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Life in Plimoth: John Howland, Pilgrim

After falling overboard on the Mayflower journey, John Howland arrived safely in New England as a servant to the first governor of Plimoth Colony. Later he became a yeoman farmer and one of the assistant governors to Governor Bradford.

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How did it feel to fall off the Mayflower? How long did it take you to get back in the Mayflower after you fell off?
I was frightened beyond my wits. I'spect, it was a quarter of an hour although I lost account of the time. I know not in truth, I was only glad that God spared me.

Our class would like to know how you get your medicine?
All the housewives know well their family's humor, and have learned since they were young girls what herbs are best for making infusions, decoctions, etc.

Do you ever miss England?
How could I not? I have left the most civilized place in the world, and have come to live in the least civilized place in the world.

Why did you have to wear hats?
It is proper not for just Englishmen, but for all civilized folk.

Do you brush your teeth? What do you use to brush them?
To clean them? I have used the leaves of sage, although my mother always said, 'tis bad manners to pick your teeth with a knife, at least at the table.

Did the Pilgrims bring any musical instruments with them? If so, what were they like? What kind of music did you play? Do you sing songs for special occasions?
There is a drum in the town. Although it is mostly used for calling people together. We mostly sing. If I raise my voice, I favor to raise it to the Lord. We celebrate no false holidays, but sometimes will sing rounds at brideales, after weddings. We sing psalms on the Lord's day.

What was the first winter like in Plymouth?
I had never seen a place so cold in my life. We were without shelter. Praise God, Master Jones kept the Mayflower here 'til we had some shelter.

Why did they name it Plimoth?
It was already named Plimoth before we came.

What was your profession before you came to Plimoth?
I had farmed, like most folk of the middling sort.

What kind of food did you eat on the Mayflower?
It was all fair wretched. Salted fish, dried cow's tongue, oatmeal, ship's biscuit.

What does your house look like?
Tis but a cottage. But next year, when I am granted land I will start upon a manor house!

How often do you bathe?
I wash myself every day, although I only wash my whole body once every fortnight in the summer.

What games could children play when it was winter?
If you have light from candles or such, you might play at marbles. Or singing.

Why are you called Pilgrims?
I have never been called that. But we have moved to a strange place like pilgrims.

How did you hunt? Did you have guns?
We've been provided with muskets to defend this place, and there are a great store of wildfowl to be got, and if you are fortunate, even venison.

What kind of laws to you have and how do you enforce them?
We have what is called a civil body politic. Which means since the governor of New England doth not live here, we still can elect our own governor and observe English law.

How long is a fortnight?
14 nights.

Do you have any pets? Like keeping wild birds in cages?
Nay, but there are spaniels for hunting and mastiffs for guarding.

What did you think about the Indians when you first encountered them?
I had only heard about them before I come. And glad was I to find some of them speak English. And the king of them carries himself as a king.

How did the Pilgrims protect themselves at night?
All the men between the age of 16–60 are required to stand watch in turns at night to defend the town.

Who was the captain of the ship and what was he like?
A captain is a military man. But the master of the ship, it being a merchant ship, was named Master Christopher Jones. That he kept the ship through the winter 'til we had houses, that he gave us some of his crews' beer when we had run out, made me think he was a true Christian man.

Did anyone ever go back to England?
There have been a few, but it cost so much to come, folk were resolved to stay even though it was so difficult.

Do you celebrate Christmas and how?
In our church, we see it not as a true holy day justified in scripture. Although, there were some the second year who did; until the governor decided we won't have it any more.

Is there a school? If so, what ages do the children go to school?
We're all common people, you'd hardly find many folk in my town that could read. But, Elder Brewster suggests that everyone should be able to read scripture.

How did the Pilgrims and Native Americans talk? What language did they speak?
Praise God there were some that the Lord had speak English. Although Captain Standish hath learned much of their tongue.

If you left England for religious reasons, why is it fair for your governor to not allow people religious freedoms to celebrate Christmas?
Our church was the one to set up this whole venture with the merchants who paid for this plantation. So since our church sees it not justified in the Bible, wherefore should'st we allow false holy days to be celebrated.

Did you ever meet William Bradford? If yes what was he like?
I know everyone in the town. He is the most suited man for governing, although I expect he'd never be considered for governing in England. He is only but a commoner.

Did you use money, or did you trade items?
There is nowhere to render coin in the middle of a wilderness. We have such good trade with the Indians around the Kennebec River, indian corn is used like money to trade for furs, which are then used to purchase goods come out of England.

What does the Mayflower look like inside?
It was a middling size merchant ship. A barque, I think Master Jones called it. It was brightly colored, as all merchant ships are.

When somebody dies in the winter and the ground is frozen solid, what do you do with the body?
The first winter most of the ground was frozen, but we'd found some flat ground overlooking the harbor. That flat ground was not frozen and we could bury the dead in common graves.

How many people lived in Plimoth Plantation?
There are 'round about 9 score or mayhap 180 folk dwelling here in this year 1627.

Why are merchant ships bright colors?
I know not exactly, but I would expect so that their owners can see them far into the harbor before they come into shore.

We read that children served their parents dinner. Is this true?
Oh, certainly. It is the purpose of a child to serve their parents.

What type of shoes did you wear on your feet?
I'd brought some, but now all our shoes come from England and in sundry divers sizes.

What jobs did the Pilgrims have?
Most of those that came had trades previously like printing and combing wool etc. Although now we're all farmers, fishermen, carpenters etc.

Do you have a clock?
Not even bells to chime out the hours do we have here in Plimoth. As farmers, it is less necessary to know the time of day than it is needful to know when to plant and harvest etc.

What are sundry divers sizes?
Sundry means many, and divers means different kinds and shapes.

Did anything humorous happen during the voyage?
Besides me falling overboard? It was all pretty frightening, although we tried to keep our spirits up as best we could.

Did you ever run out of food? Then what?
The first few years were very lean. All we had for the most part was lobster and clams and water. But the Lord hath kept us fair healthful for these last years.

What happens if you get sick?
My wife learned as girl what herbs are best for keeping myself and my family healthful. Such as a mint infusion, being good for a wombly belly.

How did you stop drafts in your house?
You shut your windows and door up tight and, if needs be, shove some rags in the cracks.

What supplies did you bring from England?
I had very little to bring. But the merchants had provided our company with about nine months' worth of stuff.

Do you like music?
Certain so. I like very much to sing the psalms of David.

Where did the glass for the windows come from?
We've not brought panes of glass here. I doubt they would survive a sea passage, but sometimes in the winter we will put oil covered linen panes in our windows.

What age do most people get married?
In England a man would not have a trade set up 'til he was close to 30. But here we're all farmers so it matters less. My wife was 14 for example, but that is exceedingly young.

Do you have any children, and if so what are their names?
I have wo childers: My daughter, Desire, is three years, and my son, John, is about nine months old.

What was the dress of the pilgrims like at that time? Was it the dress we perceive now?
My breeches come down past my knees and puff out, and they are called slops breeches. But the newer fashion is closer to your legs. They are called Venetians. The best we can afford is wool and linen.

Was there fighting on the Mayflower?
I think the greatest brabble us passengers had was not betwixt ourselves, but with the sailors on board.

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