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Plymouth, 1621

Travel back in time and become the Thanksgiving expert in your family, and make real food for your own Thanksgiving table to honor the native Wampanoag people and the English pilgrims.

Part 7 - Pumpkins, Pilgrims and Promises

Lynley Jones

The year is 1620.

The Mayflower passengers are about to meet the Wampanoag people.

Will there be friendship or war - or both?

In the first 4 weeks of our Time Warp Cooking adventure this fall, we learned what life and cooking were like for the Wampanoag people before the Mayflower arrived.  Click here to read the story from the beginning.
A fantastic book  - a Wampanoag boy describes his day (with lots of photographs) as he strives to grow into a man in his village.

A fantastic book  - a Wampanoag boy describes his day (with lots of photographs) as he strives to grow into a man in his village.

Five year-old Mayflower passenger “Remember Allerton” visited the Adventure Kitchen earlier this month.  Click here to read her story.

Five year-old Mayflower passenger “Remember Allerton” visited the Adventure Kitchen earlier this month.  Click here to read her story.

When the Mayflower passengers first step off their ship, they are on a sandy strip of land that curls out into the Atlantic (the English would later call it “Cape Cod”).  They need to find a good place to build their new settlement, and they need to do it soon:  it’s late November and it’s already starting to snow.

For now, they are still living on the Mayflower.  They’ve been on the ship for over four months now.  It’s stinky, cold, damp and dark.  People are starting to get sick and they are running out of food.

Captain Myles Standish sets out with a group of other men to scout the area and look for a good place to build homes.  They explore the area for weeks, through freezing temperatures, rain and snow.  They camp out for many nights at a stretch, trying to stay warm and dry as they sleep outdoors.

Myles Standish was the English pilgrims’ chief military leader.  This picture of a 1600s soldier shows how he would have looked.

Myles Standish was the English pilgrims’ chief military leader.  This picture of a 1600s soldier shows how he would have looked.

As they explore the area, they find things that belong to the Wampanoag people:  food stored for the winter, a house and a grave. 

Each time, they take something away with them.  They take a large kettle of dried corn to plant in the spring, just in case their own English seeds don’t grow well here.  And from the grave and the house, they take “some of the best things” as souvenirs.

They talk about leaving behind “some beads and other tokens‘ in a sign of peace’” but in the end, they need to leave quickly and don’t leave anything behind.

The Wampanoag are watching them the whole time.

Early one morning, as the sun begins to rise, the air is suddenly filled with a “great and strange” war cry.  They realize they are surrounded by at least 30 Wampanoag warriors!  Each warrior is armed with a fearsome bow as tall as a man, and fifty arrows, each over a yard long, in his quiver. 

The arrows fly fast and deadly through the air. The Englishmen fumble with their muskets, firing them as quickly as possible at the warriors.  But Wampanoag warriors can fire arrows much faster than the English can fire their complicated muskets.  A skilled warrior can fire arrows so fast that he can have five of them in the air before the first one hits its target.

The musket fire is gradually getting steadier.  Fragments of blown-off bark and wood are flying all around the warriors.  The Wampanoag decide to retreat, and they let out “an extraordinary shriek” as they slip away.

Miraculously, no one is injured.

What about Plymouth Rock?  Click here to find out.


What about Plymouth Rock?  Click here to find out.

The men finally decide on a good place to settle.  It’s across the bay, in a spot where the woods have already been cleared for  crops to grow in the spring.  Strangely, no one is living there now.

English maps call this place Plymouth.  The Wampanoag name for the this place has always been Patuxet.  This is Squanto’s former home.

Click here to read the story of Squanto and Patuxet.

Squanto’s entire village has been wiped out by a terrible disease.  In December 1620, when the Mayflower arrives, the English, desperate and near starving, begin to build their homes amid the skulls and bones of Squanto’s people, still lying on the ground.

English pilgrims build a house - in warm weather.  (Taken at the Plimoth Plantation, August 2014.)

English pilgrims build a house - in warm weather.  (Taken at the Plimoth Plantation, August 2014.)

Inside wall, upper portion.  The large opening will be closed up as more wooden clapboards (panels) are added to the outside. (Taken at Plimoth Plantation, August 2014.)

Inside wall, upper portion.  The large opening will be closed up as more wooden clapboards (panels) are added to the outside. (Taken at Plimoth Plantation, August 2014.)

Inside wall, partially completed.  Mud is used to seal and insulate the walls. (Taken at Plimoth Plantation, August 2014.) 

Inside wall, partially completed.  Mud is used to seal and insulate the walls. (Taken at Plimoth Plantation, August 2014.) 

All winter long, the Mayflower is anchored in Plymouth Harbor, while work parties go ashore to build houses and other structures.  The winter weather is much harsher than anything they know from England or Holland.  Icy winds blow and snow and freezing rain fall as they try to work.  Women, children and the sick remain on the Mayflower until homes are built for them to move into.

More and more people are getting sick.  They are cooped up in a small, dirty, damp, cold space on the ship, with little fresh water or food.  There are rats and cockroaches running around, and these pests carry germs that make people very sick.  There is no place to wash up and stay clean, and no way to stay warm and dry.  With all those people sharing germs in such a small place, more and more of them are getting sick.

That winter is a terrible time for all the Mayflower passengers, including Remember’s family.  Remember’s mother has been pregnant during the trip from Holland.  The day after the Mayflower finally reaches Plymouth Harbor, the ship is battered by a terrible storm.   As huge waves smash into the sides of the ship, Remember’s mother Mary gives birth in the dark 'tweendecks space they have been living in on board.  But sadly, the baby boy is stillborn – this means he was full term, but died before he could be born.

Even worse, two months later, Remember’s mother dies, too.  People are so sick that half of them die that first winter.  At least one person in nearly every family dies that winter.  In three families, every single family member dies, leaving no one.  And several children lose both their parents, making them orphans before they even get settled in this new land. 

Source:  Plimoth Plantation (www.plimoth.org)

Source:  Plimoth Plantation (www.plimoth.org)

All winter, as the English build their homes and so many of them die, the Wampanoag are watching them.  They are trying to decide what to do about these new settlers.

Friendship.png

Squanto is still a prisoner.  (Click here to read how that happened.)  He hears about these new English people building homes on the very land he grew up on.

Squanto talks to Massasoit, the sachem (chief) who is holding him prisoner.  He says that the English are very powerful, with huge ships and weapons that shoot fire, but that he, Squanto, can speak their language. He also understands how these people think and act. Massasoit should try to befriend the English, he says.  They could be his allies against other tribes in the area.  Then, Massasoit would be very powerful.

Massasoit isn’t sure.  These English people can mean trouble.  Maybe they will just die off if he leaves them alone?  Or maybe he should send his warriors to attack them while they are weak and sick, and just wipe them out?

In the end, Massasoit decides to try friendship.  But not with Squanto. Perhaps he still cannot be trusted.  He asks Samoset, a sachem from another village, who also speaks some English, to pay a visit to the English in Patuxet.

English pilgrim house and garden at the Plimoth Plantation.

English pilgrim house and garden at the Plimoth Plantation.

By March, all the families have moved off the Mayflower and into their newly-built homes.  Other buildings are still being built, but there is now, finally, space for everyone to sleep on land, and a large fort where they can all meet together and stay safe if there’s an emergency.

On March 16, with the arrival of spring less than a week away, the alarm suddenly sounds in Plymouth.  Someone has spotted an Indian!  This could mean the Wampanoag are about to attack.  The women and children run quickly to the fort to stay safe together.  The men grab their muskets and get ready.  So many have died over the winter that there are not very many left to fight, but they will do their best.

Remember’s mother has died, so she and her brother and sister are rushed into the fort with other women.  They hold each other tight as they wait and listen.

Gradually, they realize they don’t hear sounds of fighting.  They hear the men talking, a little confused by what’s happening.  The sounds move closer to the fort.  Something is happening – but what? 

Suddenly, they hear a strange-accented voice say, “Welcome, Englishmen!”

As they realize there is no battle, no danger, the women and children peek out of the fort.  They are astounded.

There, standing right outside the fort, is a tall, brown-skinned Wampanoag man.  He is “stark naked,” they think, wearing nothing but a fringed piece of leather around his waist.  And he is smiling and playfully saluting the Englishmen!

Remember is amazed to realize he actually doesn’t seem scary at all.  He seems nice!

As a chilly breeze blows, one of the Englishmen takes off his coat and puts it over the man’s bare shoulders.  The Wampanoag man says his name is Samoset, and he holds out two arrows to the Englishmen.  One is a normal arrow, tipped with a deadly sharp arrowhead.  The other has no sharp point at all.  The Englishmen aren’t sure what this means.  Maybe he is offering them a choice between peace and war?

Whatever it means, this man is friendly, and he is now their guest.  After they talk outside for awhile, Samoset is invited into the Hopkins family's house for a meal.  He enjoys the food and asks for beer! 

Samoset spends the night in the Hopkins’ home.  Remember can hardly sleep, knowing that the Wampanoag man is sleeping in her neighbor's house that night.  She's not the only one - the men stay up and watch the Hopkins home all night, listening for any sounds of trouble.  Samoset leaves the next morning, promising to return in a few days with some other friendly Wampanoag men, including one who speaks even better English than he does!

Can you guess who that might be? Click to find out!

This post originally appeared on 11/18/14.


 

“Pompion” is the word the English used for pumpkin in the 1600s.  When they finally get a good crop going, they will have lots of pumpkin in the fall and winter.  The sight and aroma of stewed pompion will soon be a daily occurrence, simmering away over the fire in every home in Plymouth. 

Pumpkin was so plentiful and common, it was almost certainly served at the “first Thanksgiving” harvest celebration in 1621. (But not pumpkin pie – that would come later!)
Stewed Pompion made in the Adventure Kitchen, November 2014.

Stewed Pompion made in the Adventure Kitchen, November 2014.

  • Pumpkin (this recipe uses canned pumpkin to make things easier)
  • Butter (brought on the Mayflower)
  • Salt (brought on the mayflower)
  • Spices:  ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice (ginger and other spices were brought on the Mayflower)
  • Maple syrup (the English didn't yet know about making sweet syrup from maple sap, and maple syrup is not listed in the original ingredients.  But it tastes great here, so we are imagining perhaps the Wampanoag brought some to the English as a gift... !)
  • Apple cider (delicious and seasonal, but apples would not come to North America until later)