Stories of the Pilgrims - M. B. Pumphrey

The First Winter In Plymouth

The Pilgrims could hardly wait until morning to begin the town. It was scarcely daylight when they loaded their axes, guns, saws, and hammers on the boat and rowed to shore.

"First we will build a large log house at the foot of the hill," said Governor Carver. "It will be strong and safe, and we can all live there while we are building our own houses."

While some measured the space for the common-house, others went to the forest to cut trees. You could hear their axes ring from morning till night. They had no horses to help them, and their hands must do all the work. So they dragged and rolled the logs from the forest.

John Howland called Giles Hopkins, Francis and John Billington, Love Brewster, and several others. "Come, boys," he said, "bring your sharp knives and we will go to the pond and cut rushes to thatch the roof."

William Bradford saw them start, and he shouldered his gun and went with them. If Indians should come, one man could not protect so many children. When they came to the pond, they cut the long rushes and tied them in bundles to carry back to the men. Once they heard the wild yell of Indians, and sometimes the howl of wolves in the forest, but they did not come near. It was Christmas day when the first logs were cut and in three weeks the common-house was finished. It was a rough building, with its thatched roof and unplastered walls. The windows were made of oiled paper instead of glass. But it was their own, and the Pilgrims felt very happy when it was done.

They made a wide street from the shore to the top of the hill. It was named for their old home in Holland and is still called Leiden Street.

When the common-house was finished, the Pilgrims began to build their little cottages on each side of Leiden Street. There were nineteen families for which to provide. John Alden was to live with Captain Standish and help him build his house. Other men who were alone would live with those who had families.

The winter grew colder and more bitter. There were many days so stormy no work could be done on the houses. Food was scarce, and every day some of the men tramped through the deep snow in search of game. Often they returned nearly frozen, and with empty game bags.

The Pilgrims were often wet and cold, and they did not have proper food. Do you wonder that many of them became sick and died?

Rose Standish was the captain's young wife. Her sweet face and gentle, loving manner had made her very dear to the Pilgrims. If any were homesick and lonely, Rose seemed to know best how to cheer them. She was always planning little comforts or pleasures for others.

But Rose was not so strong and well as the others. Miles Standish sighed as he saw her grow more weak and pale every day. "My poor little Rose!" he said. "You are too frail a flower for this rough, wild life."

"I shall be better when I can leave the ship and breathe the sweet, fresh air of the earth and woods," she said.

So, as soon as the common-house was finished, Miles Standish gently lifted Rose into the smaller boat and took her to the shore. He carried her in his strong arms to the new log house and laid her upon a little cot.

The brave captain trembled with fear as he saw her flushed face and held her fevered hand. He knew an enemy had come which he could not conquer.

A few more days of suffering, and then Miles Standish was left alone.

Soon William Bradford became very ill, and then Goodman White, Mistress Allerton, and many others. In the common-house were long rows of white cots where lay suffering men and women.

At last there came a time when there were but seven well enough to hunt for the food, care for the sick, and bury the dead.

All day Priscilla moved quietly about, bathing fevered faces, or with cool hand rubbing the pain from some aching head. Or she bent over the coals of the fire making broth or toast for the sick, or cooking for those who nursed them.

At night when only a dim candle lighted the room, Doctor Fuller or Miles Standish went from bed to bed, giving a cool drink to one, or turning a heated pillow for another. Often a cup was placed in the hand of one of the weary nurses and Priscilla would whisper, "Drink this hot broth. It will give you strength to wait upon others."

If it were their white-haired elder who was on watch, she would beg him to lie down and rest for an hour while she took his place.

"No, no, Priscilla," he would say, "you can not work all day and watch at night. Take your rest, child, you need it much."

Then she would go back to her bed, stopping to smooth a pillow or speak a cheery word to some one too ill to sleep.

But even tender nursing could not bring health and life to all. Every day there was a new grave to be made on Cole's Hill.

At last came a morning when Priscilla could not rise. She was burning with fever and in her sleep talked of her old home in France. She thought she was a little girl playing with baby Joseph. She could not even know when, one by one, her mother, father, and brother were laid under the snow on the hill.

The Pilgrims were afraid to have the Indians see so many graves. Perhaps they would attack the town if they knew there were so few of the white men left.

So late at night a little group of men carried their sad burden up the hill. When the grave was filled, they covered it over with snow that the Indians might not see it so easily.

In a few weeks half of the little band of Pilgrims lay buried on Cole's Hill.