Posted on Wed, Nov 26, 2008
Pilgrim Daugther by Ralph F Wilson
by Ralph F. Wilson
We searched for the ghost of fifteen-year-old Constance Hopkins in the bowels of the reconstructed ship "Mayflower II," rolling gently aside apier in Plymouth harbor. Where volunteers dressed in period costume answered tourists' questions, Constance had once huddled, miserably cold and damp, as fierce storms buffeted the ship.
Since the "Mayflower" had left England nine weeks behind schedule, the New World's harsh weather threatened their very survival. The men went ashore in December to construct rude shelters; women and children spent the winter aboard ship anchored in the bay.
Winter took its toll. Journal entries feature the same melancholy theme week after week, for months on end:
"... Aboute noone, it began to raine ... at night, it did freeze & snow... still the cold weather continued ... very wet and rainy, with the greatest gusts of wind ever we saw ... frost and foule weather hindered us much; this time of the yeare seldom could we worke half the week."
That winter more than half the heads of households perished. Aboard ship only five of eighteen wives lived through the ravages of scurvy, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. An entry for March 24th reads:
"Dies Elizabeth, the wife of Mr. Edward Winslow. N.B. This month thirteen of our number die. And in three months past dies halfe our company ... Of a hundred persons, scarce fifty remain, the living scarce able to bury the dead."
My daughter Annie, a descendent of Constance, tried to imagine the terrors of that winter for a young teenage girl. When not lying sick herself, she would doubtless be tending whimpering children, preparing food for their stricken mothers, and comforting the increasing number of orphans aboard the "Mayflower."
But spring finally came, and by the third week in March the weakened survivors rowed ashore in the longboat to take up residence in New Plimoth.
How could the Pilgrims talk about thanksgiving in the midst of life's most difficult trials? we wonder. Why not just curse God and die? They gave thanks for God's presence in their adversities because they knew that struggles did not have to make them bitter; struggles could make them better. These remaining Pilgrim daughters and sons, mothers and fathers, placed their trust in their God and laid the enduring foundations of a nation.
"Yea, though they should lose their lives in this action," ancient documents say, "yet they might have comforte in the same ... All great & honourable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and must be both enterprised and overcome with answerable courages."
No, the Pilgrims did not lack for courage.
by Ralph F. Wilson