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.20150727_175732_2_crop


This picture is really old and the resolution is not good but that’s me in the pigtails and the too long dress, walking up Leyden Street. The following is a bit better and newer.

Pilgrim ProgressLeyden 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
Town BrookTown 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 PlantationWhich 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!

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!




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

  1. Ah – that brought back memories! When I visited Plimoth Plantation in 1986, an actor working there asked me where I was from. I said New Zealand. She didn’t know what to say as they could not discuss things in the “future, and New Zealand hadn’t even been discovered!!

  2. So interesting, Noelle. What a great thing to be a part of and learn about. I like how a bit of the history continued to intermingle with the modern world. The old photos are great 🙂

  3. Fascinating, Noelle. When we visited Plymouth it was a gem and I can see you tour guiding around town. I love those shingle clad dwellings. So evocative.

    1. I really enjoyed being a tour guide – nice to put myself in a different time and place, and fun to teach the visitors about being Pilgrim!

  4. What an interesting path your parents started you down, Noelle! Not one that’s gifted to everyone so I’m glad that you’re making the most of it and sharing the history. 🙂

    1. Thank you! It was mostly my Dad – he wanted me to move in the circles whose children did such things – most of these kids belonged to the Eel River Beach Club where I swam in the summer – guess that was what started it all.

  5. I adore my history lessons with Noelle! You manage to add to my Bucket List each time I read your posts! Love your first car. It certainly had a lot more character than my first car 🙂

    1. Okay, you’ve piqued my interest. What was your first car? I have always wanted to have a car like my Model A again, hoped that my writing might generate enough money to buy one. So far, it’s all outgo, but I remain positive!

  6. What a marvellous experience, Noelle. And I agree with Belinda that the car is wonderful. My first was a Peugeot 106, before you ask…:)

  7. Hmm… These places look familiar. I didn’t know you were a “settler” in Plymouth. Very cool. Like you said, I’m sure all this was kind of annoying when you were younger but what an experience to have now! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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