The MayflowerEach year I am both surprised and delighted to learn about new authors – “new” to me, but not to others. One such discovery is Nathaniel Philbrick, a gifted storyteller, who recounted the lives and events of those migrating to the shores of Massachusetts in 1620. His book: The Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War (© 2006). If you don’t want to read the book, here is a snapshot of the events of William Bradford and others, as they left Holland for the North American continent.

Philbrick begins with the Pilgrims’ expulsion from England (they knew their Puritan brethren couldn’t reform the Church of England, so they picked up their belongings and moved to Holland). This wasn’t exactly a Southern Baptist congregation splitting from the Mother Ship and moving across town to form a new church. The Pilgrims were most fervent in their beliefs, and were banned by the Church of England to worship as they did. So they escaped to Holland, to find a place of solace and rest, where they might live and worship God as they knew He wanted them to.

The Holland government and church did not jail them or burn them at the stake for their Christian practices and beliefs, so the Netherlands were a safe haven. These Separatists (from the Church of England) were few in number (about 300), but did not plan on making Holland their final destination. They needed time to accumulate finances required to complete their intended voyage to the new world. They saved their earnings for 11 years, while they also honed and refined their habits and strict Christian praxis (for example, they could not attend Christian worship services unless they were conducted by those of like faith).

During their stay in Holland, they gained valuable information from the experiences of John Cabot, John Smith, and other new world explorers, as they planned their own journey. The failures in Virginia (the Jamestown Colony) did not preclude or dissuade them from relocating in an unknown land.

Since they lacked finances to buy staples which would sustain them for a year, they sought outside investors, who would help them hire a ship and crew to make the voyage, and retain a military advisor (one of the investors happens to be an ancestor of mine, viz., John Beauchamp). These outside resources probably provided 40% of what was needed to meet their needs.

To repay the venture capitalists, if we characterize them as such, the Pilgrims indentured themselves for seven years, working 4 days a week for the capitalists (the other 2 days for themselves; no work or play on Sunday, their day of worship). At least that was the plan. The furs, animal skins and cod would be shipped back to England, and profits kept by the investors.

Though Philbrick doesn’t mention it, there was no hope of finding the gold which Columbus sought during his 4 voyages to the New World. “Filthy lucre” might have been an incentive for the Spaniards in 1492 (and thereafter), but not these zealous Christians from England. Religious freedom was their ultimate goal, and as we all know, they achieved it, but not the way they had planned.

Even with outside resources, the funds were insufficient to transport all 300 to the new world. Fifty were selected to make the trip, while the remainder stayed in Holland. The 50 who made the trip nonetheless took their collected savings and belongings and sailed back to England. The investors had located a suitable ship for them to use, and had hired a crew. To the surprise of the Pilgrims, the investors added 50 other passengers who were not of like faith, to add to their mix. Though John Smith, the experienced explorer and cartographer, was available for hire as a military advisor, the Pilgrims selected Miles Standish instead. He proved his worth during the coming years.

Mayflower paintingThey stowed a year’s worth of rations in the ship’s hold, and began their journey in early September. Their voyage was filled with peril, with storms and illnesses, but after fighting the seas for two months, they anchored the ship in a large cove, off the shores of Massachusetts. The length of their journey makes one wonder how Columbus completed his initial voyage in 33 days.

It was now mid-November, the onset of winter in 1620, and the weather was much colder than in England; North America was experiencing a “little Ice Age”. Besides the constant chill in the air, life did not improve once they dropped anchor. They could not explore the region, because they lacked a small sailboat to navigate up and down the coasts. Their shallop had been disassembled and stored in the hold, and had to be reconstructed by the ship’s carpenter and his crew.

Until the shallot was completed, they were delayed in moving from ship to shore; they and their clothes, wares, and supplies were quarantined on board the Mayflower for another month.

While most stayed onboard the ship, a few others rowed in longboats, which were unsuitable for transporting personal belongings. Their initial assessment was that the location was suitable, but they were surprised to learn they were alone: earlier explorers had encountered natives, but these first Pilgrims neither saw nor crossed paths with any other persons.

Once the shallop was assembled, the travelers moved their furniture and clothes and food to their new home, but the winter conditions were not good, and the weather deteriorated. Faced with no shelters for refuge, they struggled to survive, and soon found their own food supplies were inadequate to feed them. As the explorer contingent of their group walked through the forests, they stumbled onto hidden stores of corn (left by the natives), which they decided to keep, so they might be fed. This food proved to be a Godsend and lifeline for all of the passengers and crew. While the regions were being explored, others of their group felled timbers and began building houses and buildings, to provide needed shelter. Most suffered hunger and fought constant illnesses.

In time, they began to sight natives in the distance. As they approached and called to these natives, the natives would flee from the Englishmen. Every effort made to approach them failed. Then, after four months of failing to make contact, a tall native, barren of clothes suitable for cool spring climate, walked a long distance from his initial sighting, straight into their camp, and greeted them with the famous words “Welcome, Englishmen”. He asked for food and drink, which they supplied, and he later took them to his teacher, the English speaking Squanto. Through Squanto, who had been captured by earlier explorers and transported to England where he learned English, then returned to America, the Pilgrims at last had a bridge to the natives. Squanto’s skills in translating proved invaluable as they befriended native tribes.

From Squanto and other natives, the Pilgrims were taught valuable lessons in agronomy. Through bartering wampum with the Indians, they traded for much needed food. Fortune smiled on their affairs as the months progressed, and they achieved a somewhat peaceful accord as the months rolled into autumn. Their first year’s produce (1621) was good, and in September or October of that year, they feasted with the Indians, in what has now been enshrined as a national holiday every November: Thanksgiving. But this once peaceful gathering was not to last.

Ten years passed before the first great wave of Puritan immigrants landed, and a thousand new Englishmen and women and children began populating regions of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine. Land was available for all, but the English intrusions had interrupted the life patterns the Indians had established. This English infusion created new and different conflicts with the Indians, and the conflicts were more frequent. The second and third generations of the Mayflower Company continued in their “monastic” Christian practices, but the Pilgrims were not particularly endearing or gregarious. They had to share their occupied territory with the natives and with their distant Puritan brethren, as the new land became more inhabited by different Christian reformers (Baptists, Quakers, Puritans and others).

The English system of property ownership was now in place. The natives were being coaxed to deed their holdings to the newcomers (a new concept to them), and to adjust their seasonal migrations to accommodate the English settlements. Things weren’t the same as they had been in 1620. One native, given the Christian name Philip, decided to drive the intruders back to England, and he is credited with beginning the 3 year military campaign against the Puritans, the Pilgrims, and the Dutch (who were now in New Amsterdam). This war (King Philip’s War), begun after 50 years of the landing of the Mayflower, was costly for the colonists and the natives (towns were ravaged and burned, as over 600 colonists and 3,000 natives died). The outcome of the war proved pivotal for future generations. Perhaps the muskets fired during that war should rightfully be known as the “shots heard ‘round the world”, because the Indians were ultimately defeated by the English and Dutch. This war was unlikely and unforeseeable in 1621, when the Pilgrims and natives celebrated what is now known as the first Thanksgiving.

Philbrick ends the tales of the Mayflower Company, by reporting the truce reached with the natives. Though there was now peace, the worldviews of the natives and the English community would continue to be antipodal for years to come.

Philbrick’s re-counting these events is entertaining and educational. Since the fourth Thursday in November is a week away, I suggest you treat yourself to a copy of this book (The Mayflower). As a time traveler, you will relive the stories and events of the founders of our country. You will gain a backdoor education you never experienced in school, but will enjoy it more, because there is no final exam awaiting you as you complete this book.

Editor’s note: My mid-month posts are not on topics of health or food, and I may not do this every month. However, I am going to give a couple of tips on food preparation, which are under the label “Recipe”.


OK, this isn’t a recipe, but here are a few tips, which deal with sous vide cooking:

If you use Food Saver re-sealable bags (they are much heavier than zip lock storage bags), you can rewash and reuse the bags for future meal preparation. If, however, you cook fish, or add seasonings to the meats before cooking them in the sous vide unit, you may discover the bags will retain the smell, and will probably have to be discarded. In addition, as you re-use the bags, you will also discover they will not last forever, because they will begin to leak.

When I suck the air from the Food Saver bag, I leave a little air pocket in the bag. For some reason, the meats are juicier when I remove them from the bags.

Under normal conditions, I undercook the meat‘s recommended temperature; then, when I remove the meat from the Food Saver bag and add seasonings (I am a proponent of meat rubs), and then sear the meat (in butter or olive oil), the core temperature will reach its desired goal.

If you don’t want to buy a sous vide unit, but want to experience the tenderness of the meat, wrap the meat in aluminum foil and put it in a crock pot for about an hour (at the lowest temperature). Remove the meat, then sear it to the desired core temperature.