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.

“And They Knew They Were Pilgrims”…Redux

September 10th, 2008 by admin

As many who have visited our museum have learned, our characters in the 1627 English Village tend to steer visitors away from referring to us as “pilgrims”. William Bradford does use the word once in his history Of Plimoth Plantation. He uses the quote with which I’ve titled this post. But we tend not to think of these people in the classic definition of the word pilgrim.

Dictionary.com defines the word as: a person who journeys, esp. a long distance, to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion: pilgrims to the Holy Land, and that is, I think, how the people we portray would define the word in their time.

That said, we will probably use the word here sometimes for two reasons. Firstly, it is how the people who came to New Plimoth in 1620 on a ship called Mayflower have become to affectionately be known throughout the world. And secondly, it is because we want this blog (and, by extension, our museum) to become more widely known.

When I first heard about this project I became very excited for us. We were entering into new and exciting territory. Now we’ve really gone from 1620 to 2008…just by typing into cyberspace. However, when I typed the word “pilgrim” into Google’s search engine we were nowhere to be found, at least not on the first page where we should be. And the same held true for “Thanksgiving.” Imagine that.

So, while we might use these words here in a manner unfamiliar to the people we represent, they will help us rank higher in the search engines. Don’t worry, our characters may still educate you on the proper use of their English language, but for now—Pilgrim will do just fine.

Buddy Tripp

Lead Colonial Interpreter

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4 Responses to ““And They Knew They Were Pilgrims”…Redux”

  1. Jill says:

    Howdy, Pilgrim, and welcome to cyberspace!

  2. Hannah says:

    Hi, Pilgrims. I wanted to know why the word ‘Plimoth’ got changed into ‘Plymouth.’

  3. Theophrastus says:

    Hannah asked about variant spelling of Plymouth/Plimoth.
    I seem to remember Marie Peletier, art department, alledging that of the half dozen or so variant spellings Bradford throws us (sometimes two in the same paragraph) Plimoth with one less letter and no hanging tail on a “y” the advertisment signs can have the letters several inches higher.

  4. Justin says:

    This is a reply to Hannah. In the 17th century, reading was, in many ways, a completely different activity than most modern people are accustomed to. Today, when we are taught to read, we are quickly weaned off from sounding out words to silent reading. So far as I’ve read, in the Early Modern Period, at least in England, this step never happened. Rather, reading involved audibly speaking the written marks on the page. Doesn’t sound terribly earth shattering does it? Think again. This means a number of very interesting things about literacy. For one- not being able to read* didn’t automatically equal ignorance of written material. All you needed was someone with a book within earshot. What does this mean for Hannah’s question about ‘Plimoth’? The marks on a peice of paper in the 17th century were intended to be visual reminders of the sounds these letters produced, not sacred images in themselves. Thus, spelling was not standardized nor regarded as crucial, since writing was meant to be a road map for the reader to accurately produce a spoken word. In this way Plimoth, Plimmoth, Plymoth, Plymouth, Plymmouth, etc., are all the same word to English people in 1627.

    Wow, that was long.

    *Historians have long underestimated the number of people who were able to read in the early 17th century. It used to be thought that one could determine someone’s ablity to read by evidence that they could write. Unfortunately, reading and writing are seperate skills and were not universally taught. We now know that many more people were able to read than we had previously thought, since they didn’t necessarily know how to write.

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