The Real First Thanksgiving


With my recent posts, I’ve tried to create an accurate historical lead-up to the first Thanksgiving. This is a piece I posted in 2014 and again in 2017. It seems appropriate for tomorrow!

Much has been written about the first Thanksgiving which took place at Plimoth Colony. Here is some information that is probably closer to the truth.

First Thanksgiving I                 The First Thanksgiving 1621, oil on canvas by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1899)

The voyage from Plymouth, England, had taken 65 days. Once the decision to settle on the shores of the harbor of what is now Plymouth, MA, the Pilgrims faced a daunting future:they had no houses, no stored goods, no knowledge of the country they faced, nor any knowledge of its inhabitants besides wild stories of cannibals. And the season was winter, harsh and cruel. A common house that had been built to house some of the Pilgrims burned on January 14, 1621, and those who had lived there had to return to the Mayflower for shelter.

Pilgrims going to church                  Pilgrims going to church (1867) by George Henry Boughton, New York Public Library

Sickness swept through both the colonists and the crew of the Mayflower. It is knot know what this sickness was, although it is thought it was pneumonia and scurvy. At one point, only seven of the entire population were well enough to care for the remaining 150, fetching wood for fires, making food, bathing and dressing the sick. When the sickness was over, only 12 of 26 men with families, 4 of the 12 single men and boys, and all but five of the women survived.

Despite their reduced numbers, they soon set about laying out First Street (Leyden Street) and setting the foundations for a fort at the top of the street. The colonist noticed Native Americans near their settlement in mid-February, and the two groups final met on Friday, March 16th.
Squanto and MassasoitThis is the famous encounter that involved Samoset, an Abenaki Sagamore from what is now Maine; he entered the developing village and said “Welcome, Englishmen.” Samoset had learned English from the English fishermen who crossed the North Atlantic each year to fish for cod, some of whom remained on small islands off the coast of Maine. He told the Pilgrims of a great plague which had killed the Patuxet people who had previously lived on that spot: indeed, the Pilgrims had found cleared farmland when they disembarked.

The local Native Americans, the Wampanoag tribal confederation, were very distrustful of the English because some had been kidnapped and sold into slavery by Thomas Hunt, an English captain who had visited the area a few years before.

Samoset returned with another Native American, Squanto, on March 22nd; Squanto was one of the men taken by Hunt, had been sold as a slave in Spain, escaped to London and returned to American as a guide. He became the colony’s interpreter and worked on their behalf in their interactions with the Wampanoags. As a result, the regional sachem of the Wampanoags, Massasoit, visited the Pilgrims. There was an exchange of gifts, and a treaty was signed that lasted for over 50 years. Massasoit’s purpose in aligning with the Pilgrims was to provide protection for his tribe, which had been decimated by disease, from surrounding tribes.

It was his suggestion that the fields south of the brook be turned by hand and crops of wheat, barley, Indian corn and peas were planted in early April. Work continued on the houses, and the Mayflower finally left the colony to return to England on April 5th.

Learning to plant cornThe first Thanksgiving was not really a thanksgiving but instead a traditional English harvest celebration to which the colonists invited Massasoit and members of the Wampanoag. It is generally thought to have occurred in November of 1621, but might have been at the end of the summer.

First Thanksgiving II                                 The First Thanksgiving, Jenny Augusta Brownscombe 1914

I have eaten a traditional Pilgrim meal, and I can vouch for the fact that the food was very tasty and filling. There are no records of exact fare of this harvest meal, but Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow noted that the colony’s governor, William Bradford, sent four men on a “fowling” mission in preparation for what was to be a three-day event. Wild turkeys were plentiful in the area and a common food source for both English settlers and Native Americans. But it is just as likely that ducks, geese and swans, which frequently graced Pilgrim tables, were also on the menu. Both the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims occasionally stuffed birds and fish, typically using herbs, onions or nuts to add extra flavor. Deer were also killed and roasted venison would have been on the menu.

Turkey for ThanksgivingStrangely, in a land where the shoreline and coastal rivers were teeming with salmon, cod, flounder, shad, haddock, and sea bass, the Pilgrims were not huge fish-eaters. From Edward Winslow, we also know the Pilgrims ate lobster, which were in such abundance they could be collected by the bushels from tidal pools. But familiarity soon bred contempt, and the Pilgrims came to regard them as food for the poor. They also collected and ate eels, mussels and clams but later, with the arrival of livestock, fed the mussels and clams to their pigs.

First Thanksgiving IV                                   A Re-enactment of the First Thanksgiving at Plimoth=Patuxet

The Pilgrims had brought no livestock with them. The first cattle — three cows and a bull — did not arrive in Massachusetts until 1623 so in 1621 they were without butter, cheese, milk, and cream.

There is no indication that cranberries were served at the feast, but they did occur in Wampanoag dished, adding tartness. Remember that it is unlikely there was any sugar in the Plimoth Colony, although honey might have been available. However, there were plentiful wild gooseberries, strawberries and raspberries.

Forget baked or mashed potatoes. Potatoes, sweet or white, would have been unknown at the time, but the Wamanoag ate a variety of other root vegetables: Jerusalem artichokes, groundnuts, wild onions, Indian turnip and water lily.

What about pumpkin? Was it on the menu? Pumpkins and squash were native to New England, and while the American varieties were new to the Pilgrims, they were hardly exotic. However, the fledgling colony didn’t have the butter and wheat flour for making piecrust.

What they did have is corn, a colorful, hard corn that the Pilgrims referred to as Indian corn. It was a staple for the Wampanoag and quickly become a fixture in Pilgrim cooking pots. “Our Indian corn,” wrote Edward Winslow,” even the coarsest, maketh as pleasant a meat as rice.” In other words, the Pilgrim quickly learned to adapt traditional English dishes of porridge, pancakes and bread to flour made with the native corn.

Indian CornThe Pilgrims ate with spoons and knives but forks were unknown, so they also used their fingers a lot.

Of course no one knows exactly what it was like to be living in the Plimoth Colony in 1621, but I am lucky to have come as close as possible to the history and have let my imagination do the rest in my book, The Last Pilgrim..

May everyone, no matter their food preference, have a wonderful and warm Thanksgiving, and be mindful of all the blessings bestowed on us as Americans — blessings for which the Pilgrims gave so much and to which the Wampanoags contributed so much, ensuring their survival.

Seasons of Starvation and Plenty


Starvation continued beyond the first winter.  After the first year, the late spring through early fall was a time of plenty. Winters remained times of starvation, however, because ships containing new colonists continued to arrive, sent by the Merchant Adventurers in London – the Fortune (1621), and the Anne and the Little James (1623). These people arrived without any food supplies, clothes, or wherewithal for their life in the colony. They were distributed to live in the existing homes and during the winters, food had to be rationed so everyone could eat.

A conjectural image of Bradford, produced as a postcard in 1904 by A.S. Burbank of Plymouth

Bradford wrote of these newcomers there were

“good members to the body”, some being the wives and children of men there already, some since the Fortune came over in 1621. But Bradford also related about those unfit for such a hardship settlement: “And some were so bad, as they were faine to be at charge to send them home again next year.”

So the names of some of the people arriving on these ships disappeared from the colony’s rolls after 1623.

Members of the Plymouth Colony began trading with fishermen and Native tribes in Maine within a few years of their arrival in 1620. In 1622 they dispatched a small expedition by boat to Damariscove Island, where they obtained supplies and food which carried them through a difficult summer until their crops could be harvested. They also had to bargain at various Native American villages for corn.


When starvation was not a problem, the colonists’ diet was a healthy one, helped by knowledge from the Pokanokets (Wampanaugs) who lived around them.

Beans, squash, pumpkin

Sunchokes – a tubular-shaped, thin-skinned root vegetable of the sunflower plant family that’s in season from late fall through early spring. Also called a Jerusalem artichokes.

Corn bread and corn porridge

Wild greens (watercress)

Fowl (duck, swan, goose, turkey)

Mishoons and hunting. Credit: Plimoth-Patuxet (a mishhoon the Wampanoag word for boat, using fire as a tool to hollow out a tree.)


Fish – The Separatists were not big fish eaters. Being farmers, they were meat and bread eaters.

Lobsters, clams and eels. The Separatists loved eels but soon came to regard lobster as food for the poor because of their abundance and the fact they ate a lot of them early on.

Nuts (walnuts, chestnuts, beechnuts) – some of the first food they harvest when they came ashore in Cape Cod Bay.

Wild berries: Cranberries and currants – wild currants are closely related to gooseberries. Currants come in red, black, and gold colors when ripe. North America is host to more than 80 varieties

Once gardens were established: many different kinds of herbs, onions, garlic, and vegetables like parsley, lettuce, spinach, carrots and turnips.  Also after a few years, they grew cowcumbers (cucumbers).

Water and also beer made from corn


Cooking was done in the fireplace alcove our outside. Baking was done outside in communal ovens. Eventually, they built real fireplaces with ovens in the back and later to the side. How did they know the temperature to cook at? How did they know when their baking was done?

The Separatists initially tried but failed to grow rye, barley and wheat. In the beginning, barley crops often failed, and the cost of importation was prohibitive. Hops were first introduced into this country from Europe by the Massachusetts Company in 1629.

Food plays an important part in my book, The Last Pilgrim.

The Pilgrims Were Not the Same as Puritans


      Pilgrims Going to Church, oil on canvas, 1867, by George Henry Boughton

This is a common misconception, mixing the two quite different approaches to the Protestant religion.

The Pilgrims were actually called Separatists. Separatists believed that the only way to live according to Biblical precepts was to leave the Church of England to worship in their own way.

Separatists rejected idolatry, trappings, and all sacraments (except for baptism), along with all holidays, including Christmas.  Thus confession, penance, confirmation, ordination, marriage, and last rites did not exist in their religion.  Separatists viewed them as inventions of the Roman Church, had no scriptural basis, and were therefore superstitions. They had no building designated as a church. They could meet anywhere and the place would simply be called a meeting house.

Separatists attempted to keep their religion apart from their government, as written in the Mayflower Compact. You could be a citizen in the Plimoth Colony but not be a Separatist (you did have to pay taxes!) This is why people who practiced other forms of religion, such as Quakers, were generally tolerated.

Puritans wanted to reform the Church of England from within and kept many of the practices, including the sacraments. Idolatry – paintings, statues, etc. – could be seen in the churches they built.

The Puritans’ religion and their government (of the Massachusetts Bay Colony) were intertwined. Other forms of religion were NOT tolerated, and their practitioners were persecuted.

Both Puritans and Separatists shared a form of worship and self-organization called the congregational way: no prayer book other than the Bible, no formal creeds or belief statements, and the head of the church was Jesus Christ.

And for both Puritans and Separatists, their members (only men) made decisions regarding their religion, such as the selection of their leaders, democratically.

Thus in The Last Pilgrim, there are no formal marriage ceremonies, just gatherings to celebrate after these unions were noted in the colony’s records.  There is some interesting tidbits about baptism: one of the most heated discussions at that time was whether baptism should be done by immersing the baby in water or just sprinkling water on the head!

I couldn’t get into this distinction in-depth in the book, so this was part of my background rsearch.

In Flander’s Field


In recognition of Veteran’s Day, I am reposting this from last year.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.

This poem was written by John McCrae. I learned it in school as a child and remember it every Veteran’s Day. My sincere gratitude to all our veterans, living and dead, for the sacrifices they made so we could enjoy freedom.

Pilgrim Homes, Food and Farms


On 28 December 1620, house plots were assigned to family groups–each family was responsible for building their own house. Once warmer weather set in, their progress was impeded by a request from Captain Miles Standish to build a fort at the top of the hill to house the cannon and arms, followed by a request to erect a 6-9’ palisade around the settlement. This latter was a half-mile in length. Later, everyone was engaged in planting the corn crop and taking care of the new shoots as they came up. This took men away from working on their own houses. By December of 1621, seven houses had been built with four of them for common use.

This is an aerial view of Plimoth-Patuxet, the village as it was circa 1622-23.

Remember, the colonists were not skilled carpenters and lacked tools, so their first houses were fairly crude, just protection from wilds animals and the elements.

They had one door, one window, dirt floors, fireplace, and a wooden chimney (also a fire hazard). In the 1600s and into the 1700s, the typical fireplace was a walk-in, a wide open recess, with only a semblance of a mantel or no mantel at all.

The houses were lined inside with daub and wattle but had no insulation, so they were hot in the summer and cold in the winter. And smoky. They were crowded, sometimes with six or more people.  The windows usually had shutters and were covered over with oiled paper in the winter.

Daub and wattle has been used for at least 6000 years. It is a woven lattice of wooden strips or twigs  called wattle, which is filled in with daub, a sticky material usually made of some combination of wet soil, clay, sand, animal dung and straw.

The women planted gardens as soon as possible beside or behind their houses, using seeds they brought with them from England. Some of the seeds did not do well, but onions, garlic, and vegetables like parsley, lettuce, spinach, carrots, and turnips did well.  Later they learned to cultivate squash and pumpkin. Separatists initially tried, but failed, to grow rye, barley, and wheat, so corn was their main crop. The Separatists drank water until they learned to use corn to make beer. Hops were first introduced from Europe by the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1629.

They didn’t have any livestock. Only chickens and maybe a pig or goat came on the Mayflower. The chickens ran free in the settlement and were fed worms because grain could not be spared for them. So the first two years were made more difficult.

Three Red Devon milking cows came only in 1623 – so no milk, no butter, no cheese unless there was a goat or two – but this was not recorded.  The cows came on the Anne and were named Great Black Cow, Lesser Black Cow, and Great White-Backed Cow. That same year, 1623, it was reported that six goats, fifty pigs and many chickens populated the colony.

Remember these early colonists were farmers. They did not like to fish and fish was not on the menu often.  Not that they could fish – the fish hooks sent with them were too large for the type of fish in the harbor!

During the first two years, all of the crop growing was done communally. But not everyone contributed equally, so in 1623, men were then assigned an acre each family for their own farming, with any surplus food contributed to the common supply.  As the colony grew, more land was needed for farming and in 1628, the Plymouth court distributed land, about   20 acres per share, to the colonists. Livestock was also apportioned.

The apportionment of larger farms meant the colonists moved further and further away from the settlement. In time, this led to the establishment of new towns. All of the plots assigned had at least some either ocean or riverfront. That was because there were no roads and the Pilgrims had to return to the settlement for Sunday services. They came by boat. And some maintained their original house in the settlement where they lived in the winter.  By 1624, there were 32 houses in the Plimoth settlement.

All this is the background to my book, The Last Pilgrim.

A Brutal First Winter and Spring, but the Plimoth Colonists Persevere, with Help


The building of the first homes proceeded at a glacial pace – a pun because of the frequent storms with sleet, rain, or snow. Early on, a map was made of where each house would be built. Each ‘family’ was responsible for the construction of their home.

Think of the women, trapped below decks on the Mayflower. They lived in cold and dank since there could’ve been no fires, and they were confined to caring for an increasing number of sick passengers in this dark and fetid environment. Most of the children stayed aboard as well, except for older boys who could help the men with chopping down trees, dressing the trunks, and helping to drag them to the building site.

By the time spring rolled around, half of the passengers and half the crew had succumbed to disease, most commonly scurvy and pneumonia.  The Mayflower could not return to England until 1621 because of the decimation of its crew and the bad weather. Food supplies brought on the Mayflower kept dwindling, although fish, clams, greens, venison, rabbit, and other meat would have been available.

The women, as caregivers, were particularly hard-hit: only five adult women survived to the coming of spring. Thus the working backbone of the potential colony, the women who cared for the sick, prepared food, washed clothes and so much else were few in numbers and all of the older girls would have been conscripted to work with them, side by side.

When the first house was built, the men who had become ill were moved there, and other men cared for them, apparently with kindness and love. But then it burned down and had to be rebuilt. How discouraged the colonists must have been, but they had a deep and abiding faith in their God which

somehow saw them through. 

Early on, the plan for the settlement was made. Here is the map of where each family’s house would be, from Bradford. Byu spring, the term ‘family’ was loosely defined. With only five wives left, a family might consist of a group of unattached men, although some were assigned to houses along with the orphaned children.


It was during this time that the colonists made first contact with the Natives of the area, when Samoset, an Abenaki sagamore, came into settlement and greeted them in English, saying “welcome”.  Through Samoset, the colonists met Tisquantum (Squanto), the last of the Patuxets on whose land they were building. He served as the translator in the first meeting between the colonists and Massoit (which means sachem), the chief of the Wampanoags. More on this later. That contact meant everything to the survival of the colony because of what Squanto and the Wampanoags taught the settlers many things – how to plant corn, native plants to eat (pumpkins and squash and berries), where to find eels (which the English loved).

So how did the Pilgrims build their homes? Not log cabins, as many think. The Pilgrims had never seen a log cabin. They built what they knew with the few tools they had with them – post and beam houses.






Initially, the men only had axes to cut and shape beams and planks for their houses. Imagine how hard that was to do with just axes. Eventually, they had a saw pit for sawing the planks.


The roofs were thatch made from natural reeds and grasses from the nearby salt marshes and often caught fire. So a bucket of water stood by the door to each house. Seven of the 32 houses existing in the winter of 1624 were burned to the ground with everything in them.


What did the houses look like inside? What did the colonists eat? Coming up….



The Pilgrims Reach the New World – Now What?


As I mentioned in my last post, land was first sighted from the Mayflower on November 20, 1620, after a voyage of 66 days. Captain Jones determined it was Cape Cod and turned south to reach the land for which the Separatists had a patent – land which was located north of the Hudson River but was considered part of Virginia.

After a few hours of sailing south, the Mayflower ran into turbulent shoals, so turbulent that Captain Joines had to consider whether continuing in that direction was wise. The ship was in poor shape and probably would not withstand the battering of the turbulence. There were now more than a few people aboard who were sick, and food and beer supplies (the water had long been fouled) were dwindling.

He decided he had no choice but to turn north and sail around the arm of Cape Cod, coming to harborage in Cape Cod Bay early in the morning of the day after. Jones knew exactly where he was. After all, Cape Cod and what would become New England had been visited or exported by several men earlier in the century: Bartholomew Gosnold (1602); Martin Pring(1603); Samuel de Champlain (1605); George Waymouth (1605); Henry Hudson (16090 and John Smith (1614).

                                              This is John Smith’s map

One very important event occurred while the Mayflower was anchored in Cape Cod Bay – the creation and signing of the Mayflower compact on November 11, 1620. The decision to settle outside the bounds of the Virginia Company patent caused some “mutinous speeches” by some of the passengers. The Mayflower Compact was an attempt to establish a temporary, legally binding form of self-government until such time as the Company could get formal permission from the Council of New England. This self-government was not tied to any religion and was based on English and Mosaic law. The Mayflower Compact was regarded as law until 1686 and is significant because it is one of the first examples of a colony self-governing itself. Many consider it to be the beginning of American democracy.


While anchoring in the bay, a party went ashore to see if they could find a source of fresh water (they did) and to explore the coast for a possible settlement. The land around the Cape shore was too sandy for growing crops, so over the next weeks, groups of men explored north along the coast – first in the ship’s boat and then in the reconstructed shallop – looking for a likely site for their settlement.

                               Cape Cod Skaket Beach Sunset by Bill Wakeley

A storm blew nearly destroyed the shallop on their third trip and blew them ashore on what is now known as Clark’s Island, just outside of Plymouth Harbor.

This is Samuel de Champlain’s fairly accurate map of the area, showing the three sites considered for their settlement.

The first was Clark’s Island itself, rejected because although it was defensible, it had no source of water and limited trees for wood. The second was along a river entering the bay at its north end, rejected because it would be an arduous task to get wood there for building.

The third (note the star) was at the southern end of the bay, marked by a huge granite rock, which would become known as Plymouth Rock. This site had a free-running brook (still there today), a high hill on which the colonists’ cannons could be placed, and best of all, cleared land. The land had been cleared by the Patuxet tribe, all of whom died of disease brought by previous explorers during a time called the Great Dying (1617-1619). This was the site chosen.

Two rather fanciful paintings of the landing of passengers from the Mayflower. The women would not have been allowed to leave the ship.

The colonists began building in December with a common house, which burned down and had to be replaced. For the rest of the winter and into the spring, the colonists remained living on the ship. There were still no fires for warmth or cooking allowed below deck. In the frigid, fetid environment, sicknesses, which began during the voyage, became prevalent, taking lives on a regular basis. Mary Norris Allerton, Mary Allerton Cushman’s mother, died in February not long after giving birth to a stillborn boy.

Fewer healthy men were left to build homes, so the building was slow. Bad weather also hindered their efforts. It had been assumed winter weather would be similar to England’s since this site was on the same latitude, so the colonists were not prepared for the brutality of the winter in the New World.



      Artists’ interpretations

Come back to Plymouth with me when the Pilgrims’ first spring arrived.  How many survived?


Come Take The Voyage On the Mayflower with the Pilgrims


What was it like to sail on the Mayflower in 1620? No picnic.

The Mayflower actually sailed three times, the first two times with a smaller sister ship called the Speedwell. Each time the Speedwell began to take on water, the second time 300 miles from England. So the Mayflower returned to port with the Speedwell twice, before the decision was made to proceed with just the Mayflower.

Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall (1882)

The later Governor of the Plimoth Colony, William Bradford, wrote that “overmasting” strained the ship’s hull but attributed the main cause of her leaking to actions on the part of the crew. Bradford later assumed that Speedwell master Reynolds’s “cunning and deceit” (in causing what may have been man-made leaks in the ship) had been motivated by a fear of starving to death in America.

In any event, the Speedwell was deemed unseaworthy and abandoned. Eleven people from the Speedwell joined the others on the Mayflower. Twenty of the Speedwell’s passengers, including Robert Cushman, who would be Mary Allerton’s father-in-law, remained in London. Isaac Allerton and his family were among the passengers on the Speedwell who transferred to the Mayflower.

Thus one hundred and two passengers sailed on the Mayflower for the third and final time, leaving Plymouth on September 6, 1620.

Why was sailing that late in September risky? The North Atlantic is stormy in the autumn – think of hurricane season. Many ships in the 1600s were damaged or shipwrecked by storms. Passengers sometimes fell overboard and drowned. Also, the winds blew from west to east, so the Mayflower was beating against the wind, tacking back and forth. Also, ships could be attacked and taken

A harrowing scene of the the Mayflower at Sea, by Mike Haywood provided by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

over by pirates. So the ship sailed on a northern path across the Atlantic to avoid the storms.

Now, imagine yourself living below deck in a dark, dank room 58’ by 28’ or 1624 square feet, with 101 other people. The ceiling (the main deck of the ship) is so low you have to stoop over to walk. That’s sixteen square feet per person, shared with chickens, maybe a pig, a disassembled 33-foot long boat called the shallop, and everyone’s worldly goods except for food stores, which were in the hold.

There was no fire allowed below deck, so food was eaten cold. People partitioned off their tiny allotted spaces with curtains or furniture, and they slept on the deck. Most of the passengers wore the same clothes for the entire trip. If they were lucky they had one or two changes of clothes. Some had none.






Crew galley for hot food                                                   Below deck

Imagine the noise of 101 other passengers: talking, coughing, snoring, groaning. Imagine the smells from dank clothing, moldy food, sweat, and later, scurvy, and the smell of vomit from seasickness. And don’t forget the pails that served as chamber pots. You would also have other ‘passengers’ traveling with you – fleas and lice. This is my vision of hell.

What would you have to eat?

Hard biscuits (hardtack), beer, salted (dried) beef, salted ling or cod fish, qats, peas and some ground wheat, butter and sweet oil, mustard seed, aqua vitae, pickled food, dried fruit, and cheese.

Much of this food grew moldy from the dank. The water for the children grew rancid and the children had to drink beer.  Hardtack is hard. It is made months ahead from flour, salt, and water and I made some for my critique group. The only way they could eat it was to dunk it in coffee, but it is tasteless. Onboard the Mayflower it became infested with maggots, and the sailors taught the passengers to dunk their hardtack in beer and wait until the maggots floated to the top. Actually, I think those maggots might have been more nourishing.


Remember, the passengers had to bring enough food to last until the women could plant and harvest a garden and the men could hunt or fish. And they had already eaten some of it during the previous two sailing with the Speedwell.

Heavy storms drenched everyone and everything above and below decks, as water poured in through the hatches and gunports. So clothing and bedding and food got wet. Then one of the storms cracked one of the massive wooden beams supporting the frame of the ship. There was a spare beam aboard, but no way to hold it in place so it could be nailed in.

Luckily, the Pilgrims remembered a “great screw” they had in the hold and it was used to hold the beam in place. This was a jackscrew and was assumed to be what the colonists would use to hold the beams of their house in place when they were building. But another thought is that it was designed for a printing press. The Pilgrims had printed and disseminated many religious tracts when they were in Holland and also in England.

It wasn’t long before both passengers and crew suffered from scurvy, what we now know as a deficiency of vitamin C. Scurvy is a nasty disease with symptoms such as severe brittleness and massive decaying of the teeth and tooth loss, foul breath, ocular irritation, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, poor wound healing, and general weakness. A cure was not known, but the Mayflower passengers did not suffer from scurvy after their first years in the New World because of a healthy diet. Also, they may have learned from the Native Americans that pine needle tea is loaded with vitamin C.

One baby was born during the journey. Elizabeth Hopkins gave birth to her first son, appropriately named Oceanus, on Mayflower. Another baby boy, Peregrine White, was born to Susanna White after Mayflower arrived at Cape Cod.Mary Allerton’s mother was also pregnant.

Land was first sighted on November 20, 1620, after a voyage of 66 days. Captain Jones determined it was Cape Cod, based on maps made by previous explorers. He turned the Mayflower south to reach the land for which the Pilgrims had been granted a patent – a part of ‘Virginia’ which was located north of the Hudson River.

This is an extant map from 1657, from the Library of Congress. You can clearly see Cape Cod.

But the Mayflower never got there, and I will tell you why in the next post.

PS. These posts are the background to my book, The Last Pilgrim, the Story of Mary Allerton Cushman, which I hope you will find interesting with this background information.



In response to a request from Barb Taub, I am reposting this article from 2015. 

I raised the insects for the Silence of the Lambs. How that happened is sort of interesting…    

I got a phone call one day in my lab from a colleague at the USDA in Maryland, where there was an active entomology group. The first thing I heard was “How would you like to get involved in a movie?”

Being the attention hog that I am, I replied, “Tell me more.”

“Well, it’s a horror movie.”

“A horror movie? I don’t think so. They’re so shlocky.”     Jodie Foster

“Even one with Jodie Foster starring?”


“How about Anthony Hopkins?”

“Okay, sign me up. What do I have to do?”

Manduca sexta

Manduca sexta

He explained to me that they needed Death’s Head Moths for the movie.

Deaths Head Moth

Deaths Head Moth

I wasn’t raising these moths, and besides, they were indigenous to Europe and Asia, and there was no question of the government allowing me to import them. However, the adult of moth I did work with, Manduca sexta (otherwise known as the tobacco hornworm), did look a great deal like the adult Death’s Head.

Soon after that, I received a call from the “insect wrangler” for the movie, who told me roughly how many of each stage they would need (larva, pupa and adult) and when. He also asked me a lot about how to get them to “act” – move around, be still, fly.

Here are my moths

Here are my moths

So I got to work. We bought a trunk to transport them in and separated it into three compartments for the three stages, equipped with lights and a self-contained fan. I beefed up my colony to fit their time line, and bit actors from the movie came twice to collect the trunk and the insects. The trunk flew back to Pittsburg first class. I don’t know about the actor.

The second time an actor visited, I pumped him about the movie. He told me the scene in which the policemen come into the room where Dr. Hannibal Lector is caged, only to find him gone but a dead detective mounted on the cage, was not

Lt. Boyle (Charles Napier) ends up as Hannibal's homage to surrealist painter Francis Bacon

Lt. Boyle (Charles Napier) ends up as Hannibal’s homage to surrealist painter Francis Bacon

rehearsed. In order to get a real reaction from the actors, they did one take. He said it was indeed horrifying. I also learned the pupa extracted from the young woman’s throat in the morgue scene was actually a Tootsie Roll.

The scene in the basement with all of my lovely Manduca flying or crawling around was wonderful, at least to my eye. The adults were made to look like a Death’s Head moths with the addition of clear false fingernails, painted with the skull, glued to their thoraces.

I didn’t see the picture when it was first released. As I said, I am not a fan of horror and dislike being scared to death. I did see it when it was released as a video. From the comfort of my living room, I realized it was a darned good movie.

One thing I should have done, though, is visit the set. I could have, although I would have had to pay my way. Opportunity missed…