Mourt’s Relation

   Posted by: rring   in Americana, Classes

[Posted by Rene Dion for AMST 838/438 “America Collects Itself”]

Mourt’s Relation is the earliest known eyewitness account of the Pilgrims’ first several months after landing at Cape Cod. Although no official author is listed it is known to have been primarily written by Edward Winslow, a senior leader on the Mayflower and future governor of Plymouth. The account details the day to day diary of the settler’s explorations of their new land, relations with the surrounding Indians, and up to the first Thanksgiving.

Mourts Relation

Mourt’s Relation was first published in London in 1622 by George Morton. The original booklet was mostly lost and forgotten over time and possibly overshadowed by William Bradford’s retrospective account Of Plimoth Plantation written several years later. With this in mind I knew my chances of the Watkinson housing an original copy were fairly slim. What I did find was a copy from 1865. At the beginning is the publisher’s preface which states that this copy is just that, a copy, a facsimile, a “page by page and line by line edition.”  For some reason this encouraged me to continue on. Sure, it wasn’t a 400-year-old book but as I kept reading I could imagine that it was. All I needed were the words on the page for me to travel back to the first days at Plymouth Rock.

As I leafed through I found the Chronological Table of Events listed towards the back. This was a very short daily synopsis of the day’s events starting in July 1620. An example would be “Saturday, November 11. Saw Cape Cod.” I found myself really enjoying reading through each day and envisioning what it must have been like to record a diary of such importance. Events such as on “November 30, 1620:  Wigwams and graves were found as well as the very first baby, Peregrine White was born.” Although I must admit my favorite entry is this: “December 5. Francis Billington nearly blows up the Mayflower.” Who is Frances Billington? I must know more. I had never considered seeing the Pilgrims as individuals rather than a group. Apparently Francis was making explosives and shot a musket in the Mayflower while it was anchored at Cape Cod. As I read on it came to light that these Billingtons were known as troublemakers in the colony. Young John Billington, brother of Francis, got himself lost in the woods in late August. Apparently, this caused enough trouble to earn an entry in the book. John Billington, father of both boys, was hanged for the murder of fellow settler John Newcomen in 1630.

More significant entries included the meeting on February 17, 1621 where Myles Standish was elected as Plymouth Colony’s first commander, a position he would hold until his death in 1656.  Recorded on August 13, 1621 was Standish leading a ten-man search party to find Squanto, the Indian liaison to the Pilgrims, who was captured by the Wampanoag Indians.

The event that Mourt’s Relation is perhaps most associated with among historians is the first Thanksgiving. It appears in a brief paragraph stating, “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after have a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain, and others.” In my research I found it to be believed by historians that Edward Winslow wanted to stress harmony with the tribes and abundance of harvest so as to attract more English settlers to the New World. It is often stated that the hardships of the first year were downplayed by its authors.

As I searched through Mourt’s Relation and found great little facts and stories, I realized how glad I was to have stayed with my initial choice. It had made me want to find out more about the goings on of these transplanted people. When my interest is piqued I have to know much more about a subject. I believe the Watkinson will be seeing much more of me perusing its collection for more fascinating stories of America’s history.

mourts-relation-title-page[Curator’s note: here is an image of the title-page of the original 1622 publication]














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