiers and source materials so that next year’s training may be conducted efficiently and without conscious errors.

Many of us take work away from the Plantation to support ourselves through the winter, and many of those will return come March, itching to don the brimmed hats and leather shoes once again. Some of us, unfortunately, will not be coming back, constrained by the demands of school or family or the natural pull of life’s subtle tides. And while we will miss them, we look forward to seeing them once again, in costume or not.

This blog will continue through the winter, and although I won’t have as much to say about the day-to-day activities of the village I hope that we can have some interesting conversations on the seventeenth century world. Until next time.

Aaron Dougherty

Interpretation Apprentice

A Short Relation of a Day of Thanks in the New Plimoth Colony

November 25th, 2010 by admin

So, Thanksgiving. The single busiest day in the life of a Plimoth Plantation employee. For many, the holiday conjures up images of turkey dinners and pumpkin pie shared by the English settlers and their Native guests. Visitors to the site today may be surprised that neither the English nor the Wampanoag seem particularly inclined to get together and pig out. In fact, besides the crowds, little is changed in the museum’s daily routine. Without going into a long, involved explanation of why this is so (which we’ll be doing a great deal of in person in the village today), let’s just say that for the Pilgrims, a day of thanksgiving was a day of fasting and prayer, entirely different from the feast day embraced by modern American culture. In addition, it was not an occasion that they celebrated with any regularity, so if you bring up the subject of “Thanksgiving” or a “harvest celebration” the interpreters will react with surprise or ask if you have heard about such a day being planned.

Obviously, the interpreters who portray these seventeenth century villagers have twenty-first century customs, so most of us have plans of our own for Thanksgiving Day. The break room becomes a repository for all sorts of fantastic food, brought in buffet-style by the village staff for the enjoyment of our friends and co-workers. We obviously look forward to five o’ clock when the gates close and we can relax after a long and hectic day at the office. That being said, even those hours spent in the village are enjoyable, because what better place to spend Turkey Day then at the place where the modern conception of the holiday was born?

If anybody would like to learn about the true origins of the Thanksgiving holiday, then why not come down and visit us? If you prefer the relaxed atmosphere of your own home and comfortable couch, then perhaps you would enjoy watching “The Real Story of Thanksgiving,” filmed here at the Plant, starring our costumed interpreters, and airing on the History Channel tonight at 11:00 PM.

To all of you I wish a very happy Thanksgiving, and family and good friends to share it with.

Aaron Dougherty

Interpretation Apprentice

Pilgrim Muster

November 15th, 2010 by admin

Well met, dear readers. Veterans Day and the military muster have come and gone. Here at the Plant, we costumed interpreters hope that the military drill will come in handy with the approach of the Thanksgiving season and the influx of countless hordes of people, dreaming of black buckled hats and tame, easily catch-able chickens.

The muster was attended by six musketeers and six pike-men, who drilled in separate companies under the auspices of Captain Myles Standish. After some instruction in the art of marching and military drill, the musketeers conducted a mock firing demonstration while the pike-men trained in field exercises. The whole company of militia then gathered in the newly cleared hayfield north of the town to demonstrate the basics of pike/shot combat, with the musketeers firing on the flanks while the pike-men charged home with cold steel.

My character, Edward Doty, served as a musketeer, so I found myself shouldering a piece and lurching along more or less in unison with my fellow townsmen. Stripped of the grandeur and majesty inherent in the images of soldiering and the great battles of this period, you start to notice things that prints and paintings don’t show you. Your heavy weapon pains your shoulder. Your fingers are cold, but mittens are too cumbersome to wear. Wind threatens to blow your hat away and muffles the sergeant’s commands. The slow-burning match in your left hand interferes with your drill movements and promises bodily harm. Imagine tolerating all of these hardships while marching away from New Plimoth into a vast, uncharted country where few Englishmen dwell.

Why did these men put themselves through this kind of ordeal? Because they were in the middle of a great and sometimes hostile wilderness, and they were protecting their families, friends, and their vulnerable little settlement against numerous potential enemies, none of whom would likely announce their hostility before attacking. I’m glad that we still have men like that today, who make all sorts of sacrifices for the sake of those loved ones at home.

Thanksgiving approaches, dear readers, and we will speak on that subject later on. For now, I approach the end of this post, so you are all dismissed. God save King Charles!

(Pictures to Follow)

Torch passed; no burns suffered

November 9th, 2010 by admin

Hello, readers. My name is Aaron Dougherty and I would like to thank Buddy Tripp for the introduction, as well as for his labors on this blog over the last few years. I will be taking over this blog for the foreseeable future. As I am a fairly new employee who is just starting out in the field of first-person colonial interpretation, I hope that my experiences at the Plantation will be of interest to visitors curious to know what “Pilgrims” feel as they conduct their research, develop their characters, and force their vocal cords to do all sorts of things that feel unnatural to the 21st century dialect.

For my first post, I would like to invite everyone to the Plantation this coming Thursday, the 11th of November, for Veterans Day. Veterans and active duty members of the military get free admission on this day to both the Plantation and the Mayflower II. In honor of their visit, the 1627 English Village will be conducting a military muster which includes the display and drill of match-lock muskets, pikes and armor. There will be an exhibition firing of the muskets at 11:11 am, and a militia exercise at 3:00 pm. Will Captain Standish’s much discussed snaphance firearm be exhibited? Stop by the village and see!

For those unfamiliar with seventeenth century European warfare, the term “pike and shot” refers to the two staples of any self-respecting English army (or militia) of this time period. The pike is a 10 to 12 foot long spear lowered by a pike-man to create a defense against charging cavalry or melee infantry. Musketeers who have fired their pieces can retire behind a body of pike-men to reload their pieces, emerging once more to exchange shot with the enemy. For more information on the warfare of this period or to hear about the thoughts and experiences of both musketeers and pike-men in the New Plimoth colony, make certain to stop on by.

That about does it for this, my first ever post on the Plimoth Plantation Pilgrim blog. I look forward to many further interesting discussions. Please feel free to ask questions or comment on what you would like to learn from future posts.

Good day to you!

Aaron Dougherty

Interpretation Apprentice

Passing the Torch…

November 6th, 2010 by admin

Well, dear reader, the time has come for me to pass the torch. I no longer have the time required to attend to this blog. It has been a labor of love, but all things must end. Thank you for your kind indulgence and your readership of my sometimes endless ramblings.

But, fear not. I am leaving you all in capable (and younger) hands. My colleague, Aaron Dougherty, will be manning the helm of this blog. Aaron is a new addition to the Colonial Interpretation Department and is a great interpreter and a fine scholar.

Thank you once again for your continued interest in Plimoth Plantation and our little peek behind the scenes here.


Goodman Francis Eaton

July 28th, 2010 by admin

Sorry I haven’t been posting but my online time has been for my own purposes. That and I just got a new hip replacement.

Here is Interpretive Artisan Tom Gerhardt as Francis Eaton, our chief carpenter.


The Brewster House

July 28th, 2010 by admin

Construction in the English Village continues on it’s newest house, The Brewster House.

Here, our thatchers have put up a scaffold on which to stand while they apply the 2nd of 3 layers of thatch on house’s roof. We are using a combination of reed, hay, and cattail.

Here is a detail of the layering of our thatch. The cattail is applied to the middle layer of hay, which itself sits on a thin coat of reed. Long rolls of thatch are used at the roof’s margins to “kick out” the areas where the thatch might otherwise sag.

English houses in 1627 Plimoth were likely mortared with daub: A mixture of clay, loam, and straw. Here is a “daub pit”, where colonists, as well as some of our intrepid guests, doff their shoes and jump in to help us mix the components into a workable mortar. The new daub is applied to “wattle”, which are sticks set into the stud panels to give support to the drying mixture. It takes a few weeks to season, but will make a good wall, relatively impervious to weather.

We set up a canvas shelter to increase our working space while the daubers were working clay inside the house. Here, Plimoth Plantation’s Interpretive Artisans will square up timber for doors and shutters to enclose the new house.

Additionally, the thatchers have carried their work to the front of the house. They are about half done with the middle layer of hay.

Work on the new Brewster House will continue through the summer and into the fall.

Lessons from Henry Roach

April 6th, 2010 by admin

The day after Easter, on a postcard-perfect spring day, the Plimoth Plantation Interpretive Artisans Department welcomed former museum employee Henry Roach to come and show us how to make spars. Hank is a thatcher (having learned from the legendary Peter Slevin), basket maker, and all-around craftsman. He is a master of many forgotten arts and is an invaluable source of information. His willingness to share his knowledge, coupled with his sense of humor, made for very enjoyable and informative morning.

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