by Janet M Kelly
Life on the Mayflower:
Glib-gabbedy puke stockings? WHAT? That sounds disgusting!
Do you remember the first time you flew on a commercial aircraft? Clean cabin, smiling flight attendants, a soda or cup of coffee, assurance from the flight crew all making for a smooth and peaceful flight.
Now imagine that your first flight suddenly hit turbulence… violent turbulence. The plane is bucking, children start to scream, babies start wailing and some passengers begin to vomit. That leads to other passengers getting sick. Then the lavatories overflow. Religious passengers begin to pray aloud… some passengers are swearing, some panicking, and instead of comfort, the flight attendants begin to mock you calling you “Glib-Gabbety Puke Stockings”.
No, you haven’t passed into the Twilight Zone… You are getting a feel for what life was like on the Mayflower.
What was it like to travel on the Mayflower?
The Mayflower was a small cargo ship, boxy, about 100 feet long and about 24 feet wide. It had been roughly converted into a passenger ship. Previously it had carried wine, which gave it a bit of a pleasant smell which helped the passengers better tolerate the damp rank of their cramped living quarters.
Besides the crew, there were 102 passengers. Roughly half were Separatists or Saints, who were devoutly religious and traveling to the New World for religious freedom. A bit over half were the ones the Saints referred to as “Strangers” who were a mixed bag of ruffians, farmers, merchants, and a few criminals who were going to the New World for financial prospects or a fresh start. There were 52 men, 21 women, 29 children, including 4 young children ages 4-8, tragically abandoned by their wealthy father and sent away, traveling alone to a wilderness in America. Several “Saint” families looked after these little orphaned “Strangers”.
Each family had an area of about 12’x 4’ for a trunk of clothing or personal items. Each family brought a Bible in a wooden Bible box. They had cooking utensils, tools needed to survive in the wilderness, bedding, and food. One couple brought a small wicker cradle as the wife was around seven months pregnant when the voyage began.
What did they eat?
They brought salted meat, pickled or dried items, and hard tack, a hard dried cracker-like biscuit that had to be softened in liquid (but if it had maggots that ate holes through it then the hardtack would be easier to bite). Meat got moldy, but was still edible if they scraped the mold off. Everyone drank a weak beer, even the children. Water had to be preserved, plus it grew stale and slimy so it became undrinkable.
What about personal necessities?
To get clean, the passengers used sea water. Washing clothes was almost impossible, and clothing got moldy toward the end of the journey. To relieve themselves they used chamber pots, which needed to be emptied over the side of the ship. However, getting out of their enclosed area was dangerous during the series of violent storms that plagued the last half of their 66 day journey, so chamber pots often overflowed adding to the stench of stale air, vomit, and body odor.
The Saints and Strangers tried to stay cheerful and even show kindness to the crew, some of whom taunted them in their misery. These “Glib-Gabbety Puke Stockings” were doing their best under dreadful conditions.
A Few Tid-Bits
1. Pirates often terrorized West-bound ships, stealing cargo and killing or selling the crew. Most ships traveled in caravans for protection and in case of ship damage. The Mayflower traveled alone.
2. John Howland, a servant, was described as a “lusty young man.” which meant he was impulsive and reckless. One night he ventured onto the deck during heavy seas. A wave knocked him into the churning water. He was able to grab a rope and held on for dear life, crying out for help. Someone finally heard him and hauled him back on board, shaken but alive.
3. 102 Passengers left England and 102 passengers arrived. However one young servant, William Button, died toward the end of the voyage, and a baby was born… a little boy. His parents, the ones that brought the cradle, named him Oceanus.
4. The Bible the Pilgrims carried was The Geneva Bible, not The King James Bible, as they had broken from King James’s Church of England.
History.com Editors. “The Mayflower.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 4 Mar. 2010, www.history.com/topics/colonial-america/mayflower.
Interior of the Mayflower Image AR-909027661.jpg (400×521) (njherald.com)
“More.” MayflowerHistory.com, mayflowerhistory.com/more/.
Siegel, Rebecca, et al. Mayflower the Ship That Started a Nation. Words & Pictures, 2020.
“Mutiny on the Mayflower”