Summers in Plymouth: Learning to be Pilgrim

For me, part of summer times in Plymouth was always spent learning about and being a Pilgrim. This is taken from a post I wrote in 2014 about Thanksgiving in Plymouth, but fits nicely into my current series.
Don’t forget to click on the pictures to enlarge them!

Dressed as a Pilgrim girl, I walked in the Pilgrim Progress. These are held on the first four Fridays in August, and local citizens dress as Pilgrims re-creating their procession to church. The number of persons, and their sexes and ages have been matched to the small group of Pilgrims who survived the first winter in the New World. We marched up Leyden Street, to the clicks of tourists’ cameras.

Pilgrim Progress

Leyden Street was originally called First Street, and the Pilgrims began laying out the street before Christmas in 1620, while they were still living on the Mayflower. Leyden Street is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited street in the original thirteen British colonies, and it extends from the shore of the harbor to the base of Burial Hill at the top of the street.

Leyden Street Leyden Street in the 1800s Rogers, C. H. – Photographer

Burial Hill is where the original fort was built.
Burial Hill

The first settlers built there houses along this street; note the familiar Pilgrim names on the map = Bradford, Brewster, Winslow, Allerton.
Map of Leyden Street
Town Brook

Town Brook, still bubbling along, is adjacent to the street and provided drinking water for the colonists. Leyden Street has been recreated at Plimoth Plantation.

My parents enrolled me before I even hit my teens in classes taught at the Harlow House or the Old Fort House on Sandwich Street, about a half mile from the center of Plymouth. Sandwich Street is the old “heiway” connecting Plymouth with another early settlement, Sandwich, on the Cape. The house is a story and a half dwelling, clad in weathered shingles, with a gambrel roof and a large central chimney. Built in 1677, it is one of the few remaining 17th century buildings in Plymouth. It was built by William Harlow, a cooper, farmer and town official who also served as sergeant of the local militia; he was typical of the responsible, sober and hardworking men who carried on the pilgrim tradition in the second generation of the Plymouth Colony. Harlow was born in England about 1624 and first mentioned in Plymouth town records as a voter in 1646. Widowed twice and married three times, Harlow was the father of fourteen children, and it is generally considered that his house projects the Pilgrim home and way of life.

Harlow House Harlow or Old Fort House

Harlow built the house with materials salvaged from the then-derelict fort on Burial Hill and is notable for its hand hewn beams. The interior has been restored and furnished appropriately for the time, and sitting inside with a fire in the fireplace, smelling the aroma of the house’s age, and thinking of the generations who lived there was a special experience. At the Harlow House, I learned how to wash, card and spin wool on the spinning wheel; skein, dye, and weave the wool on a loom, make bayberry candles and soap; cook over the fireplace fire (baked beans, fish cakes, chicken, corn bread.) To young girl, it was occasionally tiresome, but looking back, it was a very special experience. Of course, all of this was designed to create a group of teenagers ready to work as tour guides at various sites in the town.

Plimouth Plantation

Which brings me to Plimoth Plantation, and recreation of the small farming and maritime community built by the Pilgrims along the shore of Plymouth Harbor as it existed in 1627, seven years after the arrival of Mayflower and just before the colonists began to disperse beyond the walled town and into other parts of what would become southeastern Massachusetts. Plimoth Plantation, another word for colony, was built on land about a quarter mile from my house, land that was very similar to that on which Leyden Street, the fort and Burial Hill were originally located.
A reproduction of the Fort house was built at the top of Leyden Street

When I was selected to be among the first tour guides there, it was a short ride in my Model A phaeton (my first car) to the parking lot.

The first group of potential tour guides took a year-long course on all things Pilgrim before we were let loose on the public. We wore clothes that were designed for us, keeping as close as possible to the original dress. NO BUCKLES on the hats or shoes! The only thing changed was the fabric. The Pilgrims were wool at first, until linen could be woven, and so the powers that be took pity on us and we didn’t have to wear wool in the summer!

Pilgrim woman
Pilgrim Man

You probably think the Pilgrims always wore black clothes, but this is not true. First, in the 1620s best clothes were often black, and people wore their best clothes when having their portraits painted. Second, at the time it was not easy to dye cloth a solid, long-lasting black. Thus cloth for everyday clothes was dyed in many colors such as brown, brick red, yellow and blue. Other clothes were made of undyed cloth of gray or white.

Pilgrim men

Everyone wore something around their necks, normally flat collars or kerchiefs of linen, and they all also wore something on their heads – caps of knitted wool or hats of felt with wide brims for protection from the sun and rain. Women and girls pinned their hair up and wore a linen cap over their hair. They would also wear wide brimmed hats over the caps. In cold weather, the Pilgrims wore woolen cloaks or coast with mittens or gloves.
Pilgrim children

Both baby boys and girls wore long, one piece gowns with long sleeves and a cap called a biggens on their heads, made of wool or linen and tied under the chin. A toddler might wear something called a “pudding” around their forehead; this was a padded roll to protect their head from bumps and bruises. At around age 6 or 7, boys and girls started wearing clothes that looked like those of their parents.
Here are some images from Plimoth Plantation:

Inside a pilgrim house

Pilgrim women with linens

I am starting the research for a historical novel about Mary Allerton Cushman, who sailed on the Mayflower at age 4 and who was the longest surviving Mayflower passenger, dying at the very old age (for that time) of 88.

I’ll have more on this after my trip to Plymouth next month!




18 thoughts on “Summers in Plymouth: Learning to be Pilgrim”

  1. I enjoyed my trip to Plymouth, but didn’t do that much sightseeing – mainly whale watching and the like 🙂

  2. I visited Plymouth Plantation a few years ago and loved the ‘authentic’ tour guides! Wonderful post! I’m reblogging and looking forward to the next one on the first thanksgiving:)

    1. Glad you enjoyed Plimoth Plantation. I have a wonderful time whenever I go back. You drove right by the house where I grew up getting there – three doors down. Really nice of you to reblog. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving – if you celebrate it!

      1. I’m afraid I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving because I have no US friends physically present where I live. I was in New England once and loved the celebrations… parade, fireworks, special lunch and dinner! Lovely. Hope you enjoy!

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