November means that we're in Pilgrim season - the time when advertisers send out the parade of goofy-looking quasi-Pilgrims in buckled hats and white collars, chasing turkeys on their way to Black Friday sales at the local mall. The other alternative isn't much better: the romanticized rosy-cheeked and near-saintly Puritan maids and families, heads bowed over bountiful feasts.
The truth was that during the first years of the Plymouth colony, the lives of the settlers were grim indeed, and filled with an inconceivable degree of everyday danger and risk. This short paragraph is from A Relation or Journal of the Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plymouth by Edward Winslow, a journal for the first years of Plymouth published in London in 1624.
The passage describes a harrowing January evening endured by a colonist named John Goodman. Although suffering from frostbite in his feet (which resulted from an earlier snowy night spent hiding from a lion in a tree in the forest), Goodman decided to go for a short walk with his pet dog. A dog would have been a rare companion to anyone on that difficult voyage on the Mayflower, and one not easily replaced. Any pet-owner will feel horror and sympathy for Goodman, forced to defend his terrified little dog:
"This day in the evening, John Goodman went abroad to use his lame feet, that were pitifully ill with the cold he had got. Having a little spaniel with him, a little way from the plantation, two great wolves ran after the dog, the dog ran to him and betwixt his legs for succor. He had nothing in his hand but took up a stick, and threw at one of [the wolves] and hit him, and they presently ran both away, but came again. He got a pale board [used for fencing] in his hand, and [the wolves] sat both on their tails, grinning at him, a good while, and went their way, and left him."
Little else is known of John Goodman. He may have survived the wolves, but not disease and hardship. Nearly half of the original colonists died that first winter, and by 1651, Governor William Bradford included Goodman in his list of Mayflower passengers who "died soon after in the general sickness that befell." As for his little spaniel, he was at least spared this kind of canine indignityby living in the 1620s.
Above: Blind Man with His Dog, by Jacques Callot, 17thc. Harvard Art Museums.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.