What Research? Years for The Last Pilgrim

I am often asked how long it took me to write The Last Pilgrim. Counting the abortive attempts with first-person and third-person voice, then trying to figure out how to get a four-year-old’s voice (I didn’t – I used her father’s voice for the first part of the book), it took about seven years. Off and on, until I found my groove.

A lot of that time was spent on research, but I was lucky in that I had a timeline and a background for Mary Allerton’s life: the history of the Plimoth Colony.


Here are some of the various areas I had to research:

1. The Mayflower voyage and the first 2-3 years – of which there is a lot written, mainly by Bradford and an outstanding book by Nathaniel Philbrick

2. House construction – more on that later

3. Clothing – how did they make wool and linen cloth?

4. Food and food preparation

5. Native populations and their interaction with the Pilgrims – the Pilgrims made the first treaty with a Native American tribe, one which lasted 50 years

6. Farming – the Pilgrims were farmers, after all

7. Trade and trade goods – lumber, corn, sassafras, whale oil, dried fish, and furs

8. Child-rearing – did you know the Pilgrims thought children were born with a sinful nature?

9. Weather (hurricanes and earthquakes) – both Cat 5 hurricane and an earthquake hit the colony, so you have to read the book to find out about it.

10. The law and the courts

11. Indentured servants – often mistreated

12. Seventeenth-century birthing practices – I found a book written by a 17th-century midwife13. Movement and genealogy of various families

14. Livestock – there weren’t any for several years

15. Gardens – what did the Pilgrim women grow in their gardens?

16. Medical practices

A dental pelican for extracting teeth.

17. Lives of other First Comers – the Bradfords, Billingtons, Winslows, Warrens, Standishes, Fullers, Aldens and more

18. Family life and customs – the Pilgrims had some amazingly modern childrearing practices

19. Religion – were the Pilgrims really Puritans?

20. Pottery and utensils – wooden, then redware, and later Dutch ware

21. Social norms

22. Witchcraft – Were there any witches in the Plimoth Colony? You have to read the book!

23. British rule – the colonies were subject to the winds and whims of the English monarchy

24. Cloth making (wool and linen)

25. Candle making –tallow, bayberry, and beeswax

26. Pipes – a collection of pipes were available for smoking at taverns; the tavern owner would break off the stem after a use, but the stems often broke on their own (the pipes were clay), so they grew shorter and shorter as they were used.

27. Beer making- the women did it, of course

And a few others…

I merrily researched from about 50 books and thousands of online sources, some of which I came to recognize as fanciful tales. I might start the day looking at herbs and end up reading about dishware!

Next time: The voyage begins



13 thoughts on “What Research? Years for The Last Pilgrim”

  1. I loved reading your behind the scenes research. I like how you paragraph each discovery where do you store the original research do you use a database or notebooks? Do you always remember to record the source. One of my usual mistakes when researching was to forget to record where I’d learned the information I’m better at that now so that I can go back if I need more details.

    We’ve an unexpected afternoon off today, rehearsals are going well so we’re only required from 7pm to 10pm to have a full run through.

    1. Have a relaxing day! You’ve earned it! I used a lot of books as primary material and purchased them, then printed out anything I found on the internet and tabbed it for the content. There were some sites I went back to over and over – mainly geneology.

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