Plymouth Colony

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Landing of the Pilgrims

Artist Unknown, 1845

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Thatch Roof House

Leslie Reid, 2022

A certaine Indian came bouldly amongst them, and spoke to them in broken English, which they could well understand, but marveled at it.

–William Bradford

Tisquantum, the guide and interpreter [hand colored]

Engraving from Charles de Wolf Brownell book, 1864

For almost a month, small groups of men explored the coast around Cape Cod Bay while the rest remained aboard the ship. On December 21, the scouts chose a settlement location near Plymouth. Harbor. There, they found a freshwater stream, a land clearing, and a hill that would provide lookout and protection. The Mayflower sailed across the bay and anchored in Plymouth Harbor on December 26th.

The colonists continued living on the ship during the winter while the men rowed ashore during the day to build houses. It was a difficult time for the colonists. Hard work, a severe lack of food, and harsh weather took their toll. A devastating illness of colds, coughs, and fevers swept through the group, killing about half of the colonists and crew.

The Pilgrims were well aware of the Native American presence, especially because they were too weak to defend themselves from attack. They buried their dead at night to hide their dwindling number. The Natives kept the settlers under constant surveillance and knew of their losses, but mostly kept their distance.

By mid-March, the weather began to clear, and there were enough houses for everyone to leave the ship. Soon after, a Native named Samoset boldly walked into the village and introduced himself in broken English to the startled colonists. Samoset was an Abenaki chief from present-day Maine, who had learned some English from European fishermen. He was on an extended visit with the nearby Wampanoag tribe. Most New England tribes spoke the Algonquian language and could communicate with each other.

Samoset answered many questions from the colonists, describing the land, people, places, and distances. He explained that the colonists had settled in an area previously inhabited by the Patuxet, a native Wampanoag tribe wiped out by an epidemic four years earlier. He told them there was one surviving Patuxet who could speak even better English than he did.

A few days later, Samoset returned with Tisquantum, also known as Squanto. Several years before, Squanto had been kidnapped for slavery by Englishmen and taken to Europe, where he learned to speak English. He escaped and returned to America, only to find all of his people dead. With no home left, Squanto had settled with the Pokanoket tribe of Wampanoag.

Samoset and Squanto arranged a meeting that day between the colonists and Massasoit, the grand sachem or intertribal chief of the Wampanoag confederacy. The meeting led to a long-lasting treaty of friendship and mutual defense:​

1621 TREATY

  • The Wampanoags would not harm the colonists.

  • If anyone did cause harm, Massasoit would send the offender so that the colonists might punish him.

  • If anything were stolen, Massasoit would see to its return, and the colonists would do the same.

  • If anyone unjustly attacked the Wampanoags or colonists in an act of war, the other would give aid.

  • Massasoit would notify neighboring tribes of this treaty so that they might not harm the colonists.

  • When the Wampanoags visited the colonists, they would leave their bows and arrows behind.

Squanto remained with the malnourished and weakened settlers and became an invaluable member of the colony. Over the summer, he taught them to grow corn, catch fish, dig clams, extract maple syrup, and avoid poisonous plants. Another Wampanoag, Hobbamock, also lived among the colonists. With the help and guidance of the natives, Plymouth Colony survived.

When the Mayflower crew sailed back to England in April, not a single surviving passenger left with the ship. By early fall, the colonists had regained their strength and stored enough food to carry them through the winter. They had reason to be thankful.

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Going To Church

by N. C. Wyeth, 1941

DID YOU KNOW?

1. Dorothy Bradford, the first woman to die, fell overboard and drowned while the Mayflower was anchored for the winter.

2. Out of 102 passengers, only 51 survived the first winter..
3. The first thing women did upon arrival in America was laundry.
4. Full immersion baths were rare; however, the Pilgrims would have washed regularly with "sponge baths."
5. Children's chores would include fetching water, gathering firewood, picking berries, helping cook, clean, tend crops, and care for the younger children.
6. Only 4 of 18 women survived the first year, as the women remained in the cramped ship quarters caring for the sick.
7. Although daughters were generally believed too weak for the initial voyage, girls were by far the heartiest survivors.
8. Children were taught to read and write at home by parents or neighbors.
9. Both boys and girls wore dresses or "gowns" until age six or seven, when boys began wearing knee-length britches.
10. The colonists were shocked by Samoset's nakedness, as he simply wore a leather belt with fringe. When the wind picked up, they threw a coat around him.
11. The Wampanoag did not live in teepees or wear large feather headdresses. They lived in domed huts (wetu or wigwam), and wore single feathers, if any.