Author Kate Waters' books include works about the Mayflower and about daily life among the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag in the early seventeenth century. She was interviewed by Scholastic students.
How many children traveled on the Mayflower? What was a day on the Mayflower like for Pilgrim children?
As far as we know, there were 31 children on the Mayflower. This includes children of the passengers, some children traveling with other adults, and children who were servants. I imagine that the voyage was very exciting at first. But after many days, the children were probably bored and restless. They didn't have much room to move around, and there was not a lot of fresh air. As food began to be scarce, people had the same meals over and over.
How did the Pilgrims live on the ship Mayflower? Did they have animals on the ship?
Can you imagine being in a very small space with no doors, very little fresh air, and 100 other people squeezed into the space, too? That is what it was like for the passengers on the Mayflower. They cooked their meals over little stoves and washed only sparingly. Other people could hear everything you said; there was no privacy. When the weather was stormy, the passengers were not allowed to go up on the deck for fresh air. It was a very long 65 days for everyone.
Once the passengers got to North America, they had to build houses to live in before they could move off the ship! Imagine the determination and faith that this group of people must have had to keep them going through all these hardships. There are no real records of the kinds of animals the passengers brought with them. Surely the second and third ships to arrive, the James and the Anne, had animals aboard as well as passengers.
How did all those people sleep in such a small area on the Mayflower? Did they take turns? Did they have something to sleep on?
There were some beds in the “t'ween deck” where the passengers slept. The “t'ween decks” is like a large room with a low ceiling. Other people slept in hammocks and on the floor on blankets and straw. There was also a boat, called a shallop, stored in the “t'ween decks.” Some of the passengers slept in the boat and when they got to what we call Cape Cod and wanted to explore the shoreline looking for a place to settle, it took them four or five or five days to repair the shallop. It had been bent by all the people sleeping in it!
What kind of diseases did passengers on the Mayflower get?
Regarding diseases, we know for sure that many of the passengers were seasick. During the months after the Mayflower arrived in Plymouth Harbor, many passengers and crew got sick and died. They had not been eating well, and many were weak. It is possible that many died of pneumonia.
How many children died on the Mayflower voyage? What kind of food did the children eat?
None of the children died on the voyage, but one child was born. The ship carried food that would not go bad easily. The Pilgrims ate dried meat and fish, grains like oatmeal, crackers, and cheese. They had very little fruits and vegetables.
Did they have any books to read on the Mayflower? Was there school instruction on the Mayflower?
The passengers on the Mayflower packed all their favorite things for the voyage to North America. After all, they did not expect to return to England. So, many families would have their Bible with them. That is the only book I know for sure was onboard. There was not any regular schedule of lessons for children aboard the ship. People were really just waiting to get to their new home.
How did you get your information about the Mayflower voyage? Did children keep diaries?
There are two firsthand accounts of the voyage and early years of Plimoth colony. The first is by William Bradford, who was governor of the colony. It is called Of Plimoth Plantation. The second is called Mort's Relation. Scholars are not sure who wrote the second book. Other information we have comes from letters that people wrote to friends in England. (The letters were carried back and forth on ships.)
Would you have liked to have traveled on the Mayflower?
Knowing what we know now about how hard the voyage was, I'm not sure I would choose to make the voyage. But this was the only way to get to North America, and it was very important for the Pilgrims to find a place where they could practice their religion in peace. They were very religious and believed that their God would protect them on the voyage. They were very brave people.
What kind of games did Pilgrim kids play? Did they play any games that kids today do? Did they do chores?
Pilgrim children played lots of games. They played a version of marbles called knickers (you can see two girls playing knickers in the book Sarah Morton's Day), dolls, make-believe, a game like soccer with anything that would roll. They also fished and climbed trees and built forts. Pilgrim children were like children today - they could make up fun things to do with the things they had around them.
Of course, there were also lots of chores to do. Children were responsible for helping their mothers keep the fire going, weed the garden, fetch water, and many other chores. Sarah Morton's Day and Samuel Eaton's Day, two books that I wrote, will give you an idea of what a Pilgrim child's day was like.
How did you select the character who portrayed Samuel Eaton in your book Samuel Eaton's Day?
Samuel Eaton's Day was photographed at Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts. The people at Plimoth who helped me with the book chose Roger Burns to be the character of Samuel Eaton. His mother is an interpreter in the village. The people who are in the books have to work very hard. We take the photographs when the museum is not open, so that means being ready and in costume at 6 o'clock in the morning and sometimes working until late at night. Roger's mother and his sister Erin kept him company when we were setting up lights and setting up the shots. Although it is fun to see yourself in a book, each of the people would tell you that it is hard work!
Was Sarah's friend in Sarah Morton's Day real? Can you tell us more about her?
Yes, Sarah Morton's friend, Elizabeth, was a real girl. I don't know too much about her. We do know she lived in Plimoth in 1627, and because she and Sarah were about the same age, they were probably friends. There were not too many children at Plimoth.
Did the Pilgrims have different accents (dialects)?
Yes, the Pilgrims had different accents. Some had been living in Holland for several years, so the children spoke English with a Dutch accent. Others who had been living in different parts of England had regional accents, just like people who live in United States have different accents.
Why did Pilgrim children serve dinner to the parents?
The Pilgrims were English people who set up a small English village in what we call Massachusetts. It was the custom for children to pass food to their parents first out of respect. Also, most families didn't have enough chairs or stools for everyone to sit down at once.
What were the holidays that the people celebrated in Plimoth?
In the seventeenth century, the people did not celebrate all the holidays that we do today. The important days were decided upon by the elders in the community. They might celebrate a good harvest. They might have a day of fasting to pray for good weather, and of course, special days like weddings were celebrated with parties.
How wealthy were the Pilgrims?
The Pilgrims became self-sustaining rather than wealthy in a sense of having lots of money. They built their houses out of the materials they found in the new place. They had borrowed money to hire the ship Mayflower and the crew to bring them across the Atlantic. It took them many years to pay back the money. They sent furs and crops back to England to be sold in order to pay back their debt.
How did you get interested in Pilgrims?
I lived in Massachusetts for many years and visited Plimoth Plantation several times. Then I moved to New York City to work on a children's magazine. When we were looking for a story to publish about Thanksgiving I thought of Plimoth. The photographs for that magazine story were so beautiful that a book editor decided that we should do a book.
Why have you written several books about the Pilgrims? Did any of your ancestors come on the Mayflower?
I love history, so I have written four books about the time when the Europeans settled in New England. My ancestors did not come over on the Mayflower. Actually, my grandmother and grandfather came to this country from Ireland 60 years ago. The Mayflower sailed across the ocean more than 375 years ago!
Why do you like books so much?
Books are a way of finding out about other people, of traveling to different places and different times, and books can help us find the answers to questions we have about our world. Books also help us learn different ways to use words. One way to become a better writer is to read a lot!