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Making of a Colony Video
a colonist greets visitors

“Welcome to the town! How do you fare?
Are you just passing through, or mayhaps you are desiring to settle in this wilderness?”

1627 Pilgrim Village

This is one of the ways you may be greeted in the 1627 Pilgrim Village, a re-creation of the small farming town built by English colonists in the midst of the Wampanoag homeland. Find yourself immersed in the year 1627, just seven years after the voyage of the Mayflower. In the village you will be surrounded by the modest timber-framed houses, fragrant raised-bed gardens, well-tended livestock and fascinating townspeople of Plymouth Colony, the first permanent English settlement in New England.

The people you will meet are costumed role players who have taken on the names, viewpoints and life histories of the people who actually lived in the colony in 1627, popularly known as the "Pilgrims" today. Each one has a unique story to tell. Learn about the colony's difficult beginnings or discover the gossip of the day. Ask about religious beliefs, medical practices or relations with the local Wampanoag People. Talk to a housewife and learn what a "pottage" is, or see how a duck or bluefish is cooked on the hearth. Help a young colonist pull up a few weeds in a cornfield, mix daub with your feet for a house under construction, or just relax on a bench enjoying the unique atmosphere of 17th-century New Plymouth.

Your visit to the year 1627 is self-guided, so feel free to wander around the village at your own pace. Do not be afraid to walk in on colonists as they eat, question them as they work, or join a lively conversation in the street. Most of the objects in and around their houses are modern reproductions designed for everyday use and can be handled gently. You needn't be an expert in the language of Shakespeare to pose a question, either. Just ask and see what happens — you may be called upon to define "bathroom" or even explain what a "Pilgrim" is!

Take this unique opportunity to explore the 17th-century perspective of the English who traveled across the Atlantic. You may be surprised at what you learn!

What to Expect, How to Prepare:

  1. What will I see in the 1627 Pilgrim Village?
  2. Who will I meet in the 1627 Pilgrim Village?
  3. Is this the original site of the village?
  4. How long does it take to visit the 1627 Pilgrim Village?
  5. Is there any special way to talk to the role players?
  6. What else do I need to know about the role players?
  7. Will there be someone to talk to in every house in the 1627 Pilgrim Village?
  8. Will there be costumed children in the 1627 Pilgrim Village?
  9. My child just read a book about a boy (Samuel Eaton) or a girl (Sarah Morton, Constance Snow, or Remember Patience Whipple) who lived in Plymouth Colony in 1627. Will we find that boy or girl in the village?
  10. Will I find a role player portraying my ancestor?
  11. Can I do genealogical research in the 1627 Pilgrim Village?
  12. Will I be able to see religious services in the 1627 Pilgrim Village if I come on a Sunday?
  13. What happens in the 1627 Pilgrim Village when the weather is bad?

Frequently Asked Historical Questions:

  1. Were the English colonists and Native People friends?
  2. Did the English colonists and the Native People celebrate "The First Thanksgiving” together?
  3. What happened to the Native People who lived in Plymouth?
  4. Why did the English colonists believe they could move into the middle of the Wampanoag homeland?
  5. How many people actually lived in Plymouth Colony in 1627?
  6. How do you know the names of people who lived in Plymouth Colony and the location of their houses in 1627?
  7. How does the re-created 1627 Pilgrim Village compare with the original town of Plymouth in 1627?
  8. Did the English colonists call themselves "Pilgrims"?
  9. Why do we call the English colonists "Pilgrims"?
  10. Are there any existing pictures of the "Pilgrims"?
  11. Why are the terms "Saints" and "Strangers" sometimes used to describe the English colonists?
  12. Did the English colonists describe themselves as "Saints" or "Strangers"?
  13. Did the English colonists describe themselves as either "Puritans" or "Separatists?"
  14. What did the English colonists call themselves and their church?
  15. Why is Plymouth spelled "P-l-i-m-o-t-h"?

"Do you really eat that food?" and other questions that can't be answered in the 1627 Pilgrim Village:

  1. What is the most difficult part of being a role player?
  2. What is the best part of being a role player?
  3. Are you really from England? If not, how did you learn how to talk like that?
  4. Do you really eat that food?
  5. Do you sleep here at night?
  6. Is this a full-time job?
  7. How do you know what you're supposed to be doing each day?
  8. Are you actors?
  9. How are you trained to be a role player?
  10. Where do you really go to the bathroom?
  11. Could I do this work?

What to Expect, How to Prepare:

1. What will I see in the 1627 Pilgrim Village?
The 1627 Pilgrim Village is a re-creation of some of the homes, gardens, storehouses, animal pens, fields and fortifications that the English colonists had established in New Plymouth by 1627. You will find role players throughout these areas.

Surrounding the town is a palisade, a high wooden fence like the one that was built in 1622 to protect the original village. Outside of the palisade are fields where you may encounter role playing staff farming or cutting hay.

2. Who will I meet in the 1627 Pilgrim Village?
The role players that occupy the town each day are the highlight of the 1627 Pilgrim Village for most visitors. In the course of the day these highly trained staff members go about the rhythms of 17th-century daily life, portraying the people who are known in today’s popular culture as the “Pilgrims.” You might find housewives grinding corn, cooking in their hearths (mostly in the morning), gardening, mending clothes or tending to the animals. Men might be found building and repairing structures, working with timber, hoeing corn in fields or practicing with a musket. At certain times of year, you might also see a child or two.

The farm animals are another highlight, especially for families with children. The role-players can share with you many fascinating period details about these animals. To find out about these rare breed farm animals and the museum's efforts to help conserve them visit the Nye Barn, located adjacent to the Visitor Center.

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3. Is this the original site of the village?
No. The original site is in present-day Plymouth Center, located 2.5 miles north of the re-created 1627 Pilgrim Village. There are a number of historical markers on Leyden Street that identify the location of the first houses. All the houses in the 1627 Pilgrim Village at Plimoth Plantation are recreations of what those first houses may have looked like.

4. How long does it take to visit the 1627 Pilgrim Village?
Most visitors spend at least 2 hours in the 1627 Pilgrim Village. On your self-guided visit, you may tour the Village and enter about a dozen recreated buildings. In many of these places you will find role players to talk to.

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5. Is there any special way to talk to the role players?
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the role players you meet stay "in character" and that for them, the year is 1627. Remember, when you enter the 1627 Pilgrim Village, you are in the year 1627, too! Just say "hello" and enjoy your conversations with the residents of the Village, keeping in mind that they will not recognize any events after 1627. In addition, although many people call them “Pilgrims” today, the English colonists didn’t identify themselves by that term (popularized in the 19th century), so our role players will be understandably confused if you ask them “Are you a real Pilgrim?”

HELPFUL HINTS:

  • Ask lots of questions!
  • Listen in on other visitors' conversations (it's OK to eavesdrop here.)
  • Visiting the 1627 Pilgrim Village in much like visiting a foreign country, so please feel free to ask the role players to repeat something or to further explain a word or idea.

6. What else do I need to know about the role players?
Though the role players speak in 17th-century English dialects, you will probably have little difficulty understanding the words they use. What is much more challenging is listening to some of the opinions of people from the past. The role players express 17th-century English viewpoints—not their own modern ones. Some of what you will hear will be unusual or quaint. Some of what you hear will even be distasteful to modern sensibilities. Modern concepts of equality, freedom and respect for different cultures were not part of the way a 17th-century Englishman understood the world. The English at the time were intolerant of foreigners, Catholics, Jews, and even the "wrong" sort of Protestants.

Given this background of intolerance, it is no wonder that many of the documents left behind by the Plymouth colonists show a lack of respect for Native People and their culture. Although the English write of their admiration for Massasoit and other Wampanoag leaders, there are also passages that show a deep cultural prejudice against the Wampanoag and other Native People. You may hear this common 17th-century perspective reflected in comments made by role players. Please remember that these comments are made "in character" as a means of teaching you about colonial English attitudes.

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7. Will there be someone to talk to in every house in the 1627 Pilgrim Village?
Not in every house. Much of the work in a 17th-century farming community took place out of doors, so you will find role playing staff in the fields, gardens and other work areas of the village as well as in the houses. When you do encounter an empty house, feel free to respectfully explore the interior and garden.

8. Will there be costumed children in the 1627 Pilgrim Village?
Occasionally. On weekends and during the summer, children of staff members sometimes portray children who lived in Plymouth.

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9. My child just read a book about a boy (Samuel Eaton) or a girl (Sarah Morton, Constance Snow, or Remember Patience Whipple) who lived in Plymouth Colony in 1627. Will we find that boy or girl in the village?
Probably not. Plimoth Plantation contributed to the creation of several books, including Samuel Eaton's Day, and Sarah Morton's Day. While these books are about children who lived in Plymouth Colony, it is unlikely that you will encounter a child in one of those roles during your visit.

There are many other books that are an entertaining mix of fact and fiction about children who never existed. One popular book features a child named Remember Patience Whipple. Remember and her family are fictional characters who did not live in Plymouth Colony or travel aboard Mayflower. Many children come to the 1627 Village searching for the fictional Remember!

10. Will I find a role player portraying my ancestor?
Maybe. Because there are fewer role players than there were English colonists in 1627, not all the colonists are represented in the 1627 Pilgrim Village. Your "ancestor" may not be portrayed but you will find that other role players can often provide you with the scoop on your great-great-great-great-grandmother or grandfather!

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11. Can I do genealogical research in the 1627 Pilgrim Village?
No, although you might be tempted to because the role players seem to have all of the answers. This is both the advantage and the hazard of a role-playing presentation. In the 1627 Pilgrim Village, the role players use both documented facts known about their particular character and general information about the time period. It is impossible for you to know which type of information they are using when answering your specific questions.

Visitors interested in finding out about Plymouth Colony family history are invited to visit the following sites on the World Wide Web:

12. Will I be able to see religious services in the 1627 Pilgrim Village if I come on a Sunday?
No. In 17th-century Plymouth, everyone was required to spend all day Sunday in religious services. To re-enact these daylong religious services would not allow our visitors to chat with the colonists or to observe their daily activities. If you visit on a Sunday, the role players in the Village will tell you it is Monday, and that you missed a fine sermon the day before!

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13. What happens in the 1627 Pilgrim Village when the weather is bad?
The museum sites are open through almost all weather extremes (we have been known to close early because of a hurricane or two). Please dress appropriately for the weather, and you should have an enjoyable time.

On rainy days the rhythm of the 1627 Pilgrim Village changes. Much of the outdoor work cannot be done, so the role players can be found within the houses and sheltered workplaces. Visitors report that these rainy days have their own cozy charm.

On extremely hot summer days, you will see less activity in the town as everyone, role player and visitor alike, heads for the shade. This is not just a concession to modern comfort however. Under such conditions the English colonists were likely to limit hard work to the cooler early morning and evening hours.

Frequently Asked Historical Questions:

1. Were the English colonists and Native People friends in the 1620s?
This seemingly simple question has a very complex answer. The answer depends on what you mean by "friends." If by friendship you mean military agreements, trade relations, regular communications and even social interaction, then the answer is yes, the English and some Native People were "friends." If friendship means an abiding respect for each other's culture based on trust and loving-kindness, then the answer is no, they were not friends. In their writings, leading colonists betray contempt for the customs, household arrangements and, most especially, the religion of the Wampanoag. Likewise, written English sources and Wampanoag oral traditions reveal that many Native People considered the English to be both strange and aggressive.

Whatever "friendly" relations there were in the 1620s did not last long. After 1630, the relationship between the two cultures became increasingly tense as more and more English arrived in the Wampanoag homeland. Over the next few decades the differences between the two cultures reached a crisis. In 1675, a devastating war later called "King Philip's War broke out between the English and Wampanoag.

2. Did the English colonists and the Native People celebrate "The First Thanksgiving” together?
No. While writings from the 1620s mention that the colonists celebrated their first harvest “by rejoicing in a special manner” and that Wampanoag People joined them, it was only much later—and erroneously—that this event was interpreted to be “The First Thanksgiving.” In fact, both cultures had separate traditions of giving thanks that predated this particular event, and neither culture called it a “thanksgiving” at the time. So not only was it not a "thanksgiving," but it was also not a "first!" Here at Plimoth Plantation, we simply call this event “the harvest celebration in 1621.”

3. What happened to the Wampanoag who lived where the English built their town?
The English built their town in 1620 on the site of an important Wampanoag town called Patuxet. From 1616-1618, many of the Wampanoag people who lived in Patuxet died from a plague that was probably carried by European fishermen and traders. Any survivors of the sickness most likely left Patuxet for other villages. This devastating event made it easy for the English to lay claim to this Wampanoag land.

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4. Why did the English colonists believe they could move into the middle of the Wampanoag homeland?
The English colonists shared the English/European belief that the "New World" was an undeveloped wilderness brimming with commercial possibilities. They believed the Native People were backward "heathens" in need of Christianity and other "civilized" ways. This viewpoint allowed the English and other Europeans to boldly claim ownership of a land peopled by vital and thriving Native communities.

5. How many people actually lived in Plymouth Colony in 1627?
In 1627, approximately 160 people were permanent residents of the colony, including about 30 families and 20 single men. In addition, an unknown number of shipwrecked English and Irish people were lodging in Plymouth Colony. These shipwrecked people left for Virginia towards the end of that summer.

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6. How do you know the names of people who lived in Plymouth Colony and the location of their houses in 1627?
In May of 1627, the livestock was divided among all the colonists who were resident shareholders in the colony. The colonists made a list of families and animals, which we believe to be a nearly complete list of residents for that year. However, we know that some residents, such as servants, were not included.

Plymouth Court records contain a partial map of colonial house lots from 1620. This, together with information found in later deeds, is the basis for the street layout of the 1627 Pilgrim Village.

7. How does the re-created 1627 Pilgrim Village compare with the original town of Plymouth in 1627?
Since what remains of the original town sits in and under the current town of Plymouth, no one knows exactly what the town looked like in 1627. Plimoth Plantation's 1627 Pilgrim Village is based on available research combined with some educated guesswork.

The re-created village is also an ongoing museum interpretation of what the original town might have looked like. This interpretation of the physical 1627 Pilgrim Village has undergone many modifications over the years. These changes reflect changes in our understanding of the English colonists.

One of the things we do know is that the original town had many more houses than the dozen in our re-created village...possibly three times as many. The "footprint" of the re-created village is only about one-third of the size of the original as well. Like the original, Plimoth Plantation's 1627 Pilgrim Village sits on the side of a hill, but ours is considerably less steep than the original hill was. In 1627, the colonists in the original town farmed about 150 acres of corn; in the 1627 Pilgrim Village you will see about an acre being worked.

For the safety and comfort of our visitors, we have consolidated 17th-century English colonial life into a smaller space. Because of this, you don't need travel a mile to the edge of the forest to see a charcoal pit or a sawpit or follow the animals out to pasture to see goats and cows.

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8. Did the English colonists call themselves "Pilgrims"?
No. The English colonists did not specifically label themselves in the letters, books and documents they wrote. Sometimes they referred to themselves as "Planters" (colonial farmers) to distinguish themselves from the "Adventurers" (men who financed the colony.)

Around 1800, the term "Pilgrim" (capital "p") was first used to refer specifically to the English who came to New Plymouth. It gradually grew to be a popular but imprecise designation for the colonists.

9. Why do we call the English colonists "Pilgrims"?
The term "Pilgrim" was used once in the surviving writings of the early colonists. More than 20 years after the arrival of Mayflower, William Bradford wrote about his exiled church's departure from Leiden, Holland to America. Referring to Scripture, as he often did, he wrote; "¸they knew they were pilgrims," in reference to Hebrews xi.13-16. Then, as now, "Pilgrim" meant someone on a journey with a religious or moral purpose.

Bradford did not repeat the reference nor did he use "Pilgrim" as a label or title for the English in Plymouth Colony. Over 150 years later, this quote was taken out of context and applied to everyone in Plymouth Colony, including those who were not part of the Leiden congregation Bradford described. The name gained popularity in the 1800s and remains in common usage today.

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10. Are there any existing pictures of the "Pilgrims"?
Yes, there is one oil painting of Mayflower Passenger Edward Winslow that is owned and displayed at the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, MA (http://www.pilgrimhall.org/). It is the only picture of a "Pilgrim" that was painted from life. Winslow sat for this rare portrait while he was in England conducting work for the English government. In it, he is wearing his very finest black and white clothing, the height of fashion in the mid-1600s. It is this portrait (and later paintings that copied the style) that helped fuel the stereotype of the Puritans wearing only drab colors. However, this fashion did not become popular until about thirty years after Mayflower arrived; the painting is dated to 1651.

11. Why are the terms "Saints" and "Strangers" sometimes used to describe the English colonists?
To a 17th-century Englishman, the term "saint" referred to one of God's "chosen" people. "Stranger" meant the same then as now ã someone you don't know.

William Bradford, in his chronicle of early Plymouth Colony, wrote of "strangers" ã newcomers not part of the Leiden congregation ã joining the Mayflower venture.

The misuse of these terms comes from a popular 1945 book about Plymouth Colony entitled Saints and Strangers. Author George Willison was the first to use this phrase, identifying "saints" as the Plymouth colonists who had separated from the Church of England, and "strangers" as the remaining colonists who were still loyal to the Church of England. This is not the way that 17th-century residents of Plymouth Colony understood either of these terms.

12. Did the English colonists describe themselves as "Saints" or "Strangers"?
No, they did not commonly use these terms to describe themselves.

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13. Did the English colonists describe themselves as either "Puritans" or "Separatists?"
No. In the 1620s, "Puritan" and "Separatist" were derogatory labels for two related reform movements in the English Protestant Church. Because of the negative connotations of each term, Englishmen did not identify themselves by either name.

Today, "Puritan" and "Separatist" are common terms used by historians to refer to different branches of religious reformation in England and the American colonies. "Puritans" are defined as the religious reformers who felt the Church of England needed "purifying" from within, while "Separatists" are defined as members of the non-conformist churches who separated from the Church of England. According to these broad definitions, both "Puritans" and "Separatists" came to Plymouth in the 1620s.

14. What did the English Colonists call themselves and their church?
Oddly enough, the English colonists did not specifically label themselves in the letters, books and documents they wrote. Sometimes they refer to themselves as "Planters," (settlers and farmers) while the people who financed the colony were called "Adventurers." The separated church in the colony followed the New Testament model of identifying the church by its location. One reference identifies it as the "Church of God, at Plymouth in New England."

15. Why is Plymouth spelled "P-l-i-m-o-t-h"?

Visitors to the museum often question the unusual spelling of the name “Plymouth” in “Plimoth Plantation.” “Plimoth” is an old-fashioned spelling used by Governor William Bradford in his history of the colony, Of Plymouth Plantation. This spelling was adopted to differentiate the museum from the modern town of Plymouth. There were no rules for the spelling of English words in the early 17th century, and each writer did as he or she pleased, phonetically spelling the word as seemed fit – sometimes differently on a single page.

Plymouth is spelled a number of ways in the early colony documents, including “Plymouth,” “Plimouth,” “Plymoth,” and “Plimoth.” When Plimoth Plantation was founded, it was decided to use Governor Bradford’s most common usage, “Plimoth.”

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"Do you really eat that food?" and other questions that can't be answered in the 1627 Pilgrim Village.
There are some questions our role players simply can't answer for you because they speak from the year 1627. Here are some answers to the most asked questions.

1. What is the most difficult part of being a role player?
One of the most difficult things about being a role player is expressing the sometimes-objectionable viewpoints that were part of colonial English attitudes. For role players, expressing these "in character" views can be troubling on several levels. Some are concerned that visitors may think that they personally hold these prejudiced views. Others worry that they may inadvertently reinforce prejudices that unfortunately some people still hold today .The last thing we want to do is to encourage people to perpetuate these intolerant ideas, but we must present them in order to be historically accurate and learn from the past.

The place of the "Pilgrims" in American history is also a touchy area for role players and visitors alike. Over the centuries, the Plymouth colonists have become "The Pilgrims," encrusted with certain mythic qualities that have made them unspotted heroes to many visitors. For some, the colonists have become impossibly virtuous symbols of American ideals (like religious freedom), whether they held these ideals or not! On the other hand, the colonists have also been stereotyped as dour, strict and unfeeling. All of this "baggage" can make it difficult for some visitors to see these colonists as human beings and products of their own time who were sometimes funny, sometimes strict and intolerant, but nearly always devout. It is important that we are all able to look critically at the past. Yet to judge the past is as fruitless as judging the wind we must always ask ourselves, "What can history teach me for today?"

2. What is the best part of being a role player?
There are a lot of different answers to this question, but most role players would agree that this work is never boring. There are always new visitors to meet, skills to master, facts to learn, and projects to tackle.

Role playing allows us to continually challenge ourselves. Whether it is planting corn in 95-degree heat, convincing rowdy third-graders to weed our gardens, or reading up on 17th-century marriage customs, we are always doing something. And the results of all that work are as satisfying as the process. It makes our day to hear someone say, "Wow, I didn't know that."

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3. Are you really from England? If not, how did you learn to talk like that?
No, the vast majority of the role players are Americans although the museum has occasionally employed one or two English role players. The late British linguist Martyn Wakelin, an expert on Shakespearean dialects, developed accent profiles for 17 regions in England. To learn these dialects, we listen to audiotapes based on his research, study period documents and practice speaking with other role players.

4. Do you really eat that food?
Sometimes. It is up to us to decide whether or not to eat the food that has been prepared on any given day. Some of the 17th-century dishes we prepare, like roasted duck or sweet cream custard, are delicious. However, other recipes such as stewed eel or fish heads are not quite so appetizing to modern tastes. So some dishes are prepared, displayed and interpreted as if they were going to be eaten, when in fact they are recycled into feed for our livestock or end up as compost.

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5. Do you sleep here at night?
No, at night we all return to our 21st-century homes and real families. However, a few times each year, we do have sleepovers so that we can get a good feel for our character's house, bed, and nighttime environment.

6. Is this a full-time job?
Yes, for most of us, this is a full-time seasonal job. Some only return for a couple of seasons, but quite a few of us have worked in the 1627 Pilgrim Village for 15 or 20 years.

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7. How do you know what you're supposed to be doing each day?
Like all of the programs at Plimoth Plantation, there is a great deal of research and planning that goes into deciding what role players do each day. In portraying the daily work, we try to show activities that are typical for 1627 Plymouth, suitable for the season of the year and appropriate to our characters.

Museum specialists in various fields including textiles, foodways, agriculture and woodcraft provide training and guidance. Women receive daily cooking or baking assignments. They also have ongoing work projects including mending, gardening and housekeeping. Men are assigned daily or long-term projects such as sawing, riving (splitting wood), and repairing or building village structures. They are also involved with re-creating colonial military training. Both men and women do seasonal agricultural work, including planting, weeding and harvesting corn in the fields next to the 1627 Pilgrim Village. There is no night crew who comes in to weed the gardens or clean the animal pens ã we are responsible for completing all of the necessary chores on the site during the day in front of visitors.

8. Are you actors?
Well, this is something we don't agree about. Some of us consider ourselves actors and have a background in the theater; others think this work is not about acting at all. But we all agree that role playing involves a number of performance skills, including storytelling, teaching and interpreting history. Another important aspect of our work is recreating the daily life and skills of the people we are portraying. We think the word "interpreter" best describes the work we do.

As "interpreters," we don't work from a script or memorize "parts," although our work is certainly a kind of improvisational performance. Our goal is to be convincing and engaging, so that you don't feel like you are listening to a lecture!

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9. How are you trained to be a role player?
Before we don a costume, we begin by observing experienced role players, studying primary-source accounts, and reading essays on English history, religion, manners, medicine, and cooking. We are also supplied with any available information about the history, background and dialect of our assigned characters so that we can portray them as faithfully as possible.

Even after we put on our costumes, our training continues in the 1627 Pilgrim Village. New role players are paired with more experienced ones to guide them through their first few months on site. Skills, such as cooking a "pottage," or riving (splitting) wood are developed slowly by practicing and watching others. But the real training happens over time as we gain experience in putting all our skills and knowledge together into an engaging presentation. This takes practice and commitment. Even the most experienced role players feel that their training is never complete.

10. Where do you really go to the bathroom?
We use modern bathroom facilities in a place not accessible to the public. In the 1620s, the colonists would most likely have relieved themselves outside during the day, on or near their compost piles, and at night in chamber pots kept near their beds.

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11. Could I do this work?
If you like talking to the public, working outdoors, and studying history, then you too could become a role player. The Colonial Interpretation Department generally advertises new positions three times a year, in April, June and September. You may check our website for current job listings.

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