‘Mayflower’ Category

Something Fishy

July 14th, 2009 by admin

Tuesdays are fish day day here at the museum this July. On Mayflower II at noon it’s all about Fish N’Ships, WIP at the Homesite is sponsoring Wampanoag Fishing Days (I thought they should have called it Where there’s a Weir….never mind) and I just finished a program in the Fort – Something Fishy. Something Fishy began as a Spring Training session for staff several years ago, Gone Fishin’, which was lecture and PowerPoint. In the Fort I have a salt cod and a fresh cod and as I process the fresh fish for salting, I talk about the fish trade in New England in the 17th century (Way to Wealth!) and how Plymouth never made big money in the fish trade and answer questions, but all as myself. No costume, just an apron. No dialect, except the one that says yes, I’m from around here. And I have a handout with fish head recipes, which people are actually taking, how polite is that!
And there’s been a hundred more things, and there are photos, somewhere, and someday they’ll be here, because a picture is worth a thousand words and then I won’t feel quite so guilty for writing so infrequently. If you’re free on a Tuesday in July, drop in to see our fishy business.

Colonial Foodways Culinarian

I Dare You

April 11th, 2009 by admin

Hello again,

The 2009 season is in full gear and we are all very happy to be back. Some of the children have startred already and all will be here for house raising week (which begins the 20th of this month). I have given them an assignment to read the first chapter of Good News From New England (by Edward Winslow) and discuss its meaning.

So I want to offer the same challenge to you, dear reader. Go to your local library and borrow it, or better yet (for us) purchase the book by clicking this link, and read the first chapter and we can all discuss it on these pages. Are you up for it? I hope so. Let’s make history come alive.

I dare you.


But They Knew They Were Pirates

February 2nd, 2009 by admin

In 1623 the ship called Little James arrived in New Plimoth carrying a number of passengers for the colony and a letter of Mark.  The men on the ship seemed to be in some dispute with their captain about whether or not they should have taken a French fishing ship that they had encountered on the way.  William Bradford told these men that they were fishermen but they knew they were Pirates.  A ” Letter of Mark” ( spellings vary) was essentially a license for taking other peoples ships, people and stuff because they were enemies or competitors with your King and Country.  As long as you stayed within the conditions of your letter of mark you would be considered as if you were working for the Royal Navy and had captured an enemy vessel.  Of course to their victims, regardless of their legal status they would still be pirates.  Therefore for purposes of this post I will be referring to all “takers”  ( Bradford uses this in his letter from March, 1623)  as pirates.

Pirates and Pinnaces and Pilgrims, Oh my!

You may be wondering what pirates pilgrims and pinnaces have to do with one another or how they relate to the history of Plimoth Colony.  Firstly, the Little James was a pinnace of about 44 tuns burden.  A pinnace in the 17th C. was a small ship. Interestingly enough the Little James was both a pirate and was the victim of ‘Turkish’ pirates off of England in 1625.  The loss of the Little James and the Fortune four years earlier had serious economic consequences for Plimoth Colony.  As can be seen with recent headlines regarding the piracy of an oil tanker off of Somalia, piracy is still a serious and contemporary problem.  Also, the rich body of both printed and audio-visual literature regarding pirates from Long John Silver to Captain Jack Sparrow provides a wealth of mythology, interesting tales, and really interesting contrasts and comparisons between the pirates of myth and literature versus the rather gritty reality of European pirates of the North Atlantic.  It is my intention to incorporate further research toward the goal of an eventual dock-side exhibit about 17th C. piracy.  Combining myth and reality that would both educate and entertain our guests, particularly the younger ones, we can continue to compare and contrast the lives of people in both the 17th and 21st Centuries.

As the printed word is such a one way means of communication please let me invite you to continue to discuss pirates and piracy with a man personally concerned about the subject.  I have once again been cast in the role of Christopher Jones, Ship’s Master on Mayflower II and you might find his take on this subject interesting.

Christopher Messier

Program Interpreter/Museum Teacher

The Billington Boys Tried To Blow Up The Mayflower?

September 17th, 2008 by admin

Ah, the Billington boys, John and Francis. Much maligned by a number of authors of popular fictions, these two are often the subject of conversation in our 1627 English Village. In that I played their father, John Billington this year, I have been involved in many of these conversations.

I say much maligned because one author in Mourt’s Relation saw fit to mention them by saying, “The fifth day [of December, 1620] we, through God’s mercy, escaped a great danger by the foolishness of a boy, one of Francis Billington’s sons, who, in his father’s absence, had got gunpowder, and had shot off a piece or two, and made squibs; but there being a fowling-piece charged in his father’s cabin, shot her off in the cabin; there being a little barrel of [gun] 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.”

Skipping over the fact that the author seems to have confused the elder Billington with his son, clearly this is a mischievous act but why didn’t all these people around the fire seem to be in any great panic about this event? Could it be that the author thought the deed more dire than the rest of the company? After all, boys will be boys. It just goes to show that the act of boys playing with firecrackers is hardly a new idea.

Elsewhere the lads have been accused of everything from “trying to blow up the Mayflower” (the above event) to torturing cats. The problem with these stories is that there aren’t any facts to back them up. While it might be fun for children to read these fictional adventures, it can become problematic for us playing their neighbors and loved ones. Children believe these stories and it becomes yet one more popular myth we have to explain away. But not to complain, that’s part of our job.

A side note to this: Above I made reference to people sitting around a fire. The problem with me saying that is I am making an assumption. Are there passengers sitting around an open flame on an old wooden ship with an open cask of gunpowder nearby? It seems like this might present a dangerous situation. Or did the boy start the fire that people were around. I simply don’t know with any certainty. I can’t completely discern the author’s intent of meaning here. It’s things like this that keep my work interesting. This, for me, is one of the reasons we are called Colonial Interpreters. I have to interpret what I think the writer is trying to say and give that spin to our visitors. But what I don’t do is make up out of whole cloth stories that might amuse children simply for entertainment value. John Billington and his family were real people. I owe it to them to portray them as honestly as I can. They deserve it.


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