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