“This little book is intended as a memorial to the women who came in The Mayflower, and their comrades who came later in The Ann and The Fortune, who maintained the high standards of home life in early Plymouth Colony. There is no attempt to make a genealogical study of any family. The effort is to reveal glimpses of the communal life during 1621-1623. This is supplemented by a few silhouettes of individual matrons and maidens to whose influence we may trace increased resources in domestic life and education.”
I was intrigued as soon as I saw the title to this book for two reasons: #1, hadn’t seen anything about Mayflower women before, and #2, according to some trees in Ancestry, I have a male Mayflower ancestor. And if I had a male, there had to be a female! This is something I need to explore someday, to see if it’s actually true. But in the meantime, I took it more in an historical perspective than searching for an ancestor.
The Mayflower had 102 passengers—of whom twenty-nine were women,—they had been crowded for ten weeks into a vessel that was intended to carry about half the number of passengers.
Yuck! Can you imagine the lack of privacy, the feeling of seasickness, the stench, no way to wash your clothes, and worst of all, the lack of light and air when the hatch was closed?
“Wild winds carried away some clothes and cooking-dishes from the ship; there was a birth and a death, and occasional illness, besides the dire seasickness.” Perhaps the only way the women endured the strain and hardship was their dependence on each other.
They left in September, sailed ten weeks, and arrived in New England in November. “On Monday the thirteenth of November our people went on shore to refresh themselves and our women to wash, as they had great need.”
Another paragraph refers to several of the twenty-nine women. “There were women with frail bodies, like Rose Standish and Katherine Carver, but there were strong physiques and dauntless hearts sustained to great old age, matrons like Susanna White and Elizabeth Hopkins and young women like Priscilla Mullins, Mary Chilton, Elizabeth Tilley and Constance Hopkins. In our imaginations today, few women correspond to the clinging, fainting figures portrayed by some of the painters of ‘The Departure’ or ‘The Landing of the Pilgrims.’”
Ever wonder what they wore? Here’s another quote:
“The manifest answer is,—what they had in stock. No more absurd idea was ever invented than the picture of these Pilgrims ‘in uniform,’ gray gowns with dainty white collars and cuffs, with stiff caps and dark capes. They wore the typical garments of the period for men and women in England. There is no evidence that they adopted, to any extent, Dutch dress, for they were proud of their English birth; they left Holland partly for fear that their young people might be educated or enticed away from English standards of conduct. Mrs. Alice Morse Earle has emphasized wisely that the ‘sad-colored’ gowns and coats mentioned in wills were not ‘dismal’; the list of colors so described in England included (1638) ‘russet, purple, green, tawny, deere colour, orange colour, buffs and scarlet.’ The men wore doublets and jerkins of browns and greens, and cloaks with red and purple linings. The women wore full skirts of say, paduasoy or silk of varied colors, long, pointed stomachers,—often with bright tone,—full, sometimes puffed or slashed sleeves, and lace collars or ‘whisks’ resting upon the shoulders.”
I include one last quote, as Edward Dotey (Doty) is possibly one of my ancestors:
“Even more disturbing to the peaceful life was the first duel on June 18, between Edward Lister and Edward Dotey, both servants of Stephen Hopkins. Tradition ascribed the cause to a quarrel over the attractive elder daughter of their master, Constance Hopkins. The duel was fought with swords and daggers; both youths were slightly wounded in hand and thigh and both were sentenced, as punishment, to have their hands and feet tied together and to fast for twenty-four hours but, says a record, within an hour, because of their great pains, at their own and their master’s humble request, upon promise of better carriage, they were released by the Governor. It is easy to imagine this scene: Stephen Hopkins and his wife appealing to the Governor and Captain Standish for leniency, although the settlement was seriously troubled over the occurrence; Elder Brewster and his wife deploring the lack of Christian affection which caused the duel; Edward Winslow and his wife, dignified yet tolerant; Goodwife Helen Billington scolding as usual; Priscilla Mullins, Mary Chilton and Elizabeth Tilley condoling with the tearful and frightened Constance Hopkins, while the children stand about, excited and somewhat awed by the punishment and the distress of the offenders.”
It’s a fairly quick read, around 110 pages, depending on the format and the size of the font. If you have Mayflower ancestors, or are interested in life in the early Plymouth Colony, you may enjoy reading The Women Who Came in the Mayflower.