Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Man, His Dog, and "Two Great Wolves" at Plymouth, 1621

Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Isabella reporting,

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 indignity by living in the 1620s.

Above: Blind Man with His Dog, by Jacques Callot, 17thc. Harvard Art Museums.


Anonymous said...

Re the canine indignity: "The Huffington Post". Enough said. Ken

QNPoohBear said...

I visited Plimoth Plantation over the summer and John Billington, Jr. (the infamous kid who caused tons of trouble with his brother and parents) tried to tell some girls there were lions who jumped inside the windows at night. This tale sounds a little closer to the truth. I'm positive we don't have lions in New England even back in the 17th century.

My 13-great grandmother (something like that... possibly...) was a teen on the Mayflower. She lost her parents, aunt and uncle that first winter. It must have been a difficult time for everyone who survived. It's no wonder they wanted to celebrate the first successful harvest.

Anonymous said...

Lions in New England -mountain lions - and they're back!

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