English Village FAQs
Photo copyright, Todd Attebury
What to Expect, How to Prepare:
Frequently Asked Historical Questions:
What to Expect, How to Prepare:
The 17th-Century English Village is a re-creation of some of the homes, gardens, storehouses, animal pens, fields and fortifications that the English colonists had established in Plymouth. You will find role players throughout these areas. You may also encounter modern Museum Guides on the site.
Surrounding the town is a palisade, a high wooden fence like the one that was built in 1622 to protect the original village. Outside of the palisade are fields where you may encounter costumed staff farming or cutting hay.
Dressed in reproduction period clothing and speaking in the dialect of their character’s home region, Museum staff members – “interpreters” – take on the roles of actual inhabitants of the Colony. Together, these roles depict the social life of a very human community, one that knew enlightenment and superstition, success and failure. As you speak with the inhabitants of Plymouth Colony, you will hear a variety of stories and opinions. This diversity reflects the complexity of the early colonial experience.
No. The original site is in present-day Plymouth Center, located 2.5 miles north of the re-created 17th-Century English Village. There are a number of historical markers on Leyden Street that identify the location of the first houses. The houses in the Museum’s 17th-Century English Village are re-creations of what those first houses may have looked like.
Most visitors spend at least 2 hours in the 17th-Century English Village. On your self-guided visit, you may tour the Village and enter about a dozen re-created buildings. In many of these places you will find role players at work.
Not in every house. Much of the work in a 17th-century farming community took place out of doors, so you will find costumed staff in the fields, gardens and other work areas of the Village as well as in the houses. When you do encounter an empty house, feel free to explore the interior and garden.
Occasionally. On weekends and during the summer, children of staff members sometimes portray children who lived in Plymouth.
Probably not. Plimoth Plantation contributed to the creation of several books, including Samuel Eaton's Day and Sarah Morton's Day. While these books are about children who lived in Plymouth Colony, it is unlikely that you will encounter a child in one of those roles during your visit.
There are many other books that are an entertaining mix of fact and fiction about children who never existed. One popular book features a child named Remember Patience Whipple. Remember and her family are fictional characters who did not live in Plymouth Colony or travel aboard Mayflower. Many children come to the 17th-Century English Village searching for the fictional Remember!
Possibly. Because there are fewer role players than there were English colonists, not all the colonists are represented in the 17th-Century English Village. Your ancestor may not be portrayed but you will find that other role players can often provide you with the scoop on your great-great-great-great-grandmother or grandfather!
No, although you might be tempted to because the role players seem to have all of the answers. This is both the advantage and the hazard of a role playing presentation. In the 17th-Century English Village, the role players use both documented facts known about their particular character and general information about the time period. It is impossible for you to know which type of information they are using when answering your specific questions.
Guests interested in finding out about Plymouth Colony family history should visit our Plimoth and Patuxet Ancestors section. We also suggest visiting the following websites:
PlymouthAncestors.org | The General Society of Mayflower Descendants | The New England Historical and Genealogical Society | The California Mayflower Society | Cape Cod Genealogy | Cape Cod Genealogical Association
In 17th-century Plymouth, everyone was required to spend all day Sunday in religious services. To re-enact these daylong religious services would not allow our visitors to chat with the colonists or to observe their daily activities. If you visit on a Sunday, the role players in the Village will tell you it is Monday, and that you missed a fine sermon the day before!
Several times during the week, the Museum offers a program in the Fort/Meetinghouse called A Smidgen of Religion, a thirty-minute living history introduction to elements of Pilgrim worship. Click here to find out more about scheduled performances. To learn about religion, please visit Faith of the Pilgrims.
The Museum sites are open through almost all weather extremes. (We have been known to close early because of a hurricane or two.) Please dress appropriately for the weather, and you should have an enjoyable time.
On rainy days the rhythm of the 17th-Century English Village changes. Much of the outdoor work cannot be done, so the role players can be found inside their houses and sheltered workplaces. Guests tell us that these rainy days have their own cozy charm.
On extremely hot summer days, you will see less activity in the town as everyone, role players and guests alike, heads for the shade. This is not just a concession to modern comfort, however. Under such conditions the English colonists were likely to limit hard work to the cooler early morning and evening hours.
Frequently Asked Historical Questions:
Unfortunately, there is not a simple answer to this question. At times, relations were tense. In the winter of 1620, the English colonists stole Native corn they found buried on Cape Cod and raided several Native graves. On December 8, 1620, a group of Nauset Wampanoag attacked one of the Pilgrims’ exploratory parties. And soon after that initial encounter, the Pilgrims left Cape Cod to make their homes in Plymouth, on land that had been previously occupied by the Wampanoag village of Patuxet.
At other times, relations were less strained and more cooperative. Massasoit, an important sachem (leader) of the Wampanoag village of Pokanoket in present-day Rhode Island, concluded a treaty of mutual protection with the Pilgrims. He, like the English, sought a bulwark against Native enemies in New England. On March 22, 1621, Massasoit, English Governor John Carver and delegations from both sides met in Plymouth. Squanto, a Wampanoag man who had spent time as a captive in England, acted as translator. The resulting treaty had six components. Neither party would harm the other. If anything was stolen, it would be returned and the offending person sent back to his own people for justice. Both sides also agreed to leave their weapons behind when meeting, and Massasoit promised that he would spread word of the treaty to neighboring Native communities. The two groups would serve as allies in time of war.
There were difficulties throughout the 1620s as the two cultures learned more about one another. Massasoit and ninety of his men joined the colonists in Plymouth in the fall of 1621 for a celebration of the harvest. Due to the scant writing about the event, however, we don’t know why the Wampanoag attended. Were they invited? Or did they hear the Pilgrims’ celebratory firing of muskets and come to ensure the safety of their own communities? Almost a year later in 1622, when a group of unruly and undisciplined Englishmen arrived at Wessagusset (now Weymouth) intending to settle, they caused discord between the English and Wampanoag.
Despite periods of misunderstanding and tension, the Wampanoag and the English worked to achieve relative peace throughout the 1620s. They enjoyed military agreements, trade relations, regular communications and even some social interactions, but both sides remained wary of the other. After 1627, as the Pilgrims left the town of Plymouth to make homes elsewhere in the Wampanoag homeland, relations would become less cooperative.
Celebrations after a successful crop gathering are as old as the harvest itself. Thus, in 1621 when their labors were rewarded with a bountiful harvest after a year of sickness and scarcity, the Pilgrims gave thanks to God and celebrated their bounty in the Harvest Home tradition in which they had been nurtured. To these people of strong Christian faith, this was not merely a revel, it was also a joyous outpouring of gratitude. In a letter from “E.W.” (Edward Winslow) to a friend in England we read: “And God be praised, we had a good increase…. Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling so that we might after a special manner rejoice together….” At some point during the celebration, Massasoit, an important sachem (leader) of the Wampanoag People, along with ninety Native men and an unknown number of other Native People, joined the English for three days of entertainment, feasting and diplomacy. This celebration occurred sometime between September 21 and November 9, 1621, and in the 19th century entered American popular imagination as the First Thanksgiving.
The Pilgrims built their town in 1620 on the site of a Wampanoag town called Patuxet. From 1616-1618, many of the Wampanoag people who lived in Patuxet died from a plague that was probably carried by European fishermen and traders. Any survivors of the sickness probably left Patuxet for other villages. This devastating event made it easy for the English to lay claim to this Wampanoag land.
Whenever the written record allows, it is best to let people of the past speak for themselves. Our understanding of the lives of the Pilgrims and the Natives is frequently marred by projecting modern values and sensibilities on their actions. For example, today we might find it surprising that Colonial writers like William Bradford, John Winthrop and John Cotton could refer to America as "vast and unpeopled." New England's heavily wooded landscape in the 17th-century was considered "vacant soyle" because to the writers' eyes it was without the traditional English characteristics that identified land as settled and maintained. New England's forests, pastures and planting grounds had been settled by Native Peoples for thousands of years, but their ways of farming and building were so radically different from English practice that to the Colonists the bulk of the land appeared empty and unused. Some writers referred to the New England wilderness as the "Lord's Waste." According to the English legal tradition of "vacuum domicilium", unimproved lands without clear title were available for the first occupant who would clear, build, garden, farm and permanently inhabit. John Winthrop says, "we took [land] peacably, built a house upon it, and so it hath continued in our peacable possession ever since without interruption or Claim... which being taken as vacuum domicilium give us a sufficient title against all men."
Robert Cushman, a member of the Pilgrim church at Leiden and also the Colonists' business agent in London, wrote in 1622, "As the ancient patriarchs therefore removed themselves from straighter places into more roomy, where the land lay idle and waste, and none used it, though there dwelt inhabitants by them, as Gen. 13: 6, 11, 12, and 34:21 and 41:20, so it is lawful now to take a land which none useth, and make use of it." In describing the meeting between Massasoit and Governor Carver in March 1621, Cushman said, "And as it is a common land or unused, and undressed country; so we have it by common consent, composition and agreement, which agreement is double: first the imperial governor Massasoit, whose circuits in likelihood are larger than England and Scotland, hath acknowledged the King's master in England to be his master and commander... so we and they may not only live in peace in that land, and they yield subjection to an earthly prince, but that as voluntaries they may be persuaded at length to embrace the Prince of Peace Christ Jesus, and rest in peace with him forever." While it is debatable whether or not Massasoit understood that he was submitting himself to King James I and VI of England, the Cushman quotation clearly expresses the English idea of "vacuum domicilium" and demonstrates an attempt at legal process in the exchange of land.
The answer depends on the year you are interested in! In 1627, approximately 160 people were permanent residents of the colony, including about 30 families and 20 single men. In addition, an unknown number of shipwrecked English and Irish people were lodging in Plymouth Colony. These shipwrecked people left for Virginia towards the end of the summer.
In May 1627, the livestock was divided among all the colonists who were resident shareholders. The colonists made a list of families and animals, which we believe is a nearly complete list of residents for the year. However, we know that some residents, such as servants, were not included.
Plymouth Court records contain a partial map of colonial house lots from 1620. This, together with information found in later deeds, is the basis for the street layout of the 17th-Century English Village.
Since what remains of the original town sits in and under the current town of Plymouth, no one knows exactly what the young colony looked like. Plimoth Plantation's 17th-Century English Village is based on available research combined with educated guesswork.
The re-created village is also an ongoing Museum interpretation of what the original town might have looked like. This physical interpretation of the town has undergone many modifications over the years. These changes reflect changes in our understanding of the Pilgrims.
One of the things we do know is that the original town had many more houses than the dozen in our re-creation--possibly three times as many houses. The footprint of the 17th-Century English Village is only about one-third of the size of the 17th-century town. Like the original, Plimoth Plantation's 17th-Century English Village sits on the side of a hill, but our hill is not nearly as steep as the original site. In 1627, the colonists in the original town farmed roughly 150 acres of corn; in the 17th-Century English Village you will see about an acre being worked.
For the safety and comfort of our visitors, we have consolidated 17th-century English colonial life into a smaller space. Because of this, you don't need to travel a mile to the edge of the forest to see a charcoal pit or a sawpit or follow the animals out to pasture to see goats and cows.
The English colonists did not specifically label themselves in the letters, books and documents they wrote. Sometimes they referred to themselves as Planters (colonial farmers) to distinguish themselves from the Adventurers (men and women who financed the colony).
The word “pilgrim” was used once in the surviving writings of the early colonists. More than 20 years after the arrival of Mayflower, William Bradford wrote about the church's departure from Leiden, Holland to America. Referring to Scripture, as he often did, he wrote; "they knew they were pilgrims," in reference to Hebrews xi.13-16. Then, as now, a pilgrim is someone on a journey with a religious or moral purpose.
Bradford did not repeat the reference nor did he use "Pilgrim" as a label or title for the English in Plymouth Colony. More than 150 years later, this quotation was applied to everyone in Plymouth Colony, including those who were not part of the Leiden congregation. The name gained popularity in the 1800s and remains in common usage today.
Yes, one life portrait survives. Governor Edward Winslow sat for painters while he was in London serving Oliver Cromwell’s government. The Winslow portrait was painted by an unknown artist or artists, and is traditionally assigned to Robert Walker's workshop. The portrait is dated 1651. Winslow wears his finest black and white clothing, which was the height of fashion in the mid-17th century. The portrait is now part of the collection at Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
The use of these terms to describe religious differences in colonial Plymouth comes from the best-selling book and perennial favorite, Saints and Strangers (1945). Author George Willison was the first to use this classification, identifying Saints as the Plymouth colonists who had separated from the Church of England, and Strangers as the colonists who were loyal to the Church of England. It was a groundbreaking step in helping general readers recognize diversity in early Plymouth, but this simple division blurred the variety of regional, spiritual, economic and education differences among the Pilgrims.
For a 17th-century English Christian, the word saint referred to one of God’s chosen people called to eternal life, and like now, stranger meant someone unknown.
The Pilgrims did not commonly use these terms to describe themselves.
No, in the 1620s, Puritan and Separatist were derogatory labels for two related reform movements in the English Protestant Church. Because of the negative connotations of each term, Englishmen did not identify themselves by either name.
Today, Puritan and Separatist are common terms used by historians to refer to different branches of religious reformation in England and the American colonies. Puritans are defined as religious reformers who felt the Church of England needed "purifying" from within, while Separatists are defined as members of the non-conformist churches who rejected their membership in the Church of England. According to these broad definitions, both Puritans and Separatists came to Plymouth in the 1620s.
The English colonists did not specifically label themselves in the letters, books and documents they wrote. Sometimes they refer to themselves as Planters (settlers and farmers) while the people who financed the colony were called Adventurers. The Separatist congregation in the colony followed the New Testament model of identifying the church by its location. One reference identifies it as the "Church of God, at Plymouth in New England."
Museum guests often question the unusual spelling of Plymouth in Plimoth Plantation. Plimoth is an old-fashioned spelling used by Governor William Bradford in his history of the colony, Of Plymouth Plantation. This spelling was adopted to differentiate the Museum from the modern town of Plymouth. There were no rules for the spelling of English words in the early 17th century, and each writer did as he or she pleased, phonetically spelling the word as seemed fit – sometimes differently on a single page. Plymouth is spelled a number of ways in colonial documents, including Plymouth, Plimouth, Plymoth, and Plimoth. When Plimoth Plantation was founded, it was decided to use Governor Bradford's most common usage, Plimoth.