English Mortar and Pestle

Object ID: 34.87.2

C. 1600
Wood, Maple
Artist’s name is no longer known.
Plimoth Patuxet Museums Original Historical Objects Collection
Turned pestle made of wood. Tapered handle with two inverted cones separating from conical hammer surface.


There were no mills in early Plymouth Colony, so colonists used large wooden mortars and pestles to grind corn at home to make flour and grist or “sampe” for cooking and baking. After the corn was ground, it would be winnowed and sifted to separate the plant debris from the seeds. Processing corn was labor-intensive work often done by women and children. The mortar has a hollowed-out bowl for whole grain. The pestle was used inside the mortar to pound the grains into smaller pieces. The larger mortars and pestles were likely produced in the colony, but English women also used mortars and pestles they brought from England. These small, table-top versions made of wood, iron, or marble were used for grinding herbs and spices for cooking and preparing medicines.

Relate this object to a Wampanoag Stone Pestle.


Watch “Grist For the Mill” to learn more about mills and corn grinding technologies in Plymouth Colony and Patuxet.

Discussion Questions

  • Who used these tools? Are your answers the same for both English and Wampanoag communities?
  • What materials are used to make these tools? Are they the same or different?
  • What would it be like to grind corn for hours every day? How might it affect your body over time?
  • Why is it important to consider the contributions women and children made to the success of Plymouth Colony and Patuxet?
  • How do you help your family at home? Compare what you do with English and Wampanoag children in the 1600s. What do you all have in common?