Life in Plimoth: Priscilla Mullins, Pilgrim
Priscilla Mullins, who traveled on the Mayflower with her parents, her brother, and a servant, answers questions about the voyage, life in the New World, the Wampanoag, and more.
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Priscilla Mullins traveled on the Mayflower with her parents, her brother, Joseph, and a servant, Robert Carter — all of whom died during the first winter in Plimoth. She is planning to marry John Alden, the cooper aboard the Mayflower.
Why did your family travel to America on the Mayflower?
We traveled to America because my father wanted a better life for his family. It was very difficult living in England. We had some difficulties with our church. As well, father was greatly cheered by the opportunity to own his own land in New England.
Was it hard to leave England? Do you miss your friends?
Oh, I miss England every day! It is so hard living in this wilderness. There is nothing but trees and trees and trees. When I lived in England, I could see rolling farmland and fields. There are no horses here. And our barley does not grow well. I do not think we will be able to brew any beer. We don't even have cows! At home we had all of these things.
Who were your friends on the Mayflower?
I did not know anyone on the ship except my family. My brother, Joseph, and I would keep each other entertained. We would also find amusement with our father's servant, Robert. We would tell riddles and sing songs. I also tried to help the mothers and children that were on the ship. Poor good wife Hopkins gave birth to a baby boy during the voyage!
How did you feel when you first saw land from the Mayflower?
I was very glad to see land, even though it was a wild and barren wilderness. When we first got off the ship, out on Cape Cod, we women went out to do the wash. Everything was so filthy and stinking! I was looking forward to having some fresh food. I was very tired of eating salted pork, ship biscuits, and peas pottage.
What kind of games did the children play on the Mayflower?
It was very, very dark on the Mayflower. So we could not play with our ball and cup, our marbles, or much else. I did see some of the girls with their poppets. We were so seasick, many of us just slept. We often did sing, though, and tell stories. You could always do that in the dark!
We read that only men signed the Mayflower Compact. What did you think of that?
Well, my father was the head of the household. It was his responsibility to look after the needs of the family. It was good that he signed the agreement. My mother married my father because of his good judgment.
You do not want to marry a foolish man because it is his place to make the decisions for the family. That is the order that God put upon this earth and that is what we must uphold — otherwise we will fall into chaos. Women are cold and wet. Their brains are not as hot and dry as man's.
How old are you?
I am 19.
We learned that your brother and parents died during your first winter at Plimoth. Who do you live with now? Is it lonely living without your family?
I'm living with several families. Many families are crowded together in just a few houses. It is most terribly difficult living without my family. I had hoped to have a new life with my family around me. I miss my mother and father very, very much. I wish I had their advice on matters of marriage. Many of us were orphans last winter. Mary Chilton has lost her parents, too, and Elizabeth Tilley. We all take care of each other here in the village.
How did you meet John Alden, the man you're going to marry?
He had come on the ship as a cooper. I did not know him at all while we were crossing on the Mayflower. After my parents died, John made it known to me that he would like to court me. He had to ask permission from some of the other men in the community before he could court me. I am of a good marrying age. It is very meet and fit that we should court and be married.
What do you have to do to prepare for your wedding?
Well, first John and I must read the banns for three consecutive Sundays in church. That way, everyone will know that we are to marry. I want to try and decide which is my best suit of clothes to wear at the wedding — maybe some of my mother's clothes. Perhaps I'll wear one of my mother's gowns. We will have to inquire where we can have our bride-ale, so we can entertain our friends after the wedding.
How would you describe your future husband, John Alden?
He is a very fair and wise man. He is a tradesman like my father. He is a cooper. He, too, is from the eastern part of England. I can understand him very well. I have some neighbors, like Master Standish, whom I can barely understand. His manner of speech is so different from mine!
I think John will make a fine husband. I trust his judgment. He is not given to drunkenness. Often in England people would criticize coopers as being all drunkards. Many would say that coopers would cheat you on the size of your barrel. But my John is not like that. He is well esteemed in the village. I think I will grow to love this man.
How do you think your life will be different when you're older?
Oh, I will have many children! And John and I, we will have our own house. And after four years in the new world, John will own his own land. I hope we will have more things in the future. I hope for a mill.
What is your favorite possession?
A pair of shoes that my father made. My father was a cordwainer. He made shoen (shoes). That was his trade back in England. I miss my parents very much.
Do you ever feel bored doing tedious chores? What do you do to keep your spirits up?
While I am plucking a duck, I think of how wonderful the duck will taste. I often sing while I am doing tedious work. When I was a child, my brother and I would work together, and we would make each other laugh.
Life at Plimoth
What kind of rules are there for teenagers at Plimoth? Are the rules different for girls and boys?
All children must help their parents, and when you are 13, 14, and 15 years old, you have a lot of responsibilities. You are expected to do what you are told. Sometimes it is hard because you have the passions of youth set upon you. It is easy to become impatient. But we always must remember that our parents always know what is best for us.
The boys spend their time learning from their fathers the kind of work that men will have to do. I spend time with my mothers learning all the arts of housewifery.
What are some of your daily chores? Do you ever wish you had other duties, like fishing and hunting?
I would never want to go fishing! It is so dangerous, and it is very heavy work. Much more suited for a man. I already have too much work to do. I must grind the corn to make the flour. Then I must make the bread. I must milk the goats. I need to tend the garden. I have to do the wash. I have to help bring in the harvest.
My mother taught me the things that women need to know. I do not know how to do the things that men know how to do. Sometimes John will help me in the garden, but he does not know as much about the herbs as I do. And yet, Master Fuller has some skill at surgery, and he knows very much about herbs.
Did the children sit at the table or did they have to wait until the adults were finished?
Often the parents will sit at the table. The children must serve the parents. Children will go and sit on chests, or stumps, or they will stand in the corner. Older siblings will often sit at the table as well. But in the order of the world, the children should always be serving the parents. Parents get the better things, children get the lesser things.
Do you have any animals? Are any of them your pets?
I do not have any pets. When we lived in England, we could sometimes see gentlewomen driving by in their carriages with little lapdogs. All of the animals we had in England, as well as here, are for food. We have chickens, pigs, and goats. Peter Brown, my neighbor, brought two dogs on the Mayflower. They sleep in his house, and they are very good for hunting.
What is your favorite book?
I cannot read. But I do know much of the Bible. My father only owned the Bible growing up. Books are very costly. Master Brewster has more than 200 books! Sometimes John will read to me if I ask him to. Usually he reads to me from the Bible. When I was a little girl, my father would read to me from Aesop's Fables.
At what age do you start to call on people, or date?
A father will give a young man permission to court you when he thinks the young woman is ready — because any young man who courts you could be the young man you marry. Some people in the city in England will court when they are 23 or 24. But myself being 19, that is acceptable as well. With every girl it depends on her situation and her family circumstances. Some girls from very poor families will often work many years to create a dowry for themselves.
What kinds of songs do you sing?
I sing rounds. I know a round of Three Blind Mice. Sometimes I will sing ballads. They are very long with many verses. And they often tell a story. Sometimes I will sing psalms. I like the psalms, because sometimes they comfort my heart. I know some drinking songs! But I do not walk down the street singing them. There are lots of songs about drunkenness, but my father did not favor to hear me sing them.
Do you or your friends wear jewelry?
I wish that I were a wealthy gentlewoman! I would have pearls sewn into my clothing, and fine gold thread on my silk. Some people in my village do have rings. These rings were given to them in friendship, or often when you attenda funeral, the family will give you a ring. Some men and women have rings in their ears. But I do not think that you should poke holes in your body, or corrupt that body that God has given you. It is well if you are a gentleman, and you would wish to sport a pearl hanging from your ear. But for common people like ourselves, it would be foolish.
How far outside Plimoth are you allowed to go?
Well, there's nothing around but wilderness. I walk to the fields to help with the planting and the harvesting. There are many wolves. I do not feel safe venturing too far. I would get lost in the woods.
When Goodman Stephen Hopkins and Master Winslow went to visit King Massassoit, they needed an Indian guide. King Massassoit lives two days' journey from here — about forty miles. There are no roads here like there are back in Dorking, which was my town in England. You are all welcome to come and visit me at Plimoth Plantation. Hopefully John and I will have our own house by then. And I hope that God will bless us with many children.
Have you met any of the Wampanoag Indians? If so, are they different than what you expected?
These naturals are very odd! They call themselves the Pokonoket. I have seen many Indians since I have arrived. This man Squanto is very much a friend of our colony. They are very different than what I had expected. In England, they say that these savages are eight feet tall and eat people. But this is not true! We have made friends with King Massassoit, and he is very friendly.
Have you met any of the Indian women? What are they like?
I do not speak their language. I have seen them, but they are very quiet. They often have to carry things for their husbands. I have seen Indian women down by the seashore gathering shellfish, but I have never spoken to them.
What did you eat at the first Thanksgiving?
We had a lot of venison, and we had a lot of fowl — goose, duck, turkey. We also had a lot of fish, such as bass and codfish. We ate and ate and ate for three days! It was the most food I had seen in a year's time!
Why was the Thanksgiving feast special to you?
It was a special occasion because it reminded me of home. At home in England, we would always have a harvest feast after the harvest was gotten in.
It was important to our colony to celebrate with King Massassoit. We had just made a peace agreement with King Massassoit in the springtime. It was good that we were able to show him friendship. I was glad to have a chance to see these naturals and feast with them. It was very amusing! We had a break from our work. It was a time of rest. And it was a chance to play games and visit with some friends that I had been too busy to visit with.
What part did you play in the preparation of the Thanksgiving feast?
Well, there was a lot of slaughtering and butchering to be done. First you must skin an animal, and you have to take out the garbage. With the ducks and the turkeys and the geese I had to pluck many feathers. I had feathers all over me! I had to chop off their heads, and their feet, and prepare the fire to cook them.
When I roasted some venison, I had to make a very hot fire. It takes along time, and lots of patience, to slowly turn the spit to roast the meat. I also scaled the fish and had to take the garbage out, too. It was a lot of cooking, but I was very glad for the food.