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Mayflower, Day by Day - Tuesday, 21 December 1621

21 Dec 2021 2:33 AM | Soule (Administrator)

Christmas at Plimoth Plantation: Saints v Strangers

The differences between the Separatists and the newcomers did not wait for long to manifest themselves after the Fortune’s departure.  It took the settlers a little more than a month to impale the town; the chopping and sawing was back-breaking and time consuming, made all the more difficult by the lack or deficiency of their equipment.  Without oxen to help drag the tree trunks in from the forest, they were forced to lug the ten to twelve foot lengths of timber in by hand.  They dug a two- to three- foot trench, first using picks to break through the frozen topsoil and then a large hoe-like tool to dig a trench that was wide and deep enough to accommodate the ends of the pales.  Adding to the difficulties was the lack of food.  Some of the labourers grew so faint from hunger that they were seen to stagger on their way back to their homes after a day’s work.

And then came the twenty-fifth of December, a day like any other for the previous inhabitants of Plymouth, although it did mark the first anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower at Plymouth.  There was probably a gasp of unbelief when several of the newly arrived passengers from the Fortune stated flatly that they would not work today, because it was “against their consciences” -- an excuse that was quite clearly aimed to carry the most weight with the Pilgrims.  Bradford, begrudgingly, gave this suddenly pious minority the day off, and headed out to the fields to work with most of the settlement’s men.  Coming back at mid-day, however, he was horrified to see that those who had stayed behind were not engaged in prayer, but in playing games.  If they wanted to spend Christmas praying at home, that was fine with the Governor; “but there should be no gaming or reveling in the streets” -- freedom of conscience did not extend to stool ball (a game like cricket that was popular in the west of England).  While I do know some people who treat cricket like a religion, a rough modern equivalent of this behaviour might be eating pork in a synagogue.  Bradford confiscated the balls and bats and declared that is was not fair if a few healthy men played while everyone else worked.

The Pilgrims had come to the New World to live according to the Gospel, and were now confronted with a noisy minority that were doing what they could to make that impossible, or at least unlikely.  Bradford was thus presented not only with an impending attack on the settlement by hostile Narragansetts, but also with a visible and growing hostile divide among his own people: an internal attack on the very reason for this settlement.  Bradford had to make it clear that no matter how things were done in England, Plymouth would follow God’s law, to which everyone would be expected to conform.  For many of the new arrivals, however, this must have been astonishing, to say the least.  While some of the passengers on the Fortune knew the Leiden congregation well, others probably had little knowledge of, or appreciation for, the project being lived out in Plimoth Plantation.  Almost half of the thirty-five passengers of the Fortune were on the 1623 land division but are not on the 1627 division of cattle, suggesting that they either died in the meantime, or, perhaps more likely, had returned to England, finding that life in New England was not what they had bargained for at all.

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