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I’m writing this post on Thanksgiving Day. My turkey is in the oven, my side dishes have been made including my corn cake stuffing, the pumpkin pies have been baked. Hung on my fridge are the lovely little turkeys made from my children’s hands. Set on the table are napkins held with pilgrim napkin rings and a cornucopia sits in the middle of the table to symbolize the abundance this year’s harvest has brought. As lovely as these traditions are, it is far from the truth about what actually happened. Who were the pilgrims? Why were they traveling on a ship called the Mayflower ? Is Plymouth Rock really a rock ? To find the answers to these questions and the truth of our long celebrated Thanksgiving dinner we happened upon a book which not only shared the story of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims but inspired us to pack our suitcases and head to Massachusetts to have a look at the famous ship and the colony which was founded by the pilgrims.
Nathaniel Philbrick, who is a New York Times Bestselling author and National Book Award Winner for his book Mayflower. When I first read Mayflower I really felt it was an important book that I wished they would teach it in schools. Shortly after that thought, The Mayflower was adapted for young people. I quickly got a copy and we started reading it as part of our family book time.
The Mayflower ~ The Ship
Why the Mayflower and not some other ship ? The Mayflower was a merchant vessel which made frequent journeys across the channel bringing English cloth to France and returning to England with French wine. The Mayflower was 100 feet in length and rated at 180 tons which meant she was capable of holding 180 casks of wine. Wine ships like the Mayflower were also known as “sweet ships” because the wine which spilled out of the casks helped to dispel the horrible stench from the ship’s bilge.
The master of the Mayflower was Christopher Jones who was also part owner. He was a very skilled sea captain and along with merchant voyages he also did some whaling excursions up in Greenland. The Mayflower and her captain were very capable of sea voyages.
The journey was long. Setting sail in September, they finally arrived in the New World November 9th 1620. For the pilgrims the journey was very dark and they were housed on the tween decks on the ship. The provisions were kept in the hold, the lower half of the ship. Life on the Mayflower was dark, dank and airless with a length of only 75 feet and 5 feet high. To create privacy, the pilgrims built thin walls making little cabins. In and outside of those little cabins were all of their possessions they needed for the journey. The tween decks overflowed with people, clothing chests, barrels of food and drink, chairs, pillows and blankets. It was very cramped . The passengers were not allowed on deck and so this was their home for 60 days.
As I read selections from the book The Mayflower, my young boy sat and listened imagining what life was like on this vessel. The re-enactors are brilliant and go about the ship in their 17th century life. They interact with visitors and one can get a good glimpse of life on the Mayflower.
“Ahoy Land Ahead.” After being ship side for awhile I could easily imagine the sweetness of those words after a harrowing 60 day journey across the Atlantic. This brings us to our 2nd question “Is plymouth rock real? “
Yes it is. The first place they arrived on land, they named after the place they had departed from, Plymouth England. From here on out the spelling of the word Plymouth changes to Plimouth. I’m not sure why but that’s how it is. Creative spelling is now accepted.
Plimouth Plantation is a few miles up the road from where the Mayflower is docked. We spent the day hearing from the pilgrims themselves and even partaking in some of the daily work.
My sweet boy is always up for a little carpentry work. He loves wielding an ax and can be found often cutting firewood around here.
Nathaniel Philbrick is a masterful storyteller and brings to life the time and creation of the first Pilgrims and PlimouthPlantation. We often romanticize the first Thanksgiving by mentioning how the Native American’s saved the pilgrims from dying that first winter from the food they brought them. Nice adaption but it isn’t true. The truth is that the first Thanksgiving happened at the end of their first year at Plimouth after the harvest. It was also the time of year when all the migrating birds and deer were arriving and could be hunted for meat. The Native American’s arrived with deer and birds and provided a harvest feast that we still take part in. Those first 11 months the pilgrims had spent angering the Native Americans and it was a miracle that they could say they survived that first year. Is what “saved” the pilgrims was Massasoit, a Native American elder, offered to assist them. Also in the pilgrim’s defense they behaved appropriately by paying back corn that was given, sending envoys to keep channels of communication open and proclaiming their loyalty to Massasoit. This fragile peace lasted for 50 years until the next generation took over. Together Pilgrims and Native Americans shared a successful cooperative balance in community.
It is this part of the story I like the most. The part where everyone works together to create their community to live in. For that I am always grateful. In thinking about those first pilgrims and the beginnings of our annual feast, I am truly thankful for this journey back in time to know the true story. We feel a connection now to Thanksgiving like never before.
This book is an incredible read and great way to study the 17th century. Below are links to the Mayflower and Plimouth Plantation. It’s about an hour outside of Boston and really worth the visit.
As always, I’m very thankful for the book adventures we’ve shared throughout the years. Here’s wishing you a happy and abundant holiday season.