William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

Home
Letters
 
Back
 

How The Pilgrims Lived

by Governor Edward Winslow
1621

This description of the life of the Pilgrims following the landing of the
Mayflower was written as a letter by pilgrim Edward Winslow soon after the
landing. During the first winter in New England, Winslow's wife died. Two months
later, he married Susannah White, who had been widowed during the same period.
White was distinguished as the first white woman to give birth in New England,
and Winslow and White's wedding was the first in the region. Winslow, who was
elected governor of the colony several times, is best known for negotiating a
treaty with the Indian Chief Massasoit.


Although I received no letter from you by this ship, yet forasmuch as I know you
expect the performance of my promise, which was, to write unto you truly and
faithfully of all things, I have therefore at this time sent unto you
accordingly, referring you for further satisfaction to our more large relations.
You shall understand that in this little time a few of us have been here, we
have built seven dwelling-houses and four for the use of the plantation, and
have made preparation for divers others. We set last spring some twenty acres of
Indian corn, and sowed some six acres of barley and peas; and according to the
manner of the Indians, we manured our ground with herrings, or rather shads,
which we have in great abundance, and take with great ease at our doors. Our
corn did prove well; and, God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn,
and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we
feared they were too late sown. They came up very well, and blossomed; but the
sun parched them in the blossom.

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we
might, after a special manner, rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit
of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help
beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, among other
recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming among us, and
among the rest their greatest king, Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for
three days we entertained and feasted; and they went out and killed five deer,
which they brought to the plantation, and bestowed on our governor, and upon the
captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this
time with us, yet by the goodness of God we are so far from want, that we often
wish you partakers of our plenty.

We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us, very
loving, and ready to pleasure us. We often go to them, and they come to us. Some
of us have been fifty miles by land in the country with them, the occasions and
relations whereof you shall understand by our general and more full declaration
of such things as are worth the noting. Yea, it has pleased God so to possess
the Indians with a fear of us and love unto us, that not only the greatest king
among them, called Massasoit, but also all the princes and peoples round about
us, have either made suit unto us, or been glad of any occasion to make peace
with us; so that seven of them at once have sent their messengers to us to that
end. Yea, an isle at sea, which we never saw, hath also, together with the
former, yielded willingly to be under the protection and subject to our
sovereign lord King James. So that there is now great peace amongst the Indians
themselves, which was not formerly, neither would have been but for us; and we,
for our parts, walk as peaceably and safely in the wood as in the highways in
England. We entertain them familiarly in our houses, and they as friendly
bestowing their venison on us. They are a people without any religion or
knowledge of any God, yet very trusty, quick of apprehension, ripe-witted, just.
For the temper of the air here, it agrees well with that in England; and if
there be any difference at all, this is somewhat hotter in summer. Some think it
to be colder in winter; but I cannot out of experience so say. The air is very
clear, and not foggy, as has been reported. I never in my life remember a more
seasonable year than we have here enjoyed; and if we have once but kine, horses,
and sheep, I make no question but men might live as contented here as in any
part of the world. For fish and fowl, we have great abundance. Fresh cod in the
summer is but coarse meat with us. Our bay is full of lobsters all the summer,
and affords a variety of other fish. In September we can take a hogshead of eels
in a night, with small labor, and can dig them out of their beds all the winter.
We have muscles and othus [others?] at our doors. Oysters we have none near, but
we can have them brought by the Indians when we will. All the spring-time the
earth sends forth naturally very good salad herbs. Here are grapes, white and
red, and very sweet and strong also; strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries,
etc.; plums of three sorts, white, black, and red, being almost as good as a
damson; abundance of roses, white, red and damask; single, but very sweet
indeed. The country wants only industrious men to employ; for it would grieve
your hearts if, as I, you had seen so many miles together by goodly rivers
uninhabited; and withal, to consider those parts of the world wherein you live
to be even greatly burdened with abundance of people. These things I thought
good to let you understand, being the truth of things as near as I could
experimentally take knowledge of, and that you might on our behalf give God
thanks, who hath dealt so favorably with us.

Our supply of men from you came the 9th of November, 1621, putting in at Cape
Cod, some eight or ten leagues from us. The Indians that dwell thereabout were
they who were owners of the corn which we found in caves, for which we have
given them full content, and are in great league with them. They sent us word
there was a ship near unto them, but thought it to be a Frenchman; and indeed
for ourselves we expected not a friend so soon. But when we perceived that she
made for our bay, the governor commanded a great piece to be shot off, to call
home such as were abroad at work. Whereupon every man, yea boy, that could
handle a gun, were ready, with full resolution that, if she were an enemy, we
would stand in our just defense, not fearing them. But God provided better for
us than we supposed. These came all in health, not any being sick by the way,
otherwise than by sea-sickness, and so continue at this time, by the blessing of
God. . . .

When it pleased God we are settled and fitted for the fishing business and other
trading, I doubt not but by the blessing of God the gain will give content to
all. In the meantime, that we have gotten we have sent by this ship; and though
it be not much, yet it will witness for us that we have not been idle,
considering the smallness of our number all this summer. We hope the merchants
will accept of it, and be encouraged to furnish us with things needful for
further employment, which will also encourage us to put forth ourselves to the
uttermost.

Now because I expect your coming unto us, with other of our friends, whose
company we much desire, I thought good to advertise you of a few things needful.
Be careful to have a very good bread-room to put your biscuits in. Let your cask
for beer and water be iron-bound, for the first tire, if not more. Let not your
meat be dry-salted; none can better do it than the sailors. Let your meal be so
hard trod in your cask that you shall need an adz or hatchet to work it out
with. Trust not too much on us for corn at this time, for by reason of this last
company that came, depending wholly upon us, we shall have little enough till
harvest. Be careful to come by some of your meal to spend by the way; it will
much refresh you. Build your cabins as open as you can, and bring good store of
clothes and bedding with you. Bring every man a musket or fowling-piece. Let
your piece be long in the barrel, and fear not the weight of it, for most of our
shooting is from stands. Bring juice of lemons, and take it fasting; it is of
good use. For hot waters, aniseed water is the best; but use it sparingly. If
you bring anything for comfort in the country, butter or salad oil, or both, is
very good. Our Indian corn, even the coarsest, makes as pleasant meat as rice;
therefore spare that, unless to spend by the way. Bring paper and linseed oil
for your windows, with cotton yarn for your lamps. Let your shot be most for big
fowls, and bring store of powder and shot. I forbear further to write for the
present, hoping to see you by the next return. So I take my leave, commending
you to the Lord for a safe conduct unto us, resting in him,

Your loving friend,
E. W.



 

Promoting a Greater Understanding of the Discovery of the Americas