Though a few women had gone on previous explorations, the Plymouth Colony was unique in that the family was designed to be the foundation of the colony from the start. There were 24 family units on the Mayflower with 18 adult women (and 7 younger girls). Three of the women, Elizabeth Hopkins, Susanna White and Mary Allerton, were pregnant!
Elizabeth gave birth to Oceanus during the voyage, but this young son died during the first winter. Susanna White gave birth to Peregrine in Provincetown Harbor, and he lived to be 84, dying in 1704! Mary Allerton gave birth to a stillborn, who had died during the voyage.
78% of the women died the first winter, a much higher rate than that of the men or children. This is probably due to the filthy conditions on board the ship whereas the men were outdoors building. The women had to endure the two-month voyage plus living four more months on the Mayflower!
By the time of the Harvest Festival we know as Thanksgiving, probably October of 1621, only four adult women were alive (Eleanor Billington, Elizabeth Hopkins, Mary Brewster and Susanna (White) Winslow. Susanna was the surviving widow of William White who died the first winter and she had remarried Edward Winslow whose wife Elizabeth had also died the first winter.
A woman’s job description in the Plymouth colony was arduous and noteworthy. It involved cooking, cleaning, gardening, animal care, hauling buckets of water from the stream, grinding and pounding corn, milking the goat, gathering eggs, stripping feathers off the geese, cleaning fish, getting a cooking fire just right and the manual cleaning of laundry, soaking and scrubbing and wringing over and over again.
Providentially, the presence of married women, mothers, gave Plymouth an amazing head start as a colony. Their presence provided encouragement, determination, and a sense of responsibility in raising the next generation. Their devotion to God and their families was one of the reasons no one returned with the Mayflower in April of 1621.
No wonder the Pilgrim Mother Monument in Plymouth has inscribed on its back in honor of the mothers who came on the Mayflower: “They brought up their families in sturdy virtue and a living faith in God, without which nations perish!” This is the untold virtue of the Pilgrim story – the mothers on the Mayflower!