Untold lives blog

176 posts categorized "Health"

24 December 2020

A Christmas pantomime

Most Christmas pantomimes have been cancelled this year because of the pandemic.  However you don’t have to miss out completely.  On the British Library website there is a digital version of the script of Babes in the Wood first performed at Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 26 December 1897.  You can read through alone to amuse yourself, or share out parts amongst your loved ones.  There are roles to suit everyone – the Babes Reggie and Chrissie, Prince Paragon, Baron Banbury Cross, the Spirit of Indigestion, a Bucolic Chorus, giants, gnomes, and jockeys to name but a few!
 

Front cover of Babes in the Wood performed at Theatre Royal Drury Lane 1897-1898 showing Dan Leno as Reggie and Herbert Campbell as Chrissie.Front cover of Babes in the Wood performed at Theatre Royal Drury Lane 1897-1898 showing Dan Leno as Reggie and Herbert Campbell as Chrissie.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The leading roles were filled by performers well known to music hall and theatre audiences in the 1890s.  Reggie and Chrissie were played by Dan Leno and Herbert Campbell, and Ada Blanche appeared as Prince Paragon.

The pantomime was ‘written and invented’ by Arthur Sturgess and Arthur Collins, with music provided by James M. Glover.  Arthur Sturgess had been working as a stenographer in London when he sent James Glover a parody of Gilbert and Sullivan that he had written.  Sturgess was introduced by Glover to Sir Augustus Harris, the manager of Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and his career as a writer was launched.
 

Arthur Pelham Collins started work as a seedsman but joined the staff at Drury Lane at the age of eighteen as an apprentice to Henry Emden, the scenic artist.  Harris was impressed with Collins and made him stage manager.  Collins was associated with Drury Lane for over 40 years, becoming its successful managing director.

Sir Augustus Harris died in 1896 and Babes in the Wood was the first pantomime produced at Drury Lane by Collins.  It ran for 135 performances, ending in April 1898.  Sporting Life said the show was an ‘all-round triumph’.  Other reports were more critical.  Sussex Agricultural Express published a review describing Babes in the Wood as a hotch-potch music hall kind of pantomime, with the story subordinated to comic songs and ballets.  St James’s Gazette said that cuts were needed since the evening performance had run beyond midnight, and commented that it was more of a musical comedy than a pantomime, with some content going over the heads of children in the audience.
 

Advert for evening dresses for young ladies from H C Russell of London, with two girls showing off their fineryAdvert for evening dresses for young ladies from H. C. Russell of London  included in Babes in the Wood.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

So now it’s over to you to decide what you think of Babes in the Wood.  There is an added bonus in the form of many interesting advertisements appearing throughout the text.  You will be offered evening dresses for young ladies with ‘Slips and Knickers in Nun’s Veiling to Match’; self-adjusting trusses; artistic wigs; Albene for baking; whisky; a comic annual; jewellery; pianos; musical boxes; the celebrated C.B. Corsets; and Dr J. Collis Browne’s Chlorodyne for treating coughs, colds, asthma, bronchitis, diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera, and many other ailments.

Seasonal Greetings from Untold Lives!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast) e.g. Penny Illustrated Paper 25 December 1897; Sporting Life 28 December 1897; St James’s Gazette 28 December 1897; Sussex Agricultural Express 31 December 1897; The Stage 31 August and 7 September 1922; The Scotsman 15 January 1932.

 

15 December 2020

The Lives and Letters of the Black Loyalists – Part 4 Women’s Lives

When members of the black Nova Scotian community expressed interest in going to Sierra Leone, it was not just men that applied - applicants also included single women.  Unmarried women who applied for land in Sierra Leone were given ten acres of their own.  The following certificates were issued just before the journey to Sierra Leone and show the allocation of land given to women on receipt of their satisfactory character references.

Promise of land to Margaret Halstead

Promise of land to Grace Pool

Promise of land to Mary

Promise of land to Hannah TighePromises of land in Sierra Leone to single women including Grace Pool, Add MS 41262 A, f.47, f.48, f.53, f.58. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In Freetown a high proportion of householders were women.  Their independent status was recognised to the point that they could vote for their local representatives.  They were also instrumental in establishing trades in the new settlement: three of the six first shops to open in Freetown were run by women.

The following manuscript shows the allocations of eggs to women on Christmas Day 1792. It gives us many of the names of the women within the settlement.

Allocations of eggs to women  25 December 1792Allocations of eggs to women, 25 December 1792, Add MS 41263, f.218. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Dinah Weeks, named on this list, is recorded as having being enslaved to a man called Robert Bruce in New York before the American Revolution.  He apparently granted her freedom and in 1783 she left New York for Nova Scotia on the ship L’Abondance.  On the same ship was Harry Washington, who had been one of George Washington’s slaves, but who had escaped to fight with the British.

The final name on this list is that of Elizabeth Black.  She was a mixed-race women who had been born in Madagascar and described as living in indentured servitude in America to a Mrs Courtland.  When she was finally released she travelled to Nova Scotia and came to live with the black community in Birchtown, before moving to Sierra Leone with many others.

The diary and notes of Dr Taylor offer more insights into some of the women who travelled to Freetown.  The Sierra Leone Company doctor kept notes on the patients he treated. These appear to run from shortly before departing to Sierra Leone in December 1791 and the early months of the settlement in the spring of 1792.

Entry for Sarah Wilkinson in Dr Taylor’s medical notesEntry for Sarah Wilkinson in Dr Taylor’s medical notes, Add MS 41264, f.37.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Listed in this manuscript volume is the case of Sarah Wilkinson, who is described as having a fever after catching a cold after suffering a miscarriage.  She received treatment from Taylor, but died shortly afterwards.  Dr Taylor notes that, by 11 April 1792, 41 women had died, mainly from fevers.  He also notes that fourteen babies had been born since embarking.

Entry for Mima Henry in Dr Taylor’s medical notes

Entry for Mima Henry in Dr Taylor’s medical notes, Add MS 41264, f.2. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Mima Henry was also listed as having a fever.  We find that she lived in Birchtown, Nova Scotia before moving to Sierra Leone.  We know that Mima survived her fever because she is listed above in the allocations of eggs document that is dated later in 1792.

These documents may appear insignificant, but they give us the names, ages, backgrounds and land allocations of a number of black women who not only survived slavery, but strived to contribute to a free black society of their own, where they would play a foundational part in the beginnings of Freetown.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
The Clarkson Papers, Add MS 41262-41267. British Library.
Black Loyalist: Our Freedom, Our People: Documents
Our Children, Free and Happy : letters from black settlers in Africa in the 1790's. Edited by Christopher Fyfe with a contribution by Charles Jones. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991)
The Black Loyalists : the search for a promised land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870. James W.St.G. Walker. (London: Longman, 1976)

 

19 November 2020

Eliza Armstrong’s children

This is a further instalment in the story of Eliza Armstrong, the child bought for £5.

Eliza Armstrong at the Old Bailey trial in 1885 from Penny Illustrated Paper 12 September 1885Eliza Armstrong at the Old Bailey trial in 1885 from Penny Illustrated Paper 12 September 1885 Image © The British Library Board British Newspaper Archive

Helena Goodwyn’s recent post told how the Salvation Army stepped in to help Eliza when she was in financial difficulties following the death of her husband. This post focuses on Eliza’s children.

Eliza Armstrong was married at the age of 21 to Henry George West on 24 October 1893 in Newcastle upon Tyne.  Henry was a widower aged 35 living in Jarrow and he was working as a plumber.  The couple’s first child Reginald Ladas West was born in 1894.  His unusual middle name may perhaps be explained by the fact that there was a racehorse called Ladas which was very successful in 1893-1894.

Racehorse Ladas after winning the Derby in 1894 Racehorse Ladas after winning the Derby in 1894 from Illustrated London News 16 June 1894 Image © Illustrated London News Group British Newspaper Archive


Sadly Reginald died aged 3 of tubercular meningitis in June 1897.  Eliza and Henry had five other children: Alice Maud May, William Frederick, Sybil Primrose, Phyllis Irene, and Henry George (Harry). 

Eliza’s life took another sad turn in February 1906 when her husband died of heart disease aged just 42.  She took in lodgers to help ends meet and places were found in National Children’s Homes for the three middle children.  Sybil Primrose and Phyllis Irene (just Irene in some records) were sent 300 miles to Stokesmead at Alverstoke in Hampshire.  They are both there in the 1911 census, aged 10 and 8 respectively.  In 1914 the Hampshire Telegraph reported that Irene West from the children’s home had won a Band of Hope prize.

William Frederick was placed at Edgworth children’s home in Lancashire, a ‘farm colony’ where boys and girls were trained in practical skills.  Many were sent to Canada.  In March 1912 William sailed from Liverpool with 90 other boys in the Dominion to Halifax, Nova Scotia. William became a farm hand in Ontario.

Eliza gave birth to five more children between 1907 and 1915: Reginald West in May 1907 (no father is named on his birth certificate) and four with Samuel O’Donnell, a lead worker - Francis Maurice, Frederick, Minnie, and Norman.

In January 1915 William enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  He arrived back in England with his army unit in August 1915 and went to fight in France in May 1916.  William was wounded in the right leg at Passchendaele on 31 October 1917.  He was sent back to Colchester for hospital treatment.

From August 1916 to his discharge in July 1919, William assigned 10 dollars of his pay to his mother.  He returned to Hebburn and married Eliza Carr in April 1919.  The couple moved to Canada and later to the USA.

Newspaper report of Harry and Reginald West being charged with theft  -  Shields Daily News 24 February 1917Report of Harry and Reginald West being charged with theft  -  Shields Daily News 24 February 1917 British Newspaper Archive

In February and March 1917, Harry West (12) and his brother Reginald (9) appeared at a juvenile court after stealing purses by pickpocketing.  They had run away from home, sleeping rough and eating in cocoa rooms.  Eliza had searched for them night and day.  She asked that her sons be taken away, although they had a good home, because she could do nothing with them.  As the boys had several previous convictions for petty theft, it was decided to send them to Wellesley Training Institution until they were sixteen.

Poor Eliza’s troubles did not end there.  Just weeks later, on 19 May 1917, Samuel O’Donnell died aged 49.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records


Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast) e.g. Jarrow Express 2 July 1897, 23 February 1906, & 30 March 1917; Shields Daily News 24 February & 27 March 1917; Hampshire Telegraph 17 April 1914
Stokesmead National Children’s Home 
Edgworth National Children’s Home 

Canadian immigration record for William Frederick West
Canadian Expeditionary Force papers for William Frederick West 

Previous blog posts -
Whatever happened to Eliza Armstrong?
Eiiza Armstrong – still elusive!
Eliza Armstrong – Another Piece of the Puzzle

 

29 October 2020

The Oddfellows friendly society and Barbados

‘It is the positive duty of every man who earns his bread by the labour of his hands to provide against times of sickness, for the decent burial of himself and his wife, and endeavour to secure something for the widow and orphans he may leave behind him.’

This quote is taken from the 1870 rule book of the Oddfellows friendly society.  The Independent Order of Oddfellows, Manchester Unity, was established in 1810.  It grew to be the largest friendly society, with branches in nearly every town in England and Wales, plus many in Ireland and Scotland, and also overseas in the West Indies, Gibraltar, Malta, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America, and Constantinople.

Title page of the Rules of the OddfellowsRules of the Independent Order of Oddfellows, Manchester Unity (Manchester, 1870)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Members paid contributions to local lodges and received benefits in time of need.  Any member could reach the highest position in the Order.  Religion was held sacred in lodge meetings and politics were not discussed.  Good works were encouraged – visiting the sick, helping widows and orphans, increasing happiness and knowledge.  Self-respect and self-dependence were watchwords of the Order.

In 1901 The Oddfellows’ Magazine featured Brother John Christopher Cordle, a black Barbadian, in its Colonial Roll of Honour.  It stated that the Manchester Unity recognised no distinctions of creed or colour: ‘We appraise the man by his worth and his work’.

John Christopher Cordle was born in Bridgetown in 1827.  His teacher at elementary school was Edward Archer.  Cordle became an assistant at that school and then a schoolmaster in Barbados.  Edward Archer was Corresponding Secretary for the Oddfellows Barbados District.  Cordle joined the St Michael Lodge in 1853, becoming assistant secretary.  He served two terms as Grand Master in 1859 and 1860, and was Corresponding Secretary for 30 years.  His work for the Oddfellows included assisting the widows and orphans’ fund and travelling to Jamaica and Trinidad to help open new lodges.

View of Bridgetown Barbados in the 1840s showing the town and harbour in the distance and fields with cattle in the foregroundBridgetown from Robert Hermann Schomburgk, The History of Barbados (London, 1848) BL flickr Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Oddfellows’ lodges hosted convivial gatherings.  There are several reports in The Oddfellows’ Magazine of the anniversary dinners of the Barbados St Michael’s Lodge.  On 29 May 1867, the Clarence Hotel hosted ‘one of the best dinners which has ever been given by the Oddfellows in this Island’.  About 70 attended, including two or three merchants, Masonic brothers, and several city gentlemen.  Cordle acted as chairman, and he called upon the West Indies press for help in extending the principles and benefits of the Order to the young men of the islands.

There are also indications in Oddfellows annual reports of conflict within the Barbados lodge.  At a Special District Meeting held on 23 November 1886 it was resolved that Brother Cordle should be expelled from the Order, and his name erased from the Merit Board, for embezzling funds, misappropriating goods, suppressing correspondence, and giving false statements.  However the directors in England ordered that the resolution be rescinded and the case reheard after Cordle had been informed of the specific charges against him.  

Cordle was expelled again for the same reasons by a resolution of the Barbados District Meeting held on 9 March 1888. Once more this was overturned in England, with the District ordered to consider and adjudicate upon the claim of £6 12s 6d made by Brother Cordle against it.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Rules of the Independent Order of Oddfellows, Manchester Unity (Manchester, 1870)
The Oddfellows’ Magazine and annual reports - digitised copies from the archive of the Order available via Oddfellows website
Our story about Oddfellow Edwin Thomas Smith

27 October 2020

Wearing a face mask

With the coronavirus pandemic we are all getting used to wearing facemasks in a range of public spaces from shops to transport.  Yet whilst the wearing of masks feels very new to us it is not the first time that they have been employed as a form of protection during an epidemic.

Face masks have been worn as a form of protection from foul air, or miasma, since at least the early 17th century.  The miasma theory of infection, which was accepted by doctors from the 1st century BC until well into the 19th century, ventured that many diseases – such as plague and cholera – were caused and spread through populations inhaling bad air.  (Indeed, the disease malaria literally takes its name from bad (mal) air (aria) in medieval Italian.)  In order to be protected doctors, and the public alike, often carried posies of flowers to freshen the air around them or wore face coverings that both acted as a physical barrier against bad air and attempted to fragrance (and thus purify) the air that was breathed.

Coloured copper engraving by Paul Fürst depicting a plague doctor wearing a mask- ‘Doctor Beak from Rome’Coloured copper engraving by Paul Fürst depicting a plague doctor entitled ‘Doctor Schnabel von Rome’, [trans. ‘Doctor Beak from Rome’], 1656. from Wikimedia Commons


One of the most striking and recognisable protective face masks from the past is the long beaked mask worn by plague doctors throughout the 17th century. The mask has been credited as being developed in 1619 by Charles de Lorme (1584-1678), the physician to the French kings Henri IV, Louis XIII and Louis XIV.  The mask, which was a form of early respirator, covered the doctor’s full face with glass openings for the eyes and two air holes for the nostrils.  The long beak contained a cavity into which was stuffed a variety of aromatic items intended to purify the foul air that passed through the mask.  It would typically be filled with dried flowers, herbs, spices or a sponge soaked in vinegar.  The mask’s grotesque features made the plague doctor an instantly recognisable and feared figure and it eventually became a popular costume for revellers at the Carnival of Venice – an event made famous for its elaborate masks.

Kid skin face mask with silk ribbonsKid skin mask with silk ribbons, worn as a prophylactic against the plague, c. 1660. Add MS 78428 B Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Although not as dramatic as those worn by the plague doctors, the British Library holds a face covering from the mid-17th century that has some similar features to shield against the plague.  The Library’s covering is made from fine kidskin leather and comprises a pouch into which the wearer could place scented materials to protect the nose and mouth from foul air.  The Library’s intriguing face covering is found in the archive of the diarist John Evelyn (1620-1706) and was possibly worn by him as a form of protection during the London plague epidemic of 1665-1666; the last major epidemic of the bubonic plague to occur in England.

It is not clear how much protection these plague masks afforded, but both de Lorme and Evelyn lived through years of plague to survive well into old age.  Masks can clearly help support public health and though it feels strange at first, we should remember wearing them in an epidemic is nothing new.

Alexander Lock
Curator, Modern Historical Manuscripts and Archives

 

22 October 2020

Eliza Armstrong – Another Piece of the Puzzle

This blog post provides a modest update to curator Margaret Makepeace’s 2012 and 2016 blog posts on Untold Lives - Whatever happened to Eliza Armstrong? and Eliza Armstrong – still elusive!  Readers are encouraged to refresh their memory of Margaret’s posts before reading on here.


A letter from Eliza West (formerly Armstrong) to W. T. Stead, dated 6 March 1906, and sent from 50 Gladstone Street, Hebburn, confirms Eliza’s marriage to Henry George West, and his death, which left Eliza struggling to support her family and searching for ways to generate the necessary income to keep her household afloat.

Gladstone Street in 1987 showing terraced housesGladstone Street in 1987. Copyright South Tyneside Libraries

That W. T. Stead and Eliza were still in touch may come as a surprise to those familiar with ‘The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’, Stead’s series of sensational, New Journalism articles, published in the Pall Mall Gazette in 1885, in an attempt to end the deadlock in Parliament over the Criminal Law Amendment Act.  Stead was vilified (and rightly so) for his part in the abduction of Eliza, in his overzealous campaign to prove that a child could be bought for £5 and sold into sex slavery on the streets of London.

In Eliza’s letter to Stead she thanks him for his ‘kind and welcome letter’ and the gift of a ‘butafull’ [sic] book.  There has clearly been some delay between Stead’s last missive and Eliza’s reply because she apologises for not responding sooner and tells Stead she has been ill.  The letter is familiar in tone, and in it Eliza informs Stead that she has made up her mind to take in lodgers: ‘for a liveing as I realy don’t know what else to do [sic]’.  She signs off ‘thanking you so much for all your kindness I never will forget nor cease to remember all your kindness to us'.

In the same year a letter on Salvation-Army-Headquarters-headed-paper and dated 31 October begins with the subject line:

MRS WEST = ELIZA ARMSTRONG

The letter is from Commissioner Adelaide Cox and begins ‘My dear Chief’ (presumably, therefore, it is addressed to Bramwell Booth).  Commissioner Cox informs Booth that she has ‘instructed Staff-Captain Salt to continue to visit this woman [Eliza West] once a week until she has really turned her present difficult corner’.

The letter goes on to say: ‘We are taking up the question of the children at our Headquarters here.  There are five; and the idea is to find Homes for the three middle children.  Mrs West is willing for this.  At present, there are two lodgers in the house, who pay weekly, and all would be well in this direction, but for the fact that Mrs West has something the matter with her leg, and is obliged to attend the Infirmary'.

Those five children were Alice Maud May (born 1896), and referred to as her eldest ‘May’ in Eliza’s letter to Stead, William Frederick (born 1898), Sybil Primrose (born 1900), Phyllis Irene (born 1902) and Henry George (born 1904).

Between March and October Eliza must have moved quickly to bring in the lodgers mentioned both in her letter to Stead and that of Adelaide Cox’s letter to Bramwell Booth.  And by 1911 it would seem that the Army had succeeded also, in placing those ‘three middle children’ elsewhere, because William Frederick, Sybil Primrose and Phyllis Irene are not listed as members of Eliza’s new household with partner Samuel O’Donnell in the 1911 census return.

Table based on census returns for the West and O'Donnell families in 1901 and 1911

* The 1911 census records ‘children born alive to present marriage’, and sub-divides that information between ‘total children born alive’, ‘children still living’ and ‘children who have died’.  Tellingly, and indeed poignantly, in Eliza’s column, under total children born alive the number 9 is written; children still living 8; children who have died 1; and then each number is struck-through as the realisation is made that only O’Donnell’s children count here, and so the numbers 3, 2, 1 are placed above the original numbers recorded.  This however, again, is not quite accurate, as Eliza’s dead child is Reginald Ladas West (born 1894, died 1897).  Nevertheless, this semi-legible, deleted information tells us that Eliza lost at least 1 child in her lifetime, and at the time of the 1911 census was survived by at least 8.  A recent search of the General Register Office birth index adds two more children born to Eliza and Samuel, Minnie and Norman O’Donnell.

Dr Helena Goodwyn
Vice-Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow, Northumbria University

Further reading:
Eliza Armstrong's children

 

13 October 2020

The truth behind the myth: the colonial legacy of the Mayflower voyage - No.4 The first 20 years of Plymouth Colony continued

A massacre by Plymouth Colony militia

This is a journal chronicling events that occurred between 1622 and 1623 in and around the Plymouth Colony, obviously from a colonialist perspective.  One event in particular stands out.

Title page of Edward Winslow's Good Newes from New EnglandEdward Winslow, Good Newes from New England, C.132.h.20(2) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

During these early years of the colony there was a growing threat from the Narragansett and Massachusett tribes.  At the same time, more badly provisioned men were arriving at the colony amidst a shortage of food.  They settled at nearby Wessagusset and stole corn from the Massachusett tribe.  Tensions grew and rumours reached Plymouth of an oncoming attack.

To purportedly pre-empt this, the Plymouth militia massacred a group of Massachusett visitors in Wessagusset.  This atrocity is described by Winslow in this book as 'the just judgment of God upon [the Native American’s] guilty consciences' for plotting against the English.

A different perspective

Page from Thomas Morton's New English CanaanThomas Morton, New English Canaan, 1637. C.33.c.27 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The majority of contemporary printed sources about the Plymouth Colony were written by the colonists themselves or to promote further settlement in North America.  Thomas Morton, however, wrote from a different perspective.

His book is a harsh critique of the Plymouth Colony’s treatment of the native people, who Morton describe as more 'civilised and humanitarian' than the colonists.  Morton claims that Massasoit only made peace with the colonists because they claimed to keep the plague in their powder store and said they could unleash it at any time.   He also recounts the atrocity at Wessagusset, describing how the colonists 'pretended to feast the savages' before stabbing them with their own knives.


The Mystic Massacre

Engraving depicting the Mystic Massacre in 1637, a brutal attack by militia by colonists and their allies on a Pequot fortified villageJohn Underhill, Newes from America; or, a New and Experimentall Discoverie of New England; containing, a True Relation of their War-Like Proceedings, 1638. C.33.c.25 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This engraving depicts the Mystic Massacre in 1637, a brutal attack by colonists and their allies on a Pequot fortified village during the Pequot War (1636-1638).

The war against the Pequot tribe was fought by an alliance of the colonists of Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay and Saybrook colonies and their allies from the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes.  It was ostensibly caused by tribal competition for political dominance and control of the fur trade, however this power vacuum only existed as a result of European involvement in the region and the spread of epidemics that reduced native populations.

The violence at Mystic horrified the colonists’ tribal allies.  Over 500 Pequots died, including women and children, as the village was torched. By the end of the war, the tribe was effectively extinct.

The loss of tribal lands

Deed showing the purchase and transfer of lands from Sachem Uncas, of the Mohegan tribe, to English colonists.Collection of Sundry Original Deeds of Conveyance of Lands ceded by Indian Sachems to English settlers in New England, from 1659 to 1711. Lansdowne MS 1052 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

These are original manuscript deeds showing the purchase and transfer of lands from Sachem Uncas, of the Mohegan tribe, to English colonists. The Mohegans allied with the English colonists during the Pequot War and later conflicts such as King Philip’s War. This was to defend themselves against the Narragansetts.

By 1676 Uncas had suffered heavy losses and, in this weakened position, he ceded all Mohegan lands apart from a reserve of farms and hunting grounds to the colonists in exchange for protection.  Tract by tract, field by field, Native American lands were slowly lost to the English colonists during the 17th and 18th centuries.


Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

06 October 2020

The truth behind the myth: the colonial legacy of the Mayflower voyage - No.3 The first 20 years of Plymouth Colony

The colonists signed the Mayflower Compact, the first governing document of Plymouth Colony, before they disembarked the ship.  This was to establish legal order and quell dissenting views between the separatists and the other passengers on how the colony should be run.

The colonists settled at an abandoned settlement of the Patuxet people in Wampanoag territory.  They had raided this settlement shortly after their arrival, desecrating graves in their search for corn stores.  It became Plymouth Colony.  Construction began in December but most people stayed on the ship.  Many succumbed to disease and, by the spring, only 47 survived.  Local people made contact in March 1621 and it was only because of the help of Tisquantum, the sole survivor of the Patuxet people, that the colonists survived.

The arrival of the Plymouth colonists put Massasoit, Sachem of the Wampanoags, in a vulnerable position.  He had already witnessed the devastating effects of disease and colonisation on his people and the neighbouring Narragansetts were threatening.  He had little choice but to sign a peace treaty and ally with the English colonists, which he did at the end of March 1621.

That is not to say, however, that the Plymouth colonists maintained peace with other local Native American tribes in the years that followed.  Tensions in the region heightened as the English founded more colonies, encroaching on native territories.  The Plymouth colonists were perpetrators of violence and brutality towards some communities, namely the Massachusetts at Wessagusset in 1623 and the Pequots in the 1630s.

The first printed account of Plymouth Colony

 Title page of 'Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimouth'  1622Edward Winslow and William Bradford, Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimouth, 1622, C.33.c.7 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Written by Edward Winslow and William Bradford, this is the earliest printed account of the establishment of Plymouth Colony.  It functioned as a promotional tract, an appeal for investment and an attempt to gloss over the hardships and uncertainties facing the colony in its first two years.

The Mayflower Compact is printed, for the first time, in this account.  This was to give the impression of law and order within the colony and to emphasise that there was a unified mind-set across the colonists, separatist or otherwise.

This account also emphasises the devout nature of Plymouth Colony.  However, a mention of the whaling opportunities in the area lets slip the economic factors behind its establishment.  The colony quickly got involved with the profitable fur trade.  These things tend to be glossed over in the Pilgrim tradition.

This account also emphasises that relations between the local people and the English were cordial, ignoring any tension and conflict caused by their invasion of Wampanoag land.  Indeed, this relation’s description of the sharing of food between the Wampanoags and the English has become celebrated as the First Thanksgiving, but this is a mythologised 19th century reinterpretation of events.

Winslow and Bradford’s account also introduces us to Tisquantum of the Patuxet people.  Tisquantum had been abducted by English explorer Thomas Hunt and sold into slavery.  He escaped, returning to America to find his tribe wiped out by disease.  He worked ceaselessly to establish peace between the colonists and the local people, living in the colony for 20 months and acting as a translator, advisor and diplomat for Massasoit.  Tisquantum is often depicted as a ‘noble savage’ but he should be remembered as a practical advisor and skilled diplomat.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

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