Plimoth Grist Mill

Original mill built 1636. Reproduction built 1970.
Reproduction water-powered grain mill
John Jenney (c. 1589-1644); Plimoth Patuxet Museums, Al Batista, David deLory, JB Campbell
Plimoth Patuxet Museums
Plimoth grist mill wheel


The Plimoth Grist Mill is a reproduction of the 1636 mill that once stood on this site. Built in the late 1960s, it represents the beginnings of 17th-century industry on Plymouth’s Town Brook. The colonists spent the first thirteen years of settlement pounding their corn in wooden mortars by hand. It is possible they also used small, hand-powered mills called querns. The production of cornmeal became easier in 1633 when Stephen Deane (c. 1605-1634) received permission to build a water wheel for beating corn “upon the brook adjoining to the town of Plymouth.”1 Deane died before he could complete his work, and in 1636, Plymouth Colony gave John Jenney (c. 1589-1644) permission to erect a mill for grinding corn with millstones.

In England, mills were centers of community life. They provided an essential service, and farmers could share news as they waited for their sacks of grain to be milled. Millers, like tavern keepers, often witnessed legal and financial transactions and sometimes served as bankers. The miller received a toll or fee for his work determined by the government. In Plymouth Colony, the toll was a measure of grain called a “pottle” (roughly ½ gallon) per bushel milled. Many songs and proverbs complained of millers taking more than their fair share in payment. In order to prevent controversies over tolls, Plymouth Colony required constables to inspect and approve all measures used by the millers in their jurisdiction. Although the mill was owned by John Jenney until his death in 1644 (at which time it passed to his wife, Sarah, and left to their son, Samuel), the town acted as mediator, calling the owners in front of the court to address customer complaints.


Host Hilary Goodnow, takes listeners behind the scenes at Plimoth Patuxet's newest living history exhibit - the Plimoth Grist Mill! Millers Kim VanWormer and Matt Tavares discuss the history, science and technology of grain milling in the 17th century and share their passions for heirloom grains, green energy, and historic trades.

Discussion Questions

  • What does the word “grist” mean? How many synonyms can you name?
  • Mills are complex tools designed to meet a community’s need or solve a problem. What problem is the grist mill solving?
  • Where does the mill’s energy (or power) come from? Is this energy “green” or “renewable”? Why or why not?
  • What types of energy are at work in a mill?
  • How many gears does the Plimoth Grist Mill have? What type(s) of gears are they?
  • Who was responsible for the mill in the 1600s? What was their job title and how were they trained?
  • Did everyone in Plymouth and Patuxet use a mill?
  • How did the grist mill change daily life?