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Life in Plimoth: Elizabeth Hopkins, Pilgrim

Elizabeth arrived in America with her husband, two children, and two stepchildren. Here are her answers to students questions about the voyage, life at Plimoth, and more.

  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Mayflower Voyage

Why did your family travel to America on the Mayflower?
My husband was one that wanted to own land. But we also came that we might bring religion to the nation. The Indians are not Protestants, though they have Gods that they worship. It was important for us to bring them news of our religion. As for land, common men of England find it harder to own land [in England] in these times.

Was it hard to leave England?
Indeed, very hard. I had lived all my life in London, and I had not thought when I married Stephen Hopkins that he would bring our family to such an outlandish place. I was used to markets, and mills, and all the conveniences of city life. There are none of these things in the New World, and it has proven very hard for English housewives.

Did everyone on the Mayflower get along?
I think it would be very surprising if one hundred people on so long a voyage did not have spots of trouble here and there. My husband and I are not part of the congregation from Holland, so we are a little apart from the rest. Those who lived in Holland — that is about half of the passengers on the ship — have known each other for many years.

Indeed, my husband and I are strangers to them. One of our neighbors, John Billington, has already had some trouble here in this town. His sons did cause much trouble for nearly blowing apart the Mayflower. One of his sons, Francis, got hold of his father's musket and did fire a blank charge out of it. It would have made a loud noise, which is what Francis wanted, I think, but it was very close to a cask of gunpowder. No one was hurt, and no harm came of it, but this was one of the more disagreeable events on our voyage.

Were there any doctors on the Mayflower to help you deliver your baby?
A very good question. There were no doctors, for it is uncommon for common people to go to doctors. There was on board ship a surgeon for the Mayflower crew named Giles Heald. And the people who came from Holland had amongst them a man named Samuel Fuller who had good skill at medicine. He gave much comfort.

When women give [have] children, they do not want the comfort of a surgeon, but the comfort of a midwife. There was no midwife on board, but there were other women who had had children. They were of the greatest help to me. I did very much miss having my sisters and my mother by my side, for they had been at the birth of my daughter, Damaris.

Did other women help you take care of the baby?
Indeed. Mostly I have help from my stepdaughter, Constance. She is 12 years of age and is delighted to help take care of her new little brother.

How was it giving birth on the Mayflower compared to giving birth in England?
I had never given birth in a rocking bed before. And when you have a baby on land, you can make the chamber warm and you can be with just the women in your family. The ship was crowded, cold, and of little comfort. I think this is why my baby is weak. I pray I never have another child on a ship. I hope none of you were born on ships!

What did you bring with you on the Mayflower?
You have to bring a great deal of things. In London, there are lists of the goods needed to come to the New World with you. So my husband and I looked carefully to these lists and decided what amongst our goods we could bring, what we could buy, and what we might sell of our other goods in order to buy the things necessary.

As there are no markets in the New World, you must consider well what is needed. With me I brought seeds for planting my kitchen garden, all my hearth furniture — pots and kettles. We brought warm clothes and shoes and many tools that will enable us to build houses, hunt, fish, and work in the fields and gardens. My husband is worried, for he fears that we may not have the proper stuff for fishing.

What did you eat aboard the Mayflower?
It was very much like the food we eat in winter. Many salted meats, powdered fish, pork, and beef. We also have dried foods that are easily stored, like peas and oats. The bread that we eat is very hard, and is called ship's biscuit. I will be very glad when I do not have to eat that anymore! In addition to the food that we had for our voyage, we brought a great deal of food to last us until our first harvest.

What kinds of things did you do for fun while on the ship?
My children entertained me and themselves with singing, telling riddles, and playing games. My little girl has a rag poppet (a rag baby) that she plays with.

Where did you sleep on the Mayflower?
In the 'tween decks of the ship, where the goods are usually kept. My husband had a carpenter build us a little cabin, and so we had a bed there.

How did you hold religious ceremonies or worship services on the Mayflower?
We did not have the same sort of church I was used to in England. But there is aboard one man who is a leader of the Church from Holland, Elder William Brewster. Upon the Sabbath, he led us in prayer and singing. Although I am not of their Church, this gives me much comfort.

Were you able to go on the main deck?
When we could, it was encouraged. People suffer from scurvy on the ship. We exercised our limbs as much as possible. It was harder for me to go above deck since I was great with child and had trouble going to and from.

Personal

How old are you today?
I am 29 years of age. I was born during the realm of Queen Elizabeth. I remember her funeral when I was a girl.

How did your baby Oceanus get that name?
Names are commonly chosen by men or godparents. My husband is a man well-read, so he chose Oceanus, a name that comes from the ancient name for the Atlantic Ocean.

Is Oceanus a citizen of England or the New World?
We are all Englishmen, and we have come to the New World to bring an English colony. My boy is an Englishman.

What happened to Oceanus? Is he alive today?
Oceanus is very, very weak. I fear for the coming winter. I think he might not live through it.

How old are your children?
Damaris is my daughter; she has four years of age. And Oceanus is a little less than a year. He is a weak child, and does not stand or walk yet. And I fear for his health. I have stepchildren as well. Constance has about 16 years, and Giles about 14. And I am with child again.

Was your family sad when you left for America?
Very sad. They were also very worried, for ship's travel is very hard, and pirates are known to trouble English vessels. They also worried about how we would be treated by the natives when we got to the New World. I do not think I shall ever see my family again.

Was it your choice to marry Stephen?
It was, though I had good advice from my father and others. It is said that when wiving, it is best to take counsel from all the world. You want as many opinions as you can get.

Who is your best friend?
There are only four married women that survived our first winter. The one that I find the greatest friendship with is Eleanor Billington.

Life at Plimoth

Did people bring animals or pets over to the New World?
Indeed we did, for it is important for our colony to have the necessary animals such as hens for eggs, goats for milk, and pigs for meat. Dogs came with us as well. One of our neighbors, Peter Brown, brought a spaniel for hunting and a mastiff for guarding. There were no beasts that were brought as pets or lapdogs. Every creature is useful to us.

What animals impressed you most in the New World?
I have seen many new kinds of animals. There are creatures here that I have no English name for. My children are much delighted this summer to see flying glowworms. These are insects that at night glow in the dark. Also, there are many beasts here that are dangerous. I do not know that there are wolves in England, but there certainly are here. There is also a creature called a rattlesnake that is said to be poisonous if it bites a man. There is also here a cat that has a most terrible smell. Indians call them skunks. If you come to the New World, do not try to pet them!

What kind of houses did you build in the New World?
We have already built seven houses, and four common houses for keeping goods. These houses are made of sturdy timbers, thatched roofs, and walls of wattles and daub. Wattle is sticks that are put in between the studs of the house, and the daub is a mixture of clay and other things that goes on top of the wattle. On the outside of the houses, we put clapboards. The clapboards make these houses different from the ones that were made in England, but without the clapboard the daub would not stay in the wall.

What did your husband do for work in England? What does he do in Plimoth?
As every man, he has come here to be a planter. In addition to this, he will have to be a hunter and fisherman and builder of houses. Most of the trades that men had in England are not of use here. In London, Stephen was a weaver. In his youth he had been a farmer, so he is glad to take it up again.

What was the hardest chore you have to do in the New World?
That is easy. We have no mill here, so all in my family must take turns grinding flour in mortar and pestle. It is very hard, and very tedious. The flour is used to make bread, pancakes, and pudding.

Did you go to school? Can you read and write?
No, I do not read or write. Many of the women who live in Plimoth are able to read. Most of these women who can read are part of the Church that came from Holland. Mostly in England it is men who read, for they need this in order to work. I would say less than half of the people in Plimoth can read, but that is a pretty good amount.

Do any of your children go to school in Plimoth?
There is no school here. Mostly children are by their mothers' sides when they are little, and they learn their duties and their manners from her. When they are older, they are taught of God and their duty to Him and are asked questions of what they heard at Church. When they are of an age to work, at about 8, boys go with their fathers and girls with their mothers. This is how they begin to learn their life's work.

Will Oceanus learn to read and write?
He may if his wits are good. It will be sometime before my husband has time to teach the children. He has taught his first son to read, and if he has time, so might Oceanus learn.

Are children allowed to choose their life's work?
I would think a child here would have little choice. But this is not a bad thing at all, for I think in England most men would choose to be farmers if they could. But there is not enough land there. To be a farmer is to be very prosperous in England. Part of the reason my husband came here is that our children could be farmers and farmers' wives. It is the best way to make a living.

Do you think that your children will get a chance to visit England?
No, I do not think this will be possible. We have come to make our life in the New World. Traveling back and forth to England is a very treacherous business. I can think of no reason why they should need to go.

How has your first year in America been different from what you expected?
It has been in many ways harder than it was in my fantasy. The summer here was very hot, the winter is the worst I have ever known. I had no expectation that half the people I traveled with would die. But there have been many happy things in settling here as well. I think had we cattle, we could live here as well as any in England.

Wampanoag Indians

What were your first thoughts of the Indians?
I was fearful when I came here, but now I feel at ease amongst some of the Indians. We have a treaty with them since March. The first guest that stayed in the house of my husband was one of the Indians, named Samoset. I was frightened when I learned he would stay in our house, and yet he was very gentle and tender with my children. They were much fascinated with this man.

The Indians are very different than any Englishman I have met. They are dark and tall, and do not seem to mind the weather here as much as we. I think they are more better suited to this wild place than we are.

Has King Massasoit been kind and friendly to the people of Plimoth?
He has been kind indeed. We have had a treaty with him since March. I have seen him several times. The last time was at our recent harvest feast. He is very different than Englishman, and wears a black wolf upon him as covering. I can think of no other place where Englishmen have settled where they have been received so kindly.

Have you made friends with any of the Indian women?
Not really. Mostly we have had men who have come to meet us. Hobbamock, who lives near us, has several wives, but we have little in common. I do not speak their tongue, and they do not know English.

Thanksgiving Feast

How many people attended the Thanksgiving feast?
The feast lasted three days, and there were near to a hundred and a half of us, including 90 Indians and their king, Massasoit.

What did you eat at the feast?
For the harvest feast, we did cook much. Some of the dishes we prepared were wild fowl — geese and ducks that were boiled and roasted. We had fish and shellfish, pompeians (pumpkins), and best of all, fine fat deer that were brought by the Indians to the feast. I had never eaten venison in England, and it is very good.

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