Transcripts of interviews with historical interpreters from Plimoth Plantation to use as inspiration for a Thanksgiving-themed reader's theater
On the Mayflower: Elizabeth Hopkins, Passenger
Elizabeth is traveling to America with her husband and two stepchildren. She's pregnant and may give birth during the voyage. Here are her answers to students' questions.
1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12
Questions During the Voyage
How did you hear about the Mayflower?
How I heard about it was through my husband, who heard about it through people he'd met in the city (London). He's been to the New World before, to Jamestown. He went over as part of a voyage that was meant to settle the town. He had poor fortune while he was there. He was shipwrecked during the crossing. The ship was blown apart by a hurricane at sea. He ended up on an island of Bermuda for one year before they rebuilt the ship and continued on.
When my husband returned to England to be with his first wife and children, he found that his wife and baby had died. His two older children were there. He never stopped talking about going back (to Jamestown).
Was it expensive to take this trip? Did it take a long time to save the money?
It didn't cost anything because we decided to be part of a company. The company is called the Merchant Adventures Company. We will work in America to pay back for the trip. We are going into Virginia because we'll see what can be gathered and brought back to England to sell. We will make a profit for the company, and that will pay back for the trip.
How has your journey been so far? Have you gotten seasick or is everything comfortable on board?
When we started it wasn't so bad. I've never been in a big boat, just little boats in London on the Thames. But that's different from a ship like this. It's very crowded here on the Mayflower. It's damp and dark and the ship is always moving. I've gotten seasick.
Why do you want to leave your life in England and trade it for such an unknown life in the New World?
I didn't want to go, but my husand wants to go. He explained to me what he wants to do in the New World, so it's not as troubling. He thinks our lives will be improved because he'll own land there, and he doesn't own any in England. He doesn't think it'll be as hard in Jamestown, as it was last time. Last time he was in Jamestown, it had only been settled for a few years. It's still frightening there.
What are you most frightened of in the New World?
The wildness. There are hardly any towns there even now. Things that are so natural and wild are the worst, lowest, and the most confused. What's more civilized is better because it's closer to God.
Did you decide to leave immediately, or was this trip a long time in planning?
When my husband first heard, he knew right away that he wanted to go, but it took more than a year before we actually left. There was a man in London named Christopher Martin who made all the preparations for all the passengers from England.
What kinds of preparations were necessary for this journey?
For us, it was a matter of what things to bring. My husband had a pretty good idea of what was needed because he'd been to America before. There were things we had to sell, and other things that needed to be taken care of before we could leave.
What did you do in London?
I was a servant in different households. Before that, I lived with my father. I worked before I was married. Now that I'm married I keep house for my husband.
What did your husband do in England?
He was a weaver, and there were things with his trade I could help him with. I would look after his apprentices and I did a little bit of spinning. We would take in wool that I knit into stockings.
Are you leaving family behind in England?
Yes, I am leaving family behind. Although my parents are dead, I have other relatives.
What does your family think of your leaving?
Well, I'm not sure. They think it's a dangerous thing. It's not something many people do, but people do talk about it. I will miss the family I'm leaving behind. We don't know anyone on the ship. My husband knows some, but I don't know any.
Do you think you're leaving England for good?
I can't imagine that I will ever come back.
Now that you've set sail, do you have any regrets about going?
I don't think about regretting things like that. I regret the way I may behave sometimes. I have regrets about not always being a good wife. Going to the New World was something we were going to do. I didn't think much about it. Once I had decided I was going, that was all. And that decision was more or less made for me by my husband. He listened to my objections. We talked about it. But then he decided what was best for all of us.
When is your baby due?
It's hard to know — probably around Christmastime, but I'm not sure. It's hard to be with child at any time, but on the ship it's more uncomfortable. I expected to be arriving in Virginia by now, if not already there. But we left England much later than we thought we were going to. There were delays with money that was being put in for buying supplies. Some of the men backing us financially backed out. I didn't think I'd be traveling in such discomfort. I had hoped to have the baby in the New World and not on the ship, and I still hope so.
What do you do all day on the Mayflower?
Look after the children with us — my husband's children. Their names are Constance and Giles, and we have a little girl named Damaris. There's not much chance for us to do cooking. The fo'c'sle is the place to make a fire, but that's for crew only. We have a box we can burn charcoal in on the 'tween decks, and we cook there.
I talk to people around me. Some of the people seem nice. But the ones out of Holland, they have strange ways. My husband says we'll learn to get along. They pray a lot more than we do. I think everyone is full of prayers now that we are in such a position because of these storms. They all know each other. They gather close together. They are very pious. They are called Separatists by some, but my husband says we shouldn't call them that because they may take it as an insult. They won't go into church in England because they think they are not pure enough or close enough to how God would keep a church. So, they keep their own churches.
What does the crew think of the people from Holland?
The sailors don't like the people from Holland. They speak harshly against them. I think the sailors are a bit rough in their ways. There was one sailor that didn't have much use for any of us. He'd curse at us and he said he'd be glad when we're dead and then he could have our things and make merry with them.
I tried to stay away from him. I've seen people like him before. I come from a city. Anyway, he's dead now. He was struck down by sickness or God; that's what they say. Too proud a man. Maybe God used him as an example.
What do you eat?
Well, I don't eat very much because I don't feel like eating often. We eat biscuits — very hard baked bread and dried fruit. We have rice and salt beef, if we can cook it. And we have beer. Everyone drinks except the little babes — they drink their mother's milk until they're old enough to have beer.
Where do you spend your time?
We spend all our time on the 'tween decks. If it's a calmer day, we may come above deck to exercise our limbs.
Who cooks the meals?
Could be anybody. I cook for my family. For the most part each family is responsible for themselves.
Where will you live in America?
I don't know. I don't expect there will be houses. I don't know where we'll live. I don't exactly know where we're going. I suppose we may live on the ship. But, my understanding is the ship will turn around and go back to England, so I don't know if we'll be able to live on the ship. They had houses in Jamestown, but I'm not going to Jamestown. I think we're going to northern Virginia, but I don't know where. My husband knows. It's all the same to me. I don't know where anything is, anyway.
What will your husband do in America?
The intent is the men will take up fishing, but we'll have to have corn planted, too. We brought seed with us. There is no market there. I know that.
How old are your children?
Damaris is a couple of years old, born a year after we married. Constance is 14 or 15, and she's a good help. She's my step-daughter and is the oldest. Giles is a couple of years younger than Constance.
Where will your children go to school in America?
Oh. There's no school there. I suppose my husband will teach them. I don't know about Constance. And Giles knows some already. There's not as much reason for girls to learn. I know some that do, but I myself have not been to school.
Constance helps me with the household, but I don't know what there is for me to do yet. I suppose I'll plant a garden, but I don't know how to do that yet. It doesn't seem like it could be so difficult.
What do you think America will be like?
Wild. It's all forests. The towns are right along the edge of the sea. It's nothing but forests. There must be terrible, wild animals. There are Indians too, wild men. I'm frightened of Indians. I've seen them before in London.
What have you heard about the Indians?
I've heard all kinds of things about Indians. I've heard stories in London streets and ale houses about how they can eat the flesh of men. My husband says these stories are not true.
Are you a Pilgrim? What do you think of the Pilgrims?
We're all Pilgrims. There's a difference between those in Holland and England. They left the country entirely to live with the Dutch.
Why are the Pilgrims in Holland going to America?
I think they grew tired of living with the Dutch. They're going back to English soil even if it's not England.
What are the living conditions like on the Mayflower? Do you ever get any privacy?
The Mayflower is crowded because there was supposed to be a second ship. Some who had money built cabins in order to put beds in, and to keep out the draft. Other have beds on the floor. There is a shallop small boat in the 'tween decks, and people sleep inside that too. My family lives in a cabin. We have two servants with us. My husband hired two men to come with us. They don't do much now, but they'll help him with fishing and planting when we get to Virginia.
Where do you sleep on the ship?
The servants have their beds hung up outside the cabin. The rest of us sleep in the cabin.
When do you think you'll get to America?
I don't know. They say a couple of months to cross the ocean or longer than that. I hope it's before the cold weather comes. I suppose we've been sailing for four or five weeks. It's hard to keep track.
Did you give birth yet?
My son Oceanus was born in the 'tween decks where we have stayed these last few months. Some of the women passengers who I have come to know came and helped me during my labor.
What will you feed the baby when it is born on the Mayflower?
Because the baby is so small, he is still drinking mother's milk.
What do you eat to feed the baby while you are on the Mayflower?
The stores for a ship's journey are much like the food we eat during the wintertime. We brought cheese, dried fruit, ship's biscuit, salted fish, salted pork, dried peas, dried beans, rice, and other things. I favored the prunes the most.
Is there any medical care on the Mayflower? Do you have any women helping you with the birth?
The ship has a ship's surgeon, Giles Heale, but he would hardly act as a midwife, since he is not a woman. The other women passengers who are mothers themselves did come to my aid, as they would back in England. Constance was a great comfort to me. Being on a ship made the birth more difficult, lacking a good fire and clean linens, but 'twas no worse than when I bore Damaris.
Are there many people on board?
Over one hundred passengers, besides the crew.
Are there many children on board?
Perhaps one in three passengers are children.
Are there many sick passengers on the Mayflower?
Most suffered from seasickness during the voyage, and many are weak. One youth died some time ago.
What did you name your baby?
My husband chose the name Oceanus for our son. Oceanus is the ancients' name for the Atlantic Ocean, and he thought it most appropriate.
Do you have enough food and water? Does the baby?
We brought a lot of food on the ship. We hope it is enough to last until we can harvest our crops, which we will plant in the spring. If there is enough food for me to eat, there will be enough for Oceanus, because he is so small that he is still drinking mother's milk.
Do many people fall sick because of the space you live in?
Ships are unwholesome places, and the salt air can be dangerous. Only two have died during the voyage, so it has been of little consequence.
Questions Upon Landing
How often do you smell fresh air?
Only the few times we have been let above deck. Now that we are anchored here at Cape Cod it is much easier.
Do you think you will ever see England again?
No. I will never go back aboard ship again.
Why did you take this dangerous voyage if you knew that there was a baby coming?
We are in God's hands wheresoever we are, whether sea or land. Birthing children is frightening anywhere, and I had my husband's comfort. This would not have been so had I stayed behind.
Do you ever swim in the ocean?
No, to do so would tempt God's providence.
Do you have birthday parties?
Not for ourselves, but we celebrate the births of the King and Queen, and of course the birth of Christ.
Has anyone fallen overboard or been eaten by a shark?
John Howland did fall overboard during one of the many storms we suffered through. He caught hold of a line and the sailors pulled him out with the aid of a boathook.
When you get to the New World, what will you do?
When we arrived here at Cape Cod we women went and did laundry, as we had great need. Once we settle, I hope that God will bless us with more children, to help us in this New World.
John Alden said that someone gave birth to a baby boy. Was it you?
I expect so. I'm the only woman to have given birth during the voyage.
How are the sanitary conditions on the ship? How do you bathe?
The sanitary conditions on the Mayflower are much worse than London. It is difficult for me to climb up the small ladders in my petticoats to get above decks to empty the chamberpot. I am not used to living in such close quarters with livestock either, and the goats and swine are noisome. I but bathe my hands and face. 'Tis much like in the winter.
Do you have enough supplies to build a village?
Yes. This New England is full of goodly trees fit for building, and we have brought a large amount of tools for this purpose: axes, saws, draw knives, gimlets, froes, and other carpenter's tool.
Would you like to go back to England?
I am not certain. My husband has many expectations of this New World. I am just glad to be in sight of land, even though it is a wilderness.
Do you have a job on ship?
As a mother, my time is spent with my children, as it would be on land. I have had to comfort my children during this frightening voyage and I have tried to keep them amused. I also had to see to the health of my family and help them during their seasickness.
How well have you been sleeping?
I did not sleep well at all during the voyage. During storms, I was tossed about and could not be comfortable in my bed. Since Oceanus was born, I have not slept well because he awakes in the night and wants to be fed.
Do sailors treat you with respect?
Some of the officers are well enough but many of the common seamen are quite rude and coarse fellows. They will swear oaths and other things within the hearing of the children. One sailor in particular spoke harshly to us as we were gathering aboard the Mayflower. He said we were all foolish people for coming and that we would die, and after we died he would make free with all of our things. The Lord took this sailor first during the voyage, for he passed away at sea and we buried him at sea.
Have any children been born on the Mayflower?
Only my son came forth during the crossing, but Goodwife Allerton and Mistress White are both expecting. I hope their children come forth in a better place, but it's all in the hands of Providence.
What do you do to keep your children occupied on such a long journey?
Sometimes I sing with Constance to pass the time, and we test Giles's wit with riddles.
Did kids under ten have to work on board?
There is precious little for any of us passengers to do during this voyage. They help as they are able, as their parents instruct them. Once we are settled, there will be more work to do than people to do it. My children are enjoying this quiet time.
What do kids do during the voyage?
Well, the small babies cry as is they are wont. The older children cannot run about the deck, for lack of space. Such games as seek and find must wait till we are ashore.
What did you bring on the Mayflower that you cherished so much you couldn't leave it behind in England?
My child and my husband; earthly possessions are but dust. We bring nothing into this world and we can take nothing out when we depart.
What was the hardest part of living in the New World?
We have been here but a short time. The men are still trying to find a suitable place for habitation.
Was there a special place to pray on the Mayflower?
One needs not a special place to pray. There is no closet here. Master Brewster tried to hold services on Sundays in the 'tween decks. I sang many psalms to comfort my heart.
How old were you when you were traveling on the Mayflower?
I am about a score and six.
Did everyone on the ship get along?
There were some not well affected to unity nor concord, but threatened to go their own way once ashore. By God's grace, wiser heads prevailed and they have signed an agreement. Most of the men of our company signed it and promised to combine together in one group and not go off on their own. The men promised to make all the necessary laws and then obey them. This will serve until we can get a proper patent from the Crown's agents to settle here.
Were you allowed up on deck once in a while?
We were allowed above decks very few times during the voyage. Only when the weather was calm and the ocean was calm could we get above decks, and that did not happen very often.