Life aboard the Mayflower. Modern-day interpreters give visitors a taste of the Pilgrims' voyage
Plymouth, Mass. — Step back in time, if you will. To a raw winter morning some 367 years ago - Feb. 21, 1620, to be precise. Imagine you are about to meet some of the brave passengers on the Mayflower. You climb the gangplank. There now, you're aboard.
Step lively! The decks are slippery, and people are working on all sides. While the men ashore cut the forests and the crew remove the cannon to land, there's water to haul and washing to hang.
On one side of the deck, a group of women apply themselves to their tasks.
You approach one of them, who's working diligently at her wash, and ask, rather diffidently, what the voyage here was like.
Pilgrim woman: It was a long journey, 66 days at sea, and only those three cooking fires the whole time. What did we eat? Cheese, of course. And dried fruits - prunes, raisins, currants. Pickled beet roots and pickled onion root. And those horrid ship's biscuits. Small beer to drink, and cider.
'Twas hard on Saints and Strangers alike, 50 menfolk and 20 women. But 'twas hardest on the 30 childres, heaven knows. Sweet little Humility Cooper, brave Resolved White, the two Brewster lads, Love and Wrestling, and tiny Samuel Eaton, just two months old when his mother brought him on board.
Since then, of course, we've grown by two - Oceanus Hopkins born at sea, and Peregrine White born while we were at anchor at the Cape of Cod. Do you remember, Goodwife Billington, when each babe arrived?
Goodwife Billington: In truth, Mistress, we were so happy to hear the wee babes and their cries. There was much moisturing of eyelids to see mothers and babes doing well. It's by God's good grace, it is, that two childres have been born to the New World.
Pilgrim woman: But then, you've got two young lads of your own, have you not, Nell Billington?
Goodwife Billington: Indeed, I do. Young John was born when the plague was leaving Londontown, and King James was coming forth to power. I'm not a lettered woman, but I've got a good memory - and a quick wit, say some! - and I can remember that well. It was in 1603. So I imagine John is about 16 years of age.
Francis is younger, and in truth nothing important happened when he was born. I can't tell you his age.
Of course, to hear the other passengers speak of them - that the Billington lads are always in a pot of trouble of their own brewing - well, I ask ye, were ye not hotheaded in your own youth? They're restless, is all, for it has been a long journey.
Pilgrim woman: Goodwife Billington speaks the truth, does she not? Of course, she's a Stranger, loyal to the Church of England....
Goodwife Billington: And why not? I don't mind the King being head of the Church, for he's got his authority from God!
Pilgrim woman: But then, what think ye, Nell, of we Saints - Separators, as ye call us?
Goodwife Billington: You don't offend me much. It is a bit of treason, I must say, to separate from the King's Church. But we must work together if we're to survive in this uncivilized land.
Pilgrim woman: Uncivilized, in truth. Still, it is good to be on land again, after nine weeks at sea. Ellen Moore, there - child, what thought you of the crossing?
Ellen Moore: I was very scared and very seasick, Mistress. The first fortnight the seas were calm, but once the voyage got going, it was so dark and stormy, and the ship pitched and rolled like a babe's cradle, it did.
Pilgrim woman: Could you do nothing to pass the time, Ellen?
Ellen Moore: In truth, I don't know how to read and write, Mistress, and it was too dark 'tween decks to play many games with the other childres. But we did a bit of cat's cradle, and sang psalms, and prayed a lot. Most of the younger ones clung to their mothers' skirts, they did. But we - oh, yes, we told riddles!
Pilgrim woman: Could you give us a riddle, Nell Billington?
Goodwife Billington: You be a bit bold, but I suppose I could. Try this, then: What is higher than a house and lesser than a mouse?
Pilgrim woman: In truth, we can't say.
Goodwife Billington: A star, of course.
Pilgrim woman: You're right, Nell. Right as rain. And good to have aboard, you and your riddles, these dark weeks past. But I wonder, was it hard for you, leaving kin behind?
Goodwife Billington: I've only got one cousin, the rest be all dead now. And being common folk and being feared of highwaymen, my cousin could not come to see us off, even if he'd known the word of our leaving.
I shall miss England very much, Mistress.... But my husband says we shall better our lives here. And he should know, being the head of the house. In truth, I be the weaker vessel.
Pilgrim woman: And you, young Ellen, what brought you to this land?
Ellen Moore: I'm an orphan, Mistress, a servant girl to the Winslow family. My Master and Mistress Winslow wanted to come to the New World for religious reasons, so I had no choice but to come. I wish I was back in England, but now that I'm here, I shall live and die here.
Pilgrim woman: Have you seen any signs of Indians about, Ellen?
Ellen Moore: We did sight some at the Cape of Cod, Mistress, when they came after the menfolk with arrows, and so we did not stay there.
Pilgrim woman: And what think you, Nell, of this New World and our future?
Goodwife Billington: Sometimes upon the journey, I was so fearful that I prayed the lot harder. But when we saw the Cape of Cod, I fell upon my knees, and thanked the Lord in heaven for delivering us. If we are to survive as a colony, we must stay together. We've all got English background, have we not? I think we shall prosper if we can learn to trust each other.