Thursday, November 22, 2007
On November 11, 1620 the anchor was dropped. William Bradford later wrote of this moment: "I cannot but...stand half amazed at this poor people's present condition;...Being thus past the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles...they had now no friends to welcome them nor inns to entertain or refresh their weather beaten bodies;...What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and His grace?"
Several expeditions were made to explore the area and find the best location for a settlement. Winter made this very difficult and many people were still sick. They finally found a location that had fertile soil, 4 spring fed creeks, and a large section of ground already cleared and ready for planting.
They landed at this location on December 11, 1620. They decided to build a meetinghouse first and then 19 family dwellings, the unmarried men were assigned to live with families. These were to be simple on room frame houses, about 18 by 14 feet with a fireplace and a sleeping loft. There was no glass for the windows and the roofs were thatch, like they had in England.
In Mid-January, a setback happened when the thatched roof of the newly completed meetinghouse caught fire. They were able to put the fire out before the whole building caught fire.
The pilgrims were living in temporary quarters in the meetinghouse and on the Mayflower, and still dealing with illness. The winter weather grew worse, a flu like illness spread through the colony, which they called the "general sickness." During the worst of the epidemic, on any given day, only 6 or 7 our the the 102 colonist might be strong enough to help tend the sick. Then they began to die, sometimes 2 or 3 a day. They men buried them at night, so that the Indians would not be aware of how their numbers were diminishing.
In March, they began to hope again, and prepared for planting their crops. On March 16, Samoset walked into the settlement and spoke to them "Welcome!" in English. The pilgrims were stunned and a bit wary of his intentions. They offered him food and drink. He informed them that he knew about English food and customs through his contact with English fishermen, at his home in which in now Maine. He told them about the Indian tribe that had lived in that area, and were known to have murdered every white man who ever landed in their territory. However 4 years before the Pilgrims arrived, the tribe suffered a mysterious plague, and everyone had died. He went on to tell them about the other tribes in the surrounding area.
Near the end of March, the surviving Pilgrims reviewed their winter losses. Several entire families had perished in the epidemic;15 of 19 women were dead; in only 4 couples had both spouses survived. The children had fared best, 9 out of 10 girls survived and only 8 boys of 23 boys died. Nearly half of those who arrived on the Mayflower were buried on a wind swept hill beside the sea.
They planted their crops, and Samoset brought a friend to meet them. His name was Tisquantum, or "Squanto". Squanto also spoke English, as he had been kidnapped by a sea captain. He was away from his tribe when the mysterious plague killed them all. He spoke such excellent English, that he served as the main translator for the pilgrims when meeting with Massasoit. They exchanged gifts, smoked the peace pipe and reached an agreement of peace that lasted for 50 years!
Squanto stayed in Plymouth with the pilgrims, becoming like one of them until the day he died. He helped them learn how to plant crops in this New World, how to catch eels and fish at the river and to use them as fertilizer for planting their corn. He taught them to plant pumpkins, and tap maple trees, he introduced them to the trapping of beaver for their pelts.
They grew strong and healthy working 6 days a week and taking the 7th for a day of worship and rest. On this day they traded their work clothes for brightly colored clothing of blue, red, green, violet, and yellow. The first remarriage occurred in May between 2 of the widowed - Edward Winslow and Susanna White.
By October 1621 the corn was ready for harvest. The fields yielded a large crop that kept them from starving in the coming winter. The new governor, William Bradford, declared that Plymouth colony would hold a thanksgiving festival and invited the settlement's Indian friends as guests. Massasoit arrived with 90 braves, and the pilgrims worried that they would not have enough food, and might have to use their corn reserved for winter. However the Indians were used to celebrating the harvest and they brought 5 deer and more fish and seafood.
The menu was impressive: venison, goose, lobster, eel, oysters, clam chowder, parsnips, turnips, cucumbers, onions, carrots, cabbage, beets, radishes, and dried fruit that included gooseberries, strawberries, cherries, and plums. Some were cooked in dough to make a kind of pie. The Indians supplied a special treat, they placed corn on hot coals and the kernels blew into white puffs - popcorn! The Indians dribbled maple syrup over the white snack and made popcorn balls!
Before eating, their spiritual leader offered a prayer to God who had so clearly and miraculously led them to this place. The feasting continued for 3 days, during which they participated in games and exhibitions of shooting skill with bows and arrows, and guns.
When the feast was over, they both Indians and colonists alike agreed that they wanted to have a similar feast the next year.