Wampanoag Story   Pilgrim Story

Savannah and the Salmon: A Modern Wampanoag Story

Wampanoag girl and baby

Winter came, and soon passed. Flowers started to bloom and the fiddlehead ferns were beginning to grow. The river had thawed and the current was flowing strongly. One Saturday morning, my daughter Savannah said to me, “Daddy it's salmon season. I just turned six. Can I go salmon fishing with you?” I replied, “Well, you're old enough now so I don't see why not.” She said, “I love fried salmon.” I then explained, “It is the start of the salmon season and I don't know if they are running down river well. The nets are set. We can go and check them to see if there are any fish caught yet.”

We gathered our belongings and headed to the river. We climbed in our boat and started downriver. I turned to her and said “Savannah, let us give prayer to the Creator and ask for a blessing in catching the great, mighty fish.” Savannah leaned over the boat and looked at the river and said “Salmon if you can hear me, come to our net so that we can have you for dinner. You're the best fish we ever tasted.” I said, “OK girl, we’re on our way! Hopefully we'll be successful.”

We made it downriver to our net. Checking the middle of our net, we saw that there were no fish. We then went to the right of our net and checked for a fish. Nothing. Suddenly we heard a big splash! In front of the net a big fish jumped out of the water, into the air, and splashed back into the river. I paddled as fast as I could to where the fish had jumped. When I arrived, I pulled up my net to find a glistening, large salmon. I pulled him out of the water and into the boat. He was flopping around in the boat, so I took my club and struck him in the head to knock him out. Savannah burst into tears saying, “Daddy, we killed the salmon.” “Savannah, don't worry,” I answered. “When we get home we’ll thank the salmon for giving his life for us so we can have food.”

Savannah was used to seeing fish fried on her plate. This was the first time my daughter saw a beautiful, living salmon. Later that afternoon when we arrived home, Savannah was still tearful. I said, “Savannah, how about if I go and get my hand drum and we can honor this great salmon by singing an honor song for him? He gave his life for us so that we can have food.” Savannah wiped away her tears, saying “Daddy, can I sing the song with you?” “Of course.” So we started to sing the honor songs. As we sang, Savannah's tears went away. After we finished singing, I turned to her and said, “You know what girl? I’m going to take the backbone from this fish, and take some red and black and yellow beads, and make you a necklace so that you will always remember this moment.” But she stopped me and said, “Daddy, can I ask you a question?” “What is it Savannah?” She looked up at me, and smiled, saying “Can we go fry him up now?” I answered, “You bet!”

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Daybreak at Planting Time in New Plymouth

My name is Hester and I want to stay abed! But Mary's crying has made me rise from bed early. She hath but a year so she shares the bed with Mother and Father. When she is older she shall share the feather bed that Jane and I lay upon the floor at night. Mother says Mary cries for she is growing more teeth. 'Tis just getting light out, so Mother sends me to our garden behind the house to pick some marjoram leaves. Chewing on marjoram leaves is a good physic for sore teeth and will soon make Mary feel better.

Pilgrim house with a thatched roof of cattailJane is awake too. I think she still misses the sounds of bells and other city noises that woke us when we lived in Holland. I do not remember Holland at all. I was too small then. I was a newborn babe when Father and my older brother John left for New England in 1620. Being the least useful in the building of houses, it was thought best that many of the women and children wait to go until the town was made, so Mother, Jane, Jacob and I stayed behind in Holland.

Three years later we too finally crossed the ocean and arrived in New England. I do not remember the voyage either, but Jane says it was long and troublesome. The first time we tried to leave, the ship had to turn back, it was leaking so badly. The second time a violent storm lasting nearly two weeks overtook the ship. When the storm had passed the ship returned to England again. We finally got over to New Plymouth on a different ship called the Anne. When we arrived we found the men had built a little town. The houses were made of wood and clay with thatched roofs. Fields and gardens had been planted too. Many families, like ours, were so happy to be together again at last. Father says this is a very good place to live even though there are no markets and shops here. 'Tis so different from England and Holland. Everything we need to live we must grow, gather, catch, make ourselves or bring over from England. But here we are not persecuted because of our religion. And our fathers can be husbandmen and own land!

Jacob is still lying to bed. Mother says I must fetch water from the brook myself and let Jacob sleep longer. He is very weary from helping Father and John plant Indian corn. He had worked in the fields for many years now, but it still makes his arms and body ache. He thinks he is grown up enough to stand watch with the men soon, but father tells him he must wait seven more years, until he is sixteen.

The morning is chill. My feet get cold and wet with the dew as I walk to the brook. Goodwife Soule is already there. I make a courtesy when she bids me good morning, then I fill my buckets. I do not fill them overmuch for I fear that I will spill them. I only began to fetch water a fortnight ago, since I grew tall enough to carry the yoke. On the way home I sing a song to make the walk go faster.

When I return with the water, Mother has already kindled the fire in the hearth. Last night before bed she covered the glowing red coals with a thick layer of ashes so that they would stay hot while we slept. Pilgrim girl grinds corn in a mortar and pestleThis morning she uncovered them and put some small pieces of wood to them which quickly caught fire. The bigger pieces of wood on top soon caught fire too. 'Tis easier to start a fire this way than a flint and steel! The fire warms my feet and heats the water we will wash ourselves with. Mother has put a pot of Indian corn pottage called samp to warm over the fire. We shall have that and some cheese to break our fast.

After I empty the chamberpot, I go with Jane to milk the goat that we share with some of our neighbors. I can hear many animals calling to be milked. My hands are growing stronger, but I cannot squeeze the milk out as quickly or in such a thick stream as Mother and Jane can.

Later today we will use the goat's milk to make curds. Would that we could make sweet cheese with sugar and spices but I know we must have a care not to use all our sugar before more comes from England. Our sugar, raisins, prunes, oil and vinegar, and even our clothes, shoes, and many tools must still come across the sea from England. We know not when another ship will arrive. They often come but once a year. Those that came on the first ship with Father and John went two years without any new supplies. John says some folks then had little more than rags for clothing!

Jacob, John, and Father are getting their tools ready. Father says they will finish planting the Indian corn today, for the Sabbath is upon the morrow. We do no work on the Sabbath, not even cooking. It is a day of rest. We all gather in the meetinghouse at the top of the hill and are most of the day in prayer.

A Pilgrim boy climbing a treeThe corn that they plant will be harvested in the fall when it is grown tall and hard and dry. Because it is dried it will last for a long time. It will keep our bellies full and give us more seed to plant next spring. I like not Indian corn as well as wheat and rye, but Father says it grows better here in New Plymouth than our English corns because we have no oxen to plow the ground. The manner of planting this Indian corn is most strange...we do not plow at all!

Father says an Indian named Tisquantum showed him how to dig a hole in the ground, drop some fish into the hole, make a mound over the fish, and plant seeds of Indian corn in the mound. The fish rot and make the corn grow better, but we have to be careful that animals don't dig up the fish and eat them. Sometimes Jacob stands by the fields and throws rocks at the wild animals that come to steal the fish. Though this is important work, I think he likes it as a game. But he knows games are only to be played when work is done and Father gives him permission to play.

Cousin Phillipe is already gone for the day. Master Bradford, our Governor, has sent him and some other men fishing today. If they catch a good deal of cod, they will salt it so that it can be sent back to England on the next ship. The rest of it shall be divided betwixt us and some of our neighbors. I mind not eating fish now, but by midsummer we eat so much of it I grow weary of the taste.

Pilgrim father teaching his daughter to readI hope that Father reads to us tonight. Even though many of our neighbors do not know how to read or write, Father thinks it is very important that we learn. He says we should be able to read the Bible for ourselves. Since we have not a school here, Father started teaching Jacob and me to read last winter. But we have little time for lessons this time of the year. There is too much work to be done during the warm months.

After we've all washed ourselves, we gather at the table to break our fast. We raise our eyes to the heavens as Father offers a prayer. He asks God to watch over John, Jane, Jacob, Mary, me and cousin Phillipe to make sure that we do not grow too willful. And he asks God to protect our little town of New Plymouth and to watch over our family, that it may grow and prosper in the New World for many years to come. God willing, it shall.



Break Our Fast To eat the first meal of the day. To have breakfast.
Chamberpot A container to go to the bathroom in during the night or during bad weather. In the days before indoor plumbing, people usually went to the bathroom outside.
Cod A kind of ocean fish.
Curds A soft cheese, like cottage cheese.
Courtesy Or curtsy. A show of respect made by bending the knees and lowering the body.
English Corn Grains that were grown in England, such as wheat, rye, and oats.
Flint and Steel A piece of hard stone called flint, and a piece of metal that are struck against each other to make a spark.
Fortnight Two weeks.
Goodwife A title of address used like we use "Mrs." A child would call a married woman "Goodwife" to show respect. A married man would be called "Goodman."
Harvested Had cut and gathered a plants.
Hearth A place on a house floor where the fire is. Used for cooking, warmth and light.
Husbandmen Men who make their living through agriculture, or farming the land.
Indian Corn The kind of corn found in the new world. Maize.
Kindled Set fire to.
Marjoram An herb (plant) used for cooking and medicine.
Master A title of address given to someone respected like the Governor. Also, the wife of the Governor would be addressed as "Mistress."
Oxen An ox is a neutered (or "fixed") male cow, which has been carefully trained to pull heavy loads and follow commands. Two working together is called a team or pair of oxen. Oxen are often used to turn over the soil or "plow" to prepare the ground for planting.
Persecuted Punished with pains and penalties for holding a certain belief or opinion.
Physic Medical treatment.
Pottage A thick stew made with indian corn or some other kind of grain, like oatmeal. Sometimes herbs and bits of meat, chicken or pork were added to give it flavor.

A day of rest and worship; for the Pilgrims it was Sunday.

(to) Salt To dry and preserve meat or fish by rubbing salt into it.
Samp A thick porridge made of crushed, boiled Indian corn.
To Stand Watch To guard the town. A group of men would take occasional military training so that they could defend their town from attack.
Thatched Roofs Roofs made of layers of straw or other grassy materials.
Tisquantum A man also known as Squanto.
Weary Very tired.
Willful Stubborn.
Yoke Used to fetch water. A piece of wood that goes over the shoulders, with a bucket hanging on each side.

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