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Plimoth Plantation Comes to Bellingham

Jan 28, 2016 06:00AM ● By Pamela Johnson

Third-graders Jonathan Bellanti and Nadia Whitted, with Plimoth Plantation interpreter Kim Crowley

story & photo by Marjorie Turner Hollman, Contributing Writer

We’ve all heard of the Pilgrims, the landing in Plymouth, and the Mayflower. But how many of us really understand what life was like for those early settlers of our country?

South Elementary School’s third-graders recently spent a day at PIimoth Plantation. This was not just a tour of the site but an intensive program that offered hands-on experiences, as well as a visit to their classroom prior to their travel to Plymouth from one of Plimoth Plantation’s well-trained interpreters.

Kim Crowley, aka Constance Hopkins, came to South Elementary on January 11 and spent the day visiting the third-graders’ classrooms. Third-grade teacher Melissa Young-Foster explained, “I’ve been organizing this program since I came to South School twelve years ago. We are so lucky to live near enough to Plimoth Plantation so we can take advantage of this great resource. Children learn so much better when they have some understanding of what they are going to be exposed to on these field trips. There’s always an opportunity for children to ask questions during our trips, but if they don’t know enough to understand any of what they are seeing, they won’t know what to ask. With this preparation, when the opportunity for questions is offered, they know enough to ask really good questions.”

Crowley, in her role as Constance, began her presentation in the classroom by helping the children understand why her family would take such a dangerous and difficult journey. “Some people came here because they didn’t like the king,” she said. “My father liked the king. But he was poor, with nine children. He was a farmer, but the king owned all the land, and he gave land only to special people. Those people were never going to sell land to us, so we would always be poor.”

Crowley explained that her father agreed to come to the New World to work for free for seven years, and after that time he would be given a piece of land. “And then our life would never be difficult again,” she announced in her lilting, somewhat clipped, English accent.

Crowley sat the children on the floor, then explained that this was the position they would have been forced to maintain for almost the entire journey on the Mayflower. “The ship was made to carry cargo, not people” she explained. The travelers, 102 passengers, remained in the hold almost the entire voyage. With little light, they spent most of their time attempting to sleep. They were rarely allowed on the deck of the ship, and the hold was dark and smelly, with no opportunity to bathe or change clothes.

Crowley had brought some simple replicas of toys that the children on board would have probably carried with them: a rag ball, a poppet (cloth doll) and a hornbook, which was made from a cow’s horn, with letters of the alphabet and a prayer written on it, a tool for learning to read.

Crowley spoke of the dangers of their voyage—the possibility of being swept overboard, pirates roaming the sea, as well as becoming seasick during the journey. “It was not nice to be next to someone who was casting up [vomiting],” Crowley explained. She shared the story of a child who was swept overboard after venturing on deck when it was not safe. “But do not worry; we got him back on board the ship,” she assured her audience. “But it was a lesson for the rest of us to stay below!”

Crowley got lots of volunteers eager to try on the clothes that would have been typical for children to wear in the 1600s. Jonathan Bellanti and Nadia Whitted struggled to pull the clothes on: petticoat, waistcoat, and apron for girls; breeches and doublet for boys. Crowley noted, “These clothes do not bend—you have to do all the bending.” She assisted each child with the multiple layers of clothing, and once they were all dressed, she said, “These are your summer clothes—you would wear many more layers in winter.”

When Crowley brought up the role that the local Indians played in helping the settlers learn how to plant corn, the children immediately volunteered information they’d learned about Squanto and Samoset. Crowley walked the children through the process of planting corn, from going to the brook to catch fish, to digging holes (one after another and another all day!). Once a fish was placed in each hole, the waiting began. “You must wait until you can smell rotten fish before you plant the corn seed,” Crowley explained.

The South School 3rd -graders were given the chance to understand and experience what life was like in another time—a real experience in time travel. Presumably this time travel did not offer as many smelly experiences as Crowley related, but from the looks on the students’ faces as Crowley shared her stories, they were right there, smelling the smells, feeling the discomforts, and gaining a better understanding of what life was like in another time.
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