After sixty-six days at sea aboard the Mayflower, Ellen Howard is as excited as any of the ship’s passengers to see America for the first time. Her longing for her brother and sister, Roger and Sarah, still living in Holland, and her memory of the near-disastrous ocean voyage are temporarily forgotten as the travelers approach the New World—and a new life.
The long weary journey of the Pilgrims was almost ended. The vast ocean lay behind them, and beckoning ahead stretched a thin strip of land. The Mayflower, as though eager to reach harbor, skimmed along in the spanking breeze.
But as the land loomed larger, Captain Jones made the disappointing announcement, “We’ve sighted the clay highlands of Cape Cod. We’re a three weeks’ sail northeast of Jamestown.”
Ellen looked up at her father with troubled eyes. “Oh, Papa! Does that mean we have to sail on?”
“Perhaps, darling. Perhaps,” he replied.
Both strangers and Pilgrims debated and decided they should head south for the mouth of the Hudson River. But within a few hours the Mayflower tangled with the dangerous shoals and roaring breakers known as “Tucker’s Terrors,” and they were forced to turn back. Winds that had blown them off course and tumultuous waters had decided their destiny.
So, on a Saturday afternoon, November 21, the Mayflower dropped anchor in a Cape Cod harbor too far north to be governed by the laws of the Virginia colony.
“Aye, when we go ashore we’ll use our own liberty,” boasted one of the strangers. “King James’s patent is of no effect here.”
But the Pilgrims and strangers both realized that to keep their freedom they must have rules. Forty-one men aboard gathered in the ship’s cabin, drew up the Mayflower Compact, and signed it. John Carver was unanimously chosen to be governor of the new colony.
When the council meeting was over, several armed men went ashore, staying just long enough to look around quickly and to collect a load of firewood. The next day was Sunday, and everyone stayed on board in Sabbath worship.
On Monday the overjoyed passengers were rowed ashore.
Ellen knelt in the sand and, sifting it through her fingers, exclaimed, “Oh, sand, how good you feel!” Flinging her arms wide, she cried, “Oh, earth, I love you and wish I could hug you!”
Her feelings reflected those of all the passengers, for they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean. Nevertheless, each night was spent aboard ship for safety reasons.
While the men worked on a shallop (small open boat) from the ship, hauling it up onto the beach for repairs, the women went ashore to wash clothes. After the shallop was repaired, Miles Standish, the military captain of the colony, with Captain Jones and a group of men, most of them Pilgrims, set out to explore. Daily they prayed for guidance.
On December 21, the travelers stepped ashore at the site of a deserted Indian village. Old and weathered cornstalks rattled in the breeze where land had been cleared. A brook sparkled and babbled down a hillside. Nearby was an excellent harbor. In one field was a great hill that commanded a view of the sea and land roundabout. Why the place had been deserted was a mystery.
“We’ll build our new Plymouth here,” Captain Standish announced.
When they returned to the Mayflower, William White looked anxiously about the deck for his wife, Susanna. Then he saw her coming toward him. Placing a tiny bundle in his arms, she said, “My husband, our little son was born while you were gone.”
Tenderly, William uncovered the tiny pink face. “So our little traveler has arrived,” he said, beaming.
Standing by, Governor Carver exclaimed, “Aye, William, your little son is the first white child we know of to be born in New England. He should be called Peregrine (traveler).”
“Peregrine White,” William mused. “That is what he shall be called.” Then noticing Ellen’s eager upturned face, he asked, “Do you want to hold the baby?”
“Oh, yes!” she exclaimed. Gently he laid the bundle in her arms, and Ellen smiled with pleasure.
The Mayflower sailed across the bay and cast anchor in Plymouth Harbor on December 26. Work on the new settlement was immediately begun. The lookout hill became Fort Hill, with the cannon mounted on its top. On the sunny side of the hill, they dug shelters and built pens for the chickens, goats, and pigs, which cackled, bleated, and grunted their appreciation. Timber was hewn from the forest, and a common house was built. Then came the bitter cold and snow. Since there was not sufficient shelter for all the families, they remained on the Mayflower, and the men rowed back and forth each day. Many times the stormy waters dashed over them, freezing upon them like coats of iron. Many caught colds that turned into pneumonia. Sickness spread like an epidemic, and almost half the people aboard the Mayflower died. Sailors who had sneered at the praying church folks, and strangers who had quarreled with them, now grew close in their mutual suffering and grief.
Warm weather came at last, and birds sang in the forest. A half dozen cabins were completed, and by the end of March the last of the Mayflower passengers went ashore.
Friendly Indians came—Samoset, Squanto, and Hobomack, all of whom knew some English. Chief Massasoit also came to make a peace treaty with the colonists.
Squanto and Hobomack remained in Plymouth. Squanto went to live with William Bradford, who was now governor. (John Carver had suddenly become ill and died.) Hobomack went to live with Miles Standish.
One day Squanto was visiting with Ellen and John Howland. “This was once my home,” he explained. “Plymouth, as you call it, was a Pawtuxet village. When I was a papoose like you, Ellen, I played in the meadows. When I was a young brave like you, John Howland, Captain Hunt invited me and some other braves to go aboard his trading ship. When we were at sea, strange sailors boarded our ship and tied us up. They took us to Spain and sold us as slaves. I later escaped to England and lived there a long time with good people. Finally, I became a seaman for Captain Dermar. He brought me back to America. At Pawtuxet Harbor, I ran swiftly to see my people, but they were gone—no braves, no women, no papooses! I was sad and alone; my eyes filled with tears. I went to the Sowams, and Chief Massasoit took me in. He said all my people died in a smallpox plague. You came, and my village has people once more. I will be your son. You will be my people. I will teach you Indian ways, and you will become strong.”
Squanto taught the people how to plant corn, and everyone helped with the planting. “If you want to get crops from these old grounds,” Squanto advised, “you must fertilize the fields with fish.” When the herring began their spring run, he showed the settlers how to trap them. Then the men spaded holes in the hillocks, and the boys dropped in three herring, spokewise, with their heads toward the center. Ellen and the other little girls put four kernels of corn into each hill, then covered them. Squanto told the settlers to guard the crops against animals. The children kept watch by day and the grownups by night.
Squanto also showed the villagers how to tap maple trees for the sweet sap, how to trap deer and other game, and where to find eels. Thanks to him, the colony began to thrive.
The six acres of wheat, barley, and peas the settlers had planted with seed brought from England scarcely produced seed enough for the next year. But with the pumpkin and corn from the Indians, the harvest was bounteous far beyond their expectations. And because of the peace treaty with the Indians, the children could gather wild plums, berries, and grapes in the woods as safely as they could have walked the sidewalks of Holland.
One autumn morning as Ellen and the other children had gone to the woods to gather nuts, they were startled by the booming of the cannon from the top of Fort Hill. Kathrine Howard came racing across the meadow, calling and beckoning to them.
“What is it, Mama?” cried Ellen, running to meet her.
“A tall white sail has been sighted off Cape Cod. It’s heading for Plymouth. Governor Bradford fears it may be a French vessel coming to raid us.”
“Captain Standish has marshaled every man and boy who can handle a gun,” Kathrine panted.
The vessel, when she hove into sight, ran up a white flag bearing the red cross of the English. A cry of joy went up from the anxiously watching crowd, and everyone raced for the shore. When the first little boat with its passengers ran aground, Ellen rushed into the shallow water.
“Sarah! Roger!” she cried as her sister and brother alighted.
The tears, laughter, and hugging at this joyous reunion were quite a contrast to the sadness at the time of their parting.
The ship, Fortune, with the thirty-five men, women, and children who had come to live in Plymouth, dropped anchor in her harbor just a little less than a year after the Mayflower had anchored at Cape Cod. One of the first to come ashore was Deacon Robert Cushman, who brought with him formal legal rights to the land the settlers now occupied.
When the pumpkins and corn had been harvested, Governor Bradford declared, “We will hold a harvest feast of thanksgiving so we might all rejoice together!”
The colony bustled in preparation. An invitation was sent to the friendly Indians. Chief Massasoit and ninety braves came, bearing five deer to be barbecued. Hunters returned from the forest laden with wild turkeys, geese, and ducks. The women busied themselves with baking, while the children tended the roasts on the spits over open fires. Long tables were spread outdoors, and everyone sat down together. Besides the game from the forest, the table was spread with fish, clams and other shellfish, succulent eels, journeycake, corn bread with nuts, succotash, pumpkin stewed in maple sap, dried berries, plums, grapes, leeks, watercress, and various other herbs.
The celebration lasted three days. Elder Brewster gave a prayer of thanksgiving, and Captain Standish staged a military review. There were games of chance—the Pilgrims competing with flintlocks, the Indians with bows and arrows. There were songs and expressions of worship and praise. After the celebration, the Indians returned to the woods and the Pilgrims to their duties of enlarging the colony and making it snug for winter.
Contentedly, Ellen watched the dancing lights cast by the flickering fire upon the cabin walls. A steady wind whistled outside in the starlit darkness. Sighing softly, Ellen said, “The celebration is over now, but thanksgiving goes on and on. I’m thankful that I’m a Pilgrim and live in America and that Sarah and Roger came so we can all be together.”
Her father patted her hand. “The Lord is good. America is good. She is our sweet land of promise.”