On the Mayflower: Desire Minter, Passenger
Desire is a young girl from Leyden, Holland, traveling on the Mayflower with the governor of the ship, Mr. John Carver, and his household. Here are her answers to questions from students.
1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12
What do you think it will be like when you get to America?
I'm told it is a very wild place with vast forests and fierce beasts. I've lived in cities all my life and it's strange to think of somewhere without markets and shops. There won't even be houses or taverns to refresh us. We will do our best and trust in God to preserve us.
What other children are on board? Do you play with them?
There are near 30 children and youths on board. There are few girls, though, and fewer still near my age. I talk to Will and Joseph sometimes about what our new home will be like.
Do you have any pets?
I have no pet, but one of the men has brought two dogs, a mastiff and a little spaniel. They will work in the New World, though. The mastiff will guard her master's property and the spaniel will be taken fowling.
Do you have any games?
There is little to do aboard ship for us, and we pass some of the time with telling stories, singing, and playing games. I like to play 'I Spy', where one person picks something and the others have to guess what it is.
Why are you traveling with the Carvers and not with your family?
In many families when a husband or wife has died and the other married again, the children of the first are placed with other families. So it has been with me, and I am very fortunate to have found myself with Master and Mistress Carver. They are kind, godly folk and treat me almost as one of their own.
What is your family like?
My father died some three years past. My mother has since married again to Goodman Simmons.
Do you have a school on the Mayflower?
We have no school, and I expect it will be some time before we do. I am learning how to read, though, and to do such work as I will do when I marry and have a family of my own.
Do you have any books to read?
I myself do not, but Master Carver and many of the other men do. For the most part they are stored in the hold and will not be unpacked until we are in our new homes in Virginia.
What clothes do you wear on board ship?
It is now cold and I wear my warmest woolen petticoats and waistcoat and thick stockings. It is hard to move about the ship without getting tar on my clothes. I am looking forward to the day when we can go aland and wash. We already have great need.
How has the weather been?
We enjoyed fair winds and weather for a season, but now we have met with cross winds and fierce storms. These have shaken the ship and made the upper works very leaky.
Is it fun to sail on the Mayflower?
On bright, clear days with a favorable wind we sometimes go up on deck to take the air. On those days I look over the railing and feel thankful to be alive and going on a great adventure. When we are huddled between deck and the ship is pitching and rolling, I wish myself on dry land again with all my heart.
Who is the Mayflower's captain?
Christopher Jones is the Mayflower's master. He is part owner of the ship as well.
Do you have a bed to sleep in?
I sleep in a sort of cabin with the others, as do most of us passengers.
How has the voyage been so far? Have there been storms? Has the water been choppy?
We had a great deal of trouble leaving England. We first left in two ships, but the Speedwell proved ill-named and forced us to return to England twice. Those of us going on to Virginia are crowded in the one ship, and did not leave England for good until early September. The first part of the voyage went well, but of late we have had many storms. One was so bad it cracked a main beam amidships. We were in fear that the ship would not be sufficient for the voyage and thought to turn back once again. The ship's carpenter, though, is an able man and set a post underneath the crack, and so we proceed west.
What will you miss most about your homeland?
We left England for Holland when I was very small, and I don't really remember Norwich at all. I have lived in the Dutch city of Leyden almost all of my life. Most of the church are poor and we have had to work very hard to live there. I miss all of my family, but I think I miss my grandmother Willet most of all.
How old are you?
I am 12 now, old enough to be out in the world.
How do you get along with Governor Carver and his family? What are they like?
The governor is traveling with his wife, two manservants named John Howland and Roger Wilder, a maidservant named Dorothy, a boy called William Latham, and another boy named Jasper Moore, who came from London. Master Carver is the ship's governor and is in charge of all of the passengers, so he is sometimes very busy. Mistress Carver is very kind and I try and help her and the maid as much as I can.
How do you make your food?
When the sea is calm enough we cook some of the stores we brought with us. We have salt beef and salt fish, peas, oatmeal, a hard bread called ship's biscuit, and sometimes dried fruit such as raisins of the sun and prunes. When it is rough and stormy we eat cold food . . .those that can eat, that is.
Questions Upon Landing
What kind of chores do you do?
There were not many chores to do during the voyage. I helped Mistress Carver as best I could with cooking and cleaning.
What did you bring with you to America?
We have brought such tools as we will need to build houses, farm the land, and fish and hunt for food. There are chests and bedsteads and other furnishings for our new homes, food to last until harvest, and clothing.
What kinds of food did you eat?
During the voyage we have eaten such stores as salt beef and pork, salt fish, oatmeal, peas, ship's biscuit, cheese, butter, raisins, and other foods such as we eat in the winter. Now that we have arrived in New England, some of the men who have gone exploring have killed and eaten geese and ducks, and say that the New England water is as fair as any they have ever tasted.
What kinds of clothes do you wear? Do they keep you warm? Are you hot in the summer?
We wear mostly simple wools and linens, serviceable for our new lives. They are not of the newest fashions I dare say, but this wilderness is hardly the King's court. I shall be warm enough once we have proper houses, right now I am wet and cold. I do not know what the summers will be like here as yet.
Now that you are off of the Mayflower, what kind of life are you going to have?
Our journey is not over yet. Though we have crossed the Atlantic in safety, there is yet no agreement on a place for habitation. Today is too foul for the men to set forth again, but God willing they will go out again tomorrow. Master Carver and John Howland are two who will go. I hope they find a new home for us quickly for I am fearful of the winter here. There is already much snow.
How many people were on the Mayflower? Who is the oldest? Who is the youngest?
We left Plymouth in Devon with just over one hundred passengers. Deacon Fuller's servant boy, William, died along the way and Goodwife Hopkins was delivered of a son whilst we were on the Atlantic, so his father has named him Oceanus. Mistress White has just been brought abed of a son within these last few days, whom they have named Peregrine, which they say means traveler. He is by far the youngest of the company. We account a person not a full adult until they are married and householders in their own right, so I cannot say who is the oldest child aboard. Henry Sampson is still accounted a youth and Priscilla Mullins a maid, and I believe them to be seventeen or eighteen years of age. I expect our church elder, Master William Brewster, to have attained the most years on this earth, being above fifty.
What was it like on the Mayflower?
We loosed from Plymouth on the 6th of September. After enjoying fair wind and calm seas for a season, our ship was buffeted by cross winds and fierce storms which shook us shrewdly. In one of these storms a beam amidships cracked — we were only about halfway through our journey and it had to be repaired by the ship's carpenter. In another storm while the ship lay hull, drifting without a knot of sail, one of Master Carver's servants, John Howland, was washed overboard and only saved himself by catching hold of a line which hung overboard. He was somewhat ill with it, but was tended by the ship's surgeon, a young man out of London, Giles Heale, and has since recovered.
Is the Mayflower a new ship or an old ship? Why is it named the Mayflower?
I do not know how old the ship is, but I've heard it has been involved in the Baltic trade for some years.
I don't know why the ship is named as it is, except that many ships are named for flowers. The Speedwell was another such. The ship the captain had before was named Josian, after his wife.
What is the captain's name? What other ships did the captain sail?
Christopher Jones, the Mayflower's master, is part owner, so I doubt he will serve on another ship.
What kind of books did you bring? Did you bring journals or logs to write in?
Many families have brought their Bibles with them to the New World. Others, such as Elder Brewster, have private libraries as well. Most of his books were packed for the journey, but I believe he has, besides his books on matters of religion, such works as will be useful to us here, such as one on how to raise silkworms. The ship's master has a log book in which the seamen record speed, distance, and other items of note in the voyage. Goodman Bradford, I believe, has a small notebook in which he writes betimes. I don't know of any others.
What kind of toys did you bring, if any?
Such frivolities we have mostly left behind us, but there are some with small cloth puppets, marbles and such.
How many people have gotten sick? What kinds of illnesses do they have?
Aboard ship it was for the most part just seasickness, which many suffered from at the first. Since we have arrived, there are scarce any free from vehement coughs brought on by the cold and wet lodging we have suffered. There are fears that it may turn to scurvy.
Where is the bathroom on the Mayflower?
None have taken baths while aboard ship, and now that we are here at Cape Cod it is too cold. We relieve ourselves as we have done for some months now, by the use of chamberpots. The sailors use the beakhead in the prow of the ship or mayhaps [perhaps] the channels.
How did you feel when you did not get to Virginia?
Since I was never in Virginia and have no family there, I do not feel the lack. However, we are outside of the bounds of land controlled by the Virginia Company, which makes our patent useless. They will have to get a proper one from the Council for New England.
Did they have laws on the ship? How do people get punished on board?
The ship's governor, Master Carver, sees that the passengers behave themselves in an orderly fashion, and they would be punished if they transgressed. The sailors have a man called the bosun who carries out discipline under the master's orders.
Did you see any sharks? Did you discover any new creatures?
We have seen no sharks, the seamen say they almost never come this far north. For many days now there have been whales playing hard by the ship. One of the passengers tried to shoot one, but his musket shattered in his hand.
How do you pronounce your name?
Desire is pronounced in the usual way. Desire rhymes with be hire.
What boat did you sail on first? Were you on the Speedwell?
I sailed on the Speedwell with the rest of the company from Leyden to Southampton, where we met with the Mayflower and the other passengers.
Why did you have to wear so many layers of clothes?
We wear the clothes that become our station in life. They are not so many.
How big is the Mayflower?
The Mayflower is about 100 feet long and able to carry 180 tuns, which are very large barrels.
Did you play any sports?
I have not had much time for sport in my life. In Leyden even those of us who are quite young worked very hard.
Did you have a cabin or did you have to sleep on the 'tween decks with everyone else?
We have slept in a cabin in the 'tween decks like most of the other passengers during this voyage.
What is your favorite food? What is your least favorite food?
I don't know that I have a favorite food. Right now I would like to have a strawberry, juicy and warm from the sun. My least favorite is ship's biscuit, which is most dry and tasteless. We have eaten them so much these last few months.
How did you keep yourself busy on the voyage?
There is not much to do to keep busy during a voyage. We cooked when we could and cleaned and tended the sick.
What do you do for privacy during the voyage? Are you ever able to do "girl stuff" or are you dirty and uncomfortable all the time?
On a crowded ship such as this, there is little privacy except for the privacy of your own thoughts. I am not sure what you mean by "girl stuff," but yes, we have been dirty and uncomfortable for much of the voyage.
How did you feel when the person died on the ship? How did the people on board react? How did you react?
There were two that died during our trip, the blasphemous sailor and Deacon Fuller's servant. While it seems that the sailor died from God's just hand upon him and that William's death cut short a life full of promise, both are God's will. To grieve immoderately is to set oneself against God. Some of the sailors, more superstitious than the rest saw the first death as a warning. I must say I thought it was no more than just.
Did any of your friends pass away during the voyage?
No, no one who is a particular friend of mine has yet died. The sailor I cared nothing for, and if it wasn't an unchristian act, would be glad that he died. William Button seemed a promising youth, but I did not know him well. Master White's serving man, Edward, I also did not know. Many others are sick; I pray to God to preserve them.
Did you do anything special for the holidays or celebrations or special foods?
We have had no holidays to celebrate.
Did the captain deceive you about the life and living conditions which would be on the ship?
Master Jones promised nothing, save he would do his best to get us to Virginia safely. It was the company's choice to crowd so many on one ship. I don't know what else we could have chosen.
What was the attitude or atmosphere of the people on the ship toward one another? Was it scary on the ship?
Those of us from Leyden were concerned about the conduct of the others, not knowing how they would act in this great enterprise. The mutterings which occasioned the signing of the compact are proof enough that they must be watched.
Can you tell me why so many Pilgrims have names that are verbs? Not only is your name Desire, but I have seen other Pilgrim girls named Remember.
Many parents in our church name their children from names in the Bible or with virtues to make them ever-mindful of the lives they should lead.
What was your most memorable experience on the Mayflower?
I suppose the most memorable event for me is that which happened this morning. One of the Billington boys made some squibs [firecrackers] and shot off a musket — all in a small cabin with gunpowder nearby. 'Tis a mercy we were not all blown to bits. To make it safely across the fierce Atlantic, only to be killed by a boy's foolishness (to give it no worse name) would have been tragic indeed.