Pilgrims, Indians, and Some Post-Thanksgiving Thoughts

We spent our Thanksgiving Day like many other American families—enjoying time with loved ones, stuffing ourselves with awesome food, and feeling grateful for it all. It was lovely.

The day after Thanksgiving, we opted out of the Black Friday shopping madness and went to Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA. Since fantasy has trumped fact in many Thanksgiving stories, we thought it would be cool to go to the spot where the Pilgrims settled and learn more details about that time and place in American history.
Plimoth Plantation is a historically accurate (well, as much as it can be) recreation of the Pilgrims’ settlement in 1627. They have an entire Pilgrim village set up with actors playing the parts of the settlers during that time period. The actors use 17th century vernacular, and if you ask them questions, they answer as if it’s 1627. It’s pretty cool. 
Conscious of the tendency for American history to leave out the native side of things, I was happy to learn that Plimoth Plantation includes a Wampanoag Indian homesite, where Indians from the Wampanoag and other local tribes share their history and customs. They are also happy to answer any questions people might have. 
You go through that section before getting to the Pilgrim settlement, which felt quite appropriate. So I’ll start there:

This handsome young man explained how wooden boats called mishoon are made. He also answered some questions kids asked about his hair. 🙂 
One thing that struck me with each Indian guide we met was how much pride they showed in their culture. It was quite beautiful, and painful at the same time, to witness. I admit to carrying a fair amount of white guilt (for lack of a better term) when it comes to this part of our history. I really just wanted to give each one of them a big hug, but figured that would come across much more creepy than my inner intentions. 
Dolittle was impressed with this man’s black bear hides. I wasn’t sure about photos, so I asked, and he enthusiastically asked Dolittle to hop into the picture with him. 

Next we went into one of the Wampanoag homes, called a “nush wetu.”

Normally, they would have three fires going in here, and it would be around 80 degrees. They wouldn’t have this much flame, though—just hot coals, to keep the smoke down.

The smoke made a cool effect with the sun coming in the hole in the roof, though.

Weaving baskets. Incredibly intricate. This clearly takes an ENORMOUS amount of work. It made me feel like a big, lazy bum. I’m pretty sure I’ve never made anything that took that much detailed skill and patience.
BoyWonder and Dolittle grinding corn. Kids love doing things like this when they don’t have to, don’t they? 
We spent about 45 minutes in the Wampanoag Homesite, then moved on to the plantation. It was pretty cool. The thatched roofs and cute gardens made it almost look a bit like the Shire in Lord of the Rings. The homes were very dark, though. Frankly, it must have sucked in winter. And pretty much in general. 
The first photo is the inside of the meeting house. The rest are of the village and the insides of the homes.
All I could think of here was “The Scarlet Letter.” 

The Muse. And a sheep.

It was so dark inside the homes, a lot of the photos came out blurry. Didn’t want to blind the poor Pilgrims with a flash, though.

Can you spot the chicken?
I bet she’s thinking about a nice, hot bath.
Firewood, anyone? 
I asked this lady how they went to the bathroom. Chamber pots, just like back in England. I also asked about bathing. They didn’t bathe much in winter. I bet they all smelled peachy. I’m a little obsessed with historical bathing. I can’t imagine living without a regular shower.

All in all, I thought it was quite well done.  
But, you know, the truth is it’s difficult to explore this part of American history. And it should be. Large aspects of it are ugly. Certain parts of it are inspiring. All of it is complex, and any attempts to simplify it fall short.

One thing we try to instill into our kids is that history is complicated. You really have to seek out various viewpoints of what happened to get anywhere close to an accurate picture. We explain that people simplify history for many reasons, sometimes in an attempt to briefly synopsize, sometimes out of one-sided ignorance, and sometimes as a deliberate way to make one’s family or community stories look better. 

But history is always complex. It’s also always—ALWAYS—about the people. Not just names, but real people. Emerson said, “There is properly no history; only biography.” I had to mull over that for a bit, but I think that’s really what it comes down to—history is about people, entirely. People are complex; therefore, history is complex. And when you see it as such, rather than as a linear bunch of dates and places and names to memorize, it becomes much more rich and interesting. 
With that thought in mind, we also visited the Mayflower II, a replica of the original Mayflower ship. 
My memories from my education are images of an old ship, like this one, carrying religiously persecuted Pilgrims across the sea to the New World. I imagined it would have been tough, but it almost seemed romantic.

But being aboard the ship, and imagining what it really must have been like, I got a whole new appreciation for what that trip must have been like. No romance at all.

The ship wasn’t that big. The captain and first mate got small bunks, some got cots, like the cooks and the cannon dude (okay, gunner), but the passengers had to lay out beds on the floor.

And not only did 102 men, women, and children have to all sleep here on the floor of the ship—their ANIMALS did, too. Goats, pigs, chickens, and two dogs. For TWO MONTHS. Animals don’t poo in chamber pots, nor do they hang themselves overboard. The filth and stench had to have been gruesome.

 And I can’t imagine feeding 102 people with this little kitchen.

Frankly, I probably would have jumped overboard. Or someone would have tossed me. Either way, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have made it to the New World.

It’s so interesting to be here, where it’s so much easier to imagine history happening—the good, the bad, and the ugly. 
Right now, I’m thankful to be living in 2013, thankful to not have to sail across the Atlantic in animal feces, thankful to learn more about Wampanoag Indian history and customs, thankful for people who’ve dedicated themselves to exploring and exposing historical truth, and thankful to be able to share all of our discoveries and experiences with you. 
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend!

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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

Comments 1

  1. since I was on this adventure too, I assure you the Mayflower folks were a hearty, hearty, hearty bunch. I imagine the added stench of sea sickness to the other smells was also prevalent. The ship was not really all that big, it must have been like being strapped to a cork circling a drain. Awesome photos Annie

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