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Mayflower, Day by Day - Thursday, 10 December 1620

10 Dec 2020 3:02 AM | Soule (Administrator)

At anchor in harbour

Master Jones sent the shallop to the head of the harbour with mattocks and spades, as desired by those ashore; the seamen took their muskets, also. 

Myles Standish was in charge of those eighteen who had been left on shore, and they went in search of Indians.  They were ignorant of the normal Indian migration pattern (staying inland in the winter and near the water in the summer), and, in any event, found no one.  On the way back, they found “a place like a grave, but it was much bigger and longer than any we had yet seen.”  The arrangement was different from anything they had previously seen, including the Indian graves, so they “resolved to dig it up.”  They found quite a few boards, one of which was “finely carved and painted, with three tines, or broaches on the top, like a crown” (probably Neptune’s trident); further down they “came to a fair new mat, and under that two bundles, the one bigger, the other less.”  “We opened the greater [bundle] and found in it a great quantity of fine and perfect red powder [red ochre] … the red powder was a kind of [embalming], and yielded a strong, but [not offensive] smell; it was fine as any flower.”  They also found the skull of a man with “fine yellow hair still on it, and some of the flesh unconsumed.”  With the skull was a sailor’s canvas bag containing a knife and sewing needle.  Then they turned to the smaller bundle: inside were the skull and bones of a small child, along with a tiny wooden bow “and some other odd knacks.”  Even if they had not been frightened beforehand, they must have been now.  They were clearly not the first Europeans here, and they must have had many, many questions: who was the man, and who was the child?  Did either or both die a natural death?  Or had they been killed?  Why were they buried with special care by the Indians?  How recent was this?  How did the blond haired man get here?  Despite the fact that the Pilgrims had not seen any other humans for the last three months other than their fellow passengers and six spectre-like Indians far away on the beach two weeks ago, who had run away before contact was made, this must have been startling and brought home that they were not the first or the only people here.  I have to admit that this discovery fills me, even at the distance of four centuries, with dread and foreboding like no other part of this story.

The exploration party then discovered some Indian houses not far away.  There were several deer heads, one of which was quite fresh, and a piece of broiled herring, suggesting that the occupants had -- very recently -- left in quite a hurry.  The Pilgrims decided to leave behind some beads and other trade goods and tokens for the Indians “in sign of peace … purposing to give them full satisfaction when they should meet with any of them (as about some 6 months afterwards they did, to their great content).”  While they were still trying their level best to make contact with Indians, the Indians were quite successful in avoiding any such contact.  It was now getting dark.  The shallop collected the party and came alongside the Mayflower at nightfall with the rest of the explorers — the tide being out — bringing “some of the best things,” baskets, pottery, wicker-ware, etc., with them.  They reported that the ground was frozen a foot deep.

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