A Pilgrim Father’s Village: the Records of Kempsey, Worcestershire

A.F.C. Baber writes that traditions of English local government, carried to the New World, provide an important clue to the success of the Pilgrims' emigration.

The most interesting characteristic of the men and women who sailed in the Mayflower in 1620 is that they were completely undistinguished people—undistinguished in social class, occupation or place of origin. Of those one hundred and two emigrants, twelve were entitled “Master,” but in the early documents none has the appellation of “gentleman three are classed as merchants, and a handful took their own servants with them; for the rest, mention is made of a tailor, a fustian-maker, a wool-comber, a smith, a say-maker, a linen-weaver, a hatter, a cloth-maker, a wood-sawyer, a wool-carder, a silk-worker and a printer.

They were so much landsmen that, although on the first grim November day when they emerged from the stinking Mayflower they gorged themselves with mussels and shell fish that caused them “to cast and to scour,” subsequently they never contrived to catch many fish, complaining that the nets that they had brought were too fine to hold the lusty creatures of the new world. Similarly, they knew so little between them of the gentlemanly accomplishment of hunting that, with the untapped forests of New England stretching down to the beaches, it was years before they escaped from hunger and the near-danger of starvation.

The terrible losses that they suffered in the first few months—fifty-three out of the original one hundred and two died in the first winter, and only four of the twenty-six women who left England saw the start of the second winter—these facts show the state of their nutrition. Yet they waited upon the com harvests, as if bread were the only means of sustaining human life—for at home in England they had belonged to the bread-eating classes, not to the class devoted—as one might say—to hunting, shooting, and fishing.

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