Children in Plimoth

Kate Waters, children's book author and an expert on the Mayflower and life in Plimoth, has answered a selection of kids' questions.

Did any of the girls wear fancy dresses?
I am sure that girls and women had dresses that they considered better dresses and church clothes. But the people who traveled on the Mayflower did not wear very frilly dresses. They were simple people who wore practical clothes. The fabric of their dresses was heavy and sturdy. Females had much work to do, so dresses of fragile cloth would not have been practical.

Did Pilgrim children take baths?
Seventeenth-century people did not take as many baths as you and I do. In fact, they believed that you would get sick and perhaps die from immersing your body in water. Most people probably took a full bath twice a year! But they did wash their hands and faces and feet and teeth regularly. Cleanliness was important at meal times. Keep in mind that there was no indoor running water at the time. All the water for bathing had to be carried from a well or a brook. Imagine how many buckets of water it would take to fill up a bathtub.

Did Pilgrim children wear bright clothes?
Yes. Even though you may see pictures of the Pilgrims dressed all in black, Pilgrim adults and children did wear bright colors. They liked red, purple, and yellow cloth. The only person in the colony who wore black all the time was the deacon, a religious and political figure.

Did Pilgrim children speak English?
Most of the settlers did speak English. Some also spoke Dutch since many had lived in Holland before coming to North America.

Were parents strict with their children?
There were rules children had to obey in Pilgrim times just like there are today, but some of the rules were different. For example, children were not allowed to speak unless an adult spoke to them first. That rule only applied if adults were around, so Pilgrim children talked to each other, made up stories and songs, and played games just like children do today. Life was very hard for the early settlers, so rules were important.

What did Pilgrim children do in the winter?
Even in the winter, children had to bring water from the brook, collect firewood, feed animals, and help their parents. Sometimes, they had to break the ice in the brook to get the water. But people spent much more time indoors in the winter. It can be very, very cold on the ocean shore in the winter. There were many chores to do: children made simple furniture, cooked, minded younger brothers and sisters, mended cloth and tools, cut up and dried any game their father could get, and worked on their lessons. In March, when the ground began to thaw, they would begin to plant their kitchen gardens.

Did girls have different chores from boys?
Both boys and girls were responsible for helping their mothers. Chores differed by age and by strength. Plimoth Colony was struggling to become successful. Everyone who could work did. Both boys and girls did whatever was asked of them. It was only years later, when the community was established, that girls were encouraged to stay closer to home and do quiet tasks.

Did kids see dangerous animals in the woods around Plimoth?
Plimoth was next to the ocean. There were many wild animals the settlers were not familiar with. Bears came to the coves to eat. Wild turkeys roamed in flocks. There were deer in the woods. As far as we know, however, no settlers were killed by wild animals. Eventually, the Pilgrims learned about the native animals.

Did Pilgrim boys and girls ever get into any fights?
Of course they did. Pilgrim girls and boys were not much different than you and me. But the rules they had to follow were often very strict. They would not be able to shout and be mean if any adults were around. Many Pilgrim children tried to be "seen but not heard" around grown-ups.

Did the Pilgrim children have basketballs or soccer balls?
No, but they did make kicking balls from animal hides and played a game much like soccer. Basketball was invented in the United States in the nineteenth century.

What games did Pilgrim children play? Do we still play any of those games today?
Pilgrim children played with dolls, marbles, balls, hoops, and many other handmade things. They also played make-believe and hide-and-seek, just as we do today.

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Picture Time Line | Voyage on the Mayflower | Plimoth: 1621
Thanksgiving CyberChallenge | Meet Kate Waters and Russ Kendall
Teacher's Guide

 

  • Subjects:
    Colonial and Revolutionary America, Holidays
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