Sandra Branson Young
All Rights Reserved
Mary Alice ATWOOD
The role of women on the Mayflower was similar to that of women in general at the time. Women may have spent their spare time sewing clothing for themselves, their husbands and family, for the upcoming winter. They cooked the meals for the most part, if the seas were not too rough. Laundry could not be done practically, so just days after sighting land, one of the first things the Pilgrims did was bring the women ashore so they could do laundry. The men went around and gathered juniper branches to be burned on the Mayflower for both aroma and cooking purposes.
The women stayed on the Mayflower as many of the men went exploring the coastlines looking for a place to settle. On some of these explorations, as many as three-fourths of the men would be gone, leaving the women behind to wait and wonder about their husband's fate--and their own fate. If the men were lost at sea, or attacked by Indians and killed, all that would be left would be a Mayflower full of women and children. And the ship couldn't return them to England, because of both the time of year and the scarcity of food and supplies (not to mention the Mayflower's captain and some of his crew were often out exploring with the Pilgrims too!)
After two very long months of exploring missions, the men returned to the Mayflower with good news--they had found a place to settle. But while the men were constructing the houses, and carrying supplies on shore, the women continued for yet another two months living on board the Mayflower--coming ashore only to do an occasional laundry, or for some Sunday services. Disease began to spread among men and women alike, but the close living quarters afforded by the Mayflower certainly contributed to its spread among the women. Mrs. Rose Standish, Elizabeth Winslow, Mary Martin, Alice Mullins, Ann Tilley, Joan Tilley, Alice Rigdale, Susanna Chilton, Sarah Eaton, Mary Allerton and several other women all fell victim to the rampant disease of the first winter.
Of all the women, only Mrs. Susanna White, Mary Brewster, Elizabeth Hopkins, and Ellenor Billington survived through April 1621. So these four women, with the help of older girls like Priscilla Mullins, Desire Minter, and John Carver's maidservant Dorothy, would have had to cook, keep house, and do laundry for the entire colony, not to mention raising all the young and orphaned children. To make matters even worse, on November 9, 1621, the ship Fortune arrived with 35 more passengers--only one or two of which were women!
Pilgrim women lived in a society which believed that women were created by God for man's benefit, and for him to subjugate. While women were required to submit to their husbands, the Pilgrims also believed that husbands were to love their wives like Christ loved the church. Women had no say in political decisions, could not vote or participate in town meetings, and were not allowed on juries (there is one exception in the Plymouth Colony records, in which there were five women on a 1678 coroner's jury that was ordered to investigate the death of a young child). Women could not talk in church or interpret scripture, and had to keep their heads covered with a coif, hat or bonnet at all times when in public. Women were generally taught to read, but generally not taught to write--most were unable to even write their own name and had to sign documents by making an "X". The law usually treated women as minors, with just a few additional rights above and beyond children.
However, Pilgrim women did make some advancements. Women in Plymouth had the right to buy, sell and own property, and a husband could not sell property without the consent of his wife. Women were guaranteed at least 1/3 of their husband's estate, despite what a husband might put in his will. Women could be a legal witness for a deed or a probate document (which is a step up from being considered a minor). Women in Plymouth had more say in their marriages--they chose who they would or would not marry, although if it was a first marriage the father generally had an extralegal "veto" power, but otherwise it was her decision.
A husband could discipline his wife, just as he could discipline his children; but if she was visibly injured, the court took punitive action. And unlike today, the matter went to trial with or without the woman's cooperation. If found guilty, the husband would be fined and often whipped publicly. Repeat offenders got increasingly severe whippings and steeper fines. Whether it was the effective deterent, or whether it was because of strong moral and religious values, physically injurious domestic violence was extremely rare in the Plymouth Colony. None of the Mayflower passengers themselves were involved in any abuse cases, but such cases did occur among other Plymouth residents and accounts of these incidents can be found in the Plymouth Colony court records. It may also be of interest to note that domestic violence was not a "one-way street", and there are several accounts in the Plymouth court records of women who beat their husbands.
Clothing for women consisted of a long skirt, bodice, and sleeves which were either tied or sewn onto the bodice. A bonnet known as a coif, apron, kerchief, stockings and leather shoes usually finished out the outfit; and underneath she wore a petticoat and/or a chemise. The most popular colors were gray, red, blue, violet, and green. Despite the typical stereotype, black and white clothing was not frequently worn.
William (See Notes) MULLINS
William Mullins was a fairly well-to-do shoe and boot dealer from Dorking, Surrey, England. He purchased a number of shares in the Pilgrims joint-stock company, becoming one of the Merchant Adventurers. He brought his wife Alice, daughter Priscilla and son Joseph to America on the Mayflower. Only Priscilla would survive the first winter, however. William Mullins made out his death-bed will on 21 February 1620/1, in which he mentions his wife Alice, daughter Priscilla, son Joseph, and married children William and Sarah who were still in Dorking. He also mentions a "Goodman Woodes" who remains unidentified, and a "Master Williamson" which was likely a Dutch pseudonym for William Brewster who was a fugitive at the time (for printing illegal religious pamphlets in Leyden).
1. Mayflower Descendant 1:231-232, "The Will of William Mullins"
2. Mayflower Descendant 7:37,179, "The Estates of William(2) Mullins", by George Bowman
3. Mayflower Descendant 44:39-44, "The Mullins Family", by Alicia Crane Williams
4. Mayflower Quarterly 39:83, "William Mullin's Grandchildren in England", by Robert S. Wakefield
5. Alicia Crane Williams, Families of Pilgrims: John Alden and William Mullins, Mass. Soc. of Mayf. Desc., 1986
The Mayflower Compact
"In ye name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyall subjects of our dread soveraigne Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britaine, Franc, and Ireland king, defender of the faith, etc.
Haveing undertaken, for ye glorie of God, and advancemente of ye Christian faith, and honour of our king & countrie, a voyage to plant ye first colonie in ye Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly & mutualy in ye presence of God, and one of another, covenant & combine our selves togeather into a civill body politick, for our better ordering & preservation & furtherance of ye ends aforesaid; and by vertue hearof to enacte lawes, ordinances, acts constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet & convenient for ye generall good of ye Colonie, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witnes wherof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cap-Codd ye 11th. of November, in ye year of ye raigne of our soveraigne lord, King James, of England, France, & Ireland ye eighteenth, and of Scotland, ye fiftie fourth. Ano: Dom. 1620."
The text is taken from Gov. Bradford's Of Plimoth Plantation, as the original document no longer exists. Nathaniel Morton, Bradford's nephew and Plymouth Colony's first published historian, gives the following names as signers of the document:
John Carver, Edward Tilly, Digery Priest,
William Bradford, John Tilly, Thomas Williams,
Edward Winslow, Francis Cooke, Gilbert Winslow,
William Brewster, Thomas Rogers, Edmund Margeson,
Isaac Allerton, Thomas Tinker, Peter Brown,
Miles Standish, John Rigdale, Richard Bitteridge,
John Alden, Edward Fuller, George Soule,
Samuel Fuller, John Turner, Richard Clark,
Christopher Martin, Francis Eaton, Richard Clark,
William Mullins, James Chilton, John Allerton,
William White, John Craxton, Thomas English,
Richard Warren, John Billington, Edward Doten,
John Howland, Moses Fletcher, Edward Leister
Stephen Hopkins John Goodman,
Morton follows quite closely the order of names given in Bradford's list, which in itself offers a fair argument for his having copied from Bradford and not from the original sheet on which the compact had been written and signed. A few variations may be laid to errors in copying or in printing. As to names in the Bradford list which are not to be found in that of Morton, they represent servants who may have been under age or closely bound by articles of indenture, and members of families whose head had already signed.
A popular conception that originated in the early nineteenth century was that the agreement signed on board the Mayflower in 1620, (which received its modern name of the "Mayflower Compact" in 17931, was the beginning of constitutional government in this country. In 1802, John Quincy Adams had invoked contemporary ideas on social order to invest the 1620 agreement with an importance it did not have for its originators: "This is perhaps the only instance in human history of that positive, original [Rousseaunian] social compact which speculative philosophers have imagined as the only legitimate source of government. Here was a unanimous and personal assent by all the [male] individuals of the community to the association, by which they become a nation." It was common thereafter to see the Compact not as a temporary measure but as a proto-Constitution, prefiguring the one that had been adopted by the new nation. Actually, as William C.P. Breckinridge (in his oration at Plymouth in 1889) so aptly noted, this document was "..not a constitution, nor yet a charter; nor yet in a true sense a social compact," but rather "...the complete demonstration that they were planting the seeds of the old truths, not attempting to make some new and unknown harvest from untried seed". The agreement was not a revolutionary departure from English precedent but a pragmatic application of it.
Samuel Elliot Morison let Governor Bradford himself speak for the meaning of the document, in his very perceptive The Pilgrim Fathers, Their Significance in History: "...the unpleasant tribe of professional historians refuses to find in the Compact anything more than what Bradford says it was, 'a combination made by them before they came ashore...occasioned partly by the discontented and mutinous speeches that some of the strangers amongst them had let fall...That when they came a shore they would use their owne libertie; for none had power to command them, the patente they had being for Virginia, and not for Newengland, which belonged to an other Government, with which the Virginia Company had nothing to doe.'"2 The agreement signed on board the Mayflower on November 11, 1620, made but a small impact on history, but as the "Mayflower Compact", it became a vital element in the Pilgrim Story and served as the symbol of all of the democratic institutions that would evolve in the United States in the future.
1 Matthews, Albert. The Term Pilgrim Fathers ..., p.295
2 Morison, Samuel Elliot.The Pilgrim Fathers, Their Significance in History 1937, p.9