Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Pilgrims Who Came on the Mayflower

The Mayflower
The Mayflower sailed to America.
                                               It took them 66 days.
                                               It was a rough and stormy trip.
                                               And there wasn’t enough room to play.
                                                                 - Krystal Ricciardella

“They begane now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health & strength, and had all things in good plenty; for as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, about codd & bass, & other fish, of which they tooke good store, of which every family had their portion.”   From the journal of William Bradford
The first Thanksgiving was in October less than a year after the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth. Half of the original 102 passengers died that first winter from cold, hunger and sickness. They were ill prepared for this climate since they’d been heading for Virginia when they went off course and landed in Massachusetts.  That first Thanksgiving, they were not only thankful for those who had lived, but a bountiful harvest and many barrels of furs ready to be shipped to England. They were especially thankful for the Native Americans like Samoset, Squanto and Chief Massasoit, who helped them in so many ways. So that first Thanksgiving they invited their Indian friends.

When I was teaching a unit on the early Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower, I read to my third grade class from several books that told the backstory of the Puritans, who left England for Holland for religious freedom, and what that first year was like. When the Puritans realized their children were losing their English language and customs, they went back to England to hire two ships to take them to the new country. After one ship developed a problem and had to head back to England, 102 Pilgrims headed for the new country. Not all of them were Puritans, either.

To make these people come alive for my students, I made journals of fake leather with plain paper inside and sewed up in the middle. On the front was written the name of a young person who came over and lived the whole year. There were twenty-seven who lived through that first year. Each of my students was given the journal of one of those children and had to write in it when I finished reading that day’s story. Some of them would have been too young to write a journal so I didn’t assign those children to a student. Some were a little older like Priscilla Mullins, who married John Alden.

The students wrote to Dear Aunt Patience (me) and I responded to their entries, each day with “Thee should obey thy parents, or Tis not seemly to expose thy ankles” when a young girl the first summer went wading. Pretty soon they were picking up on the same vernacular. When I gave out the journals, I picked the most creative and bright students to be the Billington brothers, John Jr. and Francis; students who would embrace these characters who almost burned the ship down by running a fuse to a barrel containing gun powder. The students picked always had fun with their characters making up things they’d done as John or Francis, that wasn’t in any history books. 
Can you imagine being on this ship:?

  On the way across the ocean, when the storms came, I had the students sit on their desks as I read and had them sway back and forth as if they were on the ship as I described the smells and how horrible it was with that many people enclosed below, vomiting and using chamber pots that often tipped over, and eating soggy food because water would come in. and soak them and what little food they had.

They continued writing about their life when the Mayflower landed in New England rather than Virginia where they were headed. They talked of being cold or hungry, or being sad when one of their parents died which many did. Of course, being kids, the next day they might write about how much fun they were having, too. So much for absorbing the true hardships of those early Pilgrims. 

One of the books I read.
One of the books I used was Meet the Pilgrim Fathers, part of a collection of easy to read history books I’d bought for my own kids when they were young. I showed them the signature of my son John Alden inside which had them interested.  My children are direct descendent of John Alden, who came over on the Mayflower and was a cooper, but not a Puritan. At a parent-teacher conference later, a parent said to me, I understand your son came over on the Mayflower. I still laugh at that. In addition to writing in their Pilgrim journals, I also had them write poetry. I forgot about that until recently when I came across those poems from one of my classes. I’m sharing some of them with you here as well as the one at the beginning of the blog. I did not change their spelling.

Poems of The Mayflower
by Mrs. Alden’s Third Grade
Hiram Elementary 1994-1995

The Mayflower was a ship                                                        The Mayflower was a ship.
With people who came one by one,                                          It had a fowl smell
For days and days they saw not land,                                        It had a boat on deck,
And they did not see the sun.                                                    I think it was named Mel.         
        - Natalie Mangerie                                                                        - Jason Killey

The Mayflower sailed to America                                              The Mayflower sailed over the ocean
It took them 66 days                                                                 The Mayflower sailed over the sea.
It was a rough and stormy trip                                       The seals saw the Mayflower,
John Howland got taken overboard by the waves.                     And the Mayflower saw the seals.
            - Jeremy Williams                                                                     - Amanda Greer

The rough voyage was this way.                                                The Mayflower sailed 66 days.
It took them 66 days.                                                                They all drank ale.
The sailors called them puke stockings                          There were a few babies born.
And kids got in the way.                                                           And they once fought hail.
            - Morgan Collins-Roosa                                                           - Justin Hagan

The Mayflower sailed to America.                                             What a crowded boat
It took them 66 days                                                                 I’m surprised it even floats.
It was rough and stormy                                                            Although it is very big
A horse can’t go because it neighs.                                            I think it smells like a pig
            - Erin Minard                                                                It is so slow,
                                                                                                Why can’t we get on the go?
Mary Chilton sailed on the Mayflower                                       - Robin Cram
Priscilla Mullins sailed on the Mayflower, too
They were the best of friends                                                                America
They are going to pick flowers when                                         I love this country
they get on land.                                                                       Wild and green.
            - Angela Monroe                                                          I like the animals
                                                                                                That I’ve seen.
                                                                                                            - Shawn Hils

This is only some of the thirty-two poems that class wrote. Obviously some of the slower and less imaginative kids copied from others, and some students wrote more than one. I don’t remember, but I have a feeling I might have written those first two lines “The Mayflower sailed to America, It took 66 days” just to get them started. It’s the only reason I can think of that almost all the students started their poems that way. I would have liked to have shared more of their poems, but a blog is limited in space, after all. I know I did this other years, too, but I don’t know where those poems are. Someday, I’m sure I’ll find them, too, says the hoarder.

Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone, and be glad wherever you’re going today it isn’t on a ship like the Mayflower.

What do you remember learning about Thanksgiving or the Pilgrims as a kid?

How do you celebrate Thanksgiving.


  1. What a delightful way to have your students study the Pilgrim experience!

    When I was teaching, one exercise for the students was to list the things they would take if they were going on such a journey. I was always pleased that they would decide not to bring money (no where to spend it.)

    But inevitably, some of the students would want to bring a TV set. They would usually think it through to the point that they realized there would be no electricity, so they should bring a battery or solar powered TV, but had difficulty with the concept that TV was years away form being invented, and that there were no TV show just floating through the air waiting for them.


  2. KM, funny how kids think, isn't it. They seem to miss out on how different things were that
    long ago. I still have to laugh that one of my students thought I had a son come over on the Mayflower. Gotta love kids, don't you.

  3. You must have been a great teacher.

  4. What wonderful memories, Gloria. Tanks for sharing them. I hope you have a happyThanksgiving!

  5. Thanks, Warren. It's easy to be a good teacher when you love what you do.

    Thanks, Paula. I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving, too. And now I'm off to my sister's
    house - one who is a much better cook than I am.

  6. Happy Thanksgiving Gloria and all the WWL bloggers and fans.

    I am the direct descendant of both the Bradfords and the Brewsters, as well as a third pilgrim whose name isn’t coming to me right now, plus another who arrived on the SECOND voyage of the Mayflower!

    ~ Jim

  7. Wonderful stories, Gloria. Your students were lucky to have you as their teacher. Happy Thanksgiving everyone. We're having Red Snapper instead of turkey because we are at the beach. But we still have to have corn pudding and mash potatoes!

  8. Delightful, Gloria. Thank you for sharing with us the true story of the original Thanksgiving. Love the poetry! Happy T'Day to all!


  9. Jim, on my mother's side we could only trace our ancestors back to Connecticut, but weren't sure which Jones it was. Jones was such a common name. On my father's side, my grandparents came over from Slovakia in the late 1800's when my grandfather Hovanic was 8 years old. His older brothers came earlier.

    E.B. I was lucky to have been given that grade in an elementary school in a college town with lots of support. Red Snapper sounds good. We had way too much food today since everyone who came brought a dish or dessert to add to the meal.

    Thank you, Kait. Someday, I'll have to dig out the poems different classes wrote on different topics.

  10. Gloria, I know I am late, but wanted to say what a kick I got out of your students' work! what fun you all had in class!

  11. Shari, we did and I had as much fun as they did even when we were out catching grasshoppers and crickets to study insects. It was fun being a child and an adult at the same time.

  12. Thanks, KB. I think I was the luckiest one, actually.