“Come sit by me, Richard,” said Mary Chilton from where she sat amidst other children on a long plank secured to tree stumps. Six-year-old Richard More jumped to do her bidding, quickly moving beside her at the long table—one of the many used during their autumn celebration of summer’s harvest. The banquet tables surrounded cooking fires that likewise served to warm people nearby. The visiting “heathens” chose to sit beyond, on blankets placed upon the ground.
Richard, looking like a small adult, was dressed in a hand-me-down suit and the typical black, wide-brimmed hat. He wasn’t one of the “Saints,” like Mary. Her congregation also called themselves Separatists, having rejected the Church of England and traveled to the Americas as a beacon of “true Christianity.”
Richard’s mysterious presence in the colony did not fit in with the more typical “Strangers,” a term the Saints used to label those who were not of their faith. Even so, thirteen-year-old Mary felt a special affinity for him, having lost her father in December, and then her mother a few weeks later during that dreadful winter. Richard’s three siblings had also perished, and since neither of his parents had traveled on the Mayflower, he was without family. There were scandalous rumors about the reasons why two brothers and two sisters had traveled without their parents, but Mary did not care. None of that could be poor little Richard’s fault.
She handed her younger companion a drumstick from one of the many roasted waterfowls that men from her plantation had shot in a single outing. These birds migrated through the region in great abundance, and along with the settler’s bounteous crops, there would be enough food for the coming winter. If only more of the settlement-folk had lived to reap the reward. Among those who’d set out on the Mayflower for the New World, over half had died. As that thought entered Mary’s mind, she put an affectionate arm around Richard.
Their spiritual leader, Elder William Brewster, had said many fine and uplifting words before their feast began, and Mary looked around gratefully at the familiar faces of her fellow survivors. Only four women out of fourteen had made it through the winter, which meant that Mary and the oldest of the other nine girl survivors did their best to take on mothering roles where they could.
Mary shuddered at the thought that Richard More would be indentured. His passage—and those of his siblings, if they had survived—was to be paid for by their time in servitude. In contrast, Myles Standish had spoken out during a public meeting that Mary was to have one land share of her own, as a Mayflower passenger, plus her father’s share and her mother’s share—three in total. He’d even said her properties would be located next to his so he could keep an eye on them.
She looked up as two figures passed along the other side of her table, startled to realize who they were. Tisquantum, who the younger children called Squanto, was a familiar sight because he had lived nearby for many months, helping with crops and establishing relations with the different native groups of the region. But the second man was a far different matter. Massasoit was head of the Wampanoag confederacy, a very powerful native group in the surrounding region. He had unexpectedly come to the feast with ninety warriors—nearly double the fifty-two surviving colonists—and when invited to join the festivities, he’d sent out men who returned with five deer to add to the banquet.
Mary’s breath caught in her throat. The powerful leader had stopped opposite her and was staring. What could he want of Mary? Awful stories ran through her mind, but then she reminded herself that this man had always dealt fairly with the settlers. He had even been forgiving when the settlers found and appropriated a native cache of maize, and robbed a native child’s grave of its finery.
The powerful leader—whom many of the settlers referred to as king—said something to his companion that Mary could not understand. As she waited for Tisquantum’s translation, she felt Richard’s small body lean tensely against her. Tisquantum’s explanation was far shorter than whatever the leader of the Wampanoag had said, causing Mary to wonder about omissions. He simply communicated, “For you….”
Massasoit seemed puzzled as well, looking long and hard at his interpreter, but then he turned and formally handed a small parfleche bag filled with native food to her. From what Mary could tell, the contents were a mixture of ground-up nuts, berries, and perhaps roots, all bound together with suet. It did not smell too appetizing, but she smiled gratefully and took the gift. Massasoit looked down the table and back to the bag, indicating she should share with the other children.
Richard lifted one of the roasted waterfowl into the air with difficulty, offering it to the renowned leader who smiled and signaled for Tisquantum to accept the gift for him.
It was only when the twosome moved away that Mary realized how fast her heart pounded. She felt Richard’s small hands clutch her dress and knew he stained the fabric her mother had once worn with oil from the roasted fowl. Yet, she realized exactly how he felt and instead of reprimanding, she hugged him.
While they still clung to one another, Governor William Bradford spoke to the gathering. He gave thanks for the visit of their powerful native friends who had helped them establish their settlement. He did not mention the horrible losses the colonists had suffered in the past winter and spring. They had taken great pains to hide that from the natives for fear the colony would be viewed as weak. The nearby hillside was littered with secret unmarked graves, and her eyes flitted there with a pang before she brought them back to the orator.
The governor spoke about their bountiful harvest and hopes for righteous prosperity. In his own way, William Bradford was as inspiring as Elder William Brewster. Mary pulled young Richard onto her lap. Everything was fine now. The settlement would succeed because the worst was behind them. By the grace of God, they would carve a wonderful future from the fertile land—she gave silent thanks.
[Author’s note: Tradition has it that Mary Chilton was the first to leap from the landing boat onto Plymouth Rock. Despite seemingly overwhelming odds, she and Richard More went on to live long and successful lives in their new homeland. Mary wed John Winslow in 1624 and eventually had ten children. In 1653 her family moved to Boston where John Winslow became a successful merchant. Mary’s notable descendants include the wife of President Garfield, and the actor Vincent Price.
Elder William Brewster’s family reared the indentured Richard More—who married Christian Hunter in 1636. His gravestone in Salem, Massachusetts reads: “Here lyeth buried ye body of Capt. Richard More aged 84 years died 1692 a Mayflower Pilgrim.” Although he and his wife had seven children, his extended line was quite sparse. It was later discovered, however, that the man once thought to be a child waif was descended from Scottish royalty through his mother’s clan–i.e., king Malcolm III from the eleventh century, and David I of the twelfth century. As a note of further interest, I think—but am not certain—that my grandfather traced our lineage back to Mary Chilton, so I had an added reason for choosing her as the main character of this fictional short story.]
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