The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love and Death in Plymouth Colony (book #168)


James Deetz and Patricia Scott Deetz, 2001.

I read In Small Things Forgotten, the seminal book on historical archaeology, years ago, but hadn’t read anything else by James Deetz.

I read this at this time because locally there is a lot of attention to the Mayflower anniversary which will be next year – some of what’s said and written about it being at best naïve, and at worst offensive.

The inventories of the colonists’ possessions which were made at their deaths give a huge amount of insight into their material culture, as in this one:

An Inventory of the goods & Chattels of Will Wright late of Plym. deceased as it was taken by Manasseh Kempton & Joh. ffans the sixth of Novbr 1633 & presented in Court the 2d of January 1633.

In the first Roome.
Inpr [First] one chest wth one sad [deep] coloured sute & cloake, one other sute the brieches being wthout lining, one red bay wastcoate & one white cotten wastcoate one old black stuffe doublet, 2 hats, a black one & a white one, 1 peece of loome-work. 4 knots of white tape. 2 pre of boothose & 2 paprs of hookes & eies 2 lb of colored thried, 2 doz. of lases, & 2 pr of old knit stockins wth some other smale things at 6£

It[em] one smale Table wth a carpet, one Cupboard & a chaire wth a sifting trough £1 10s 0d

It[em] six kettles 3 yron potts & a dripping panne £2 3s 0d

It[em] 7 pewter platters 3 great ones & 4 little ones. 1 smale brasse morter & pestle 2 pint potts & one pewter candlestick. 1 pewter flaggon 2 pewter cups, 1 wine & one other beere bowle. 1 beaker & one Cadle cup. 1 dram cup & a little bottle 2 salt sellers 3 porrengers. J doz. old spoones, 3 pr of pot hookes. 1 old pr of tongues & an old fireshovell. 1 pr of pot hangers. 2 smale old yron hookes. 1 pr of andyrons. 2 old yron Candlesticks, & a pressing yron. 2 basons 1 smale one & another great one all at 2 £

It[em] one fowling peece £2 0s 0d

It[em] 2 pr of boot brieches an old pr of Cotten drawers an old blew coate. 2 pr of old yrish stockins. 2 pr of cloath stockins 1 pr of wadmore stockins. 1 old red wastcoate an old black Coate
£2 0s 0d

It[em] one little old fflock bed & an old fether bolster, wth a pre of worne sheets, an old greene Rugge £1 10s 0d

In the Buttery
Two old barrels one full of salt, the other halfe full, 1 bucking tub, 1 washing tub & 2 empty runlets wth smale trifling things. £1 0s 0d

In the loft over the first roome.
One old halfe headed bedsteed. 1 old bagge of ffeathers. 1 old white Rugge 2 hogsheads & a barrell £0 16s 0d

In the bedchamber
One bedsteed one warming pan. 1 fether bed & bolster. 2 pillowes, wth 2 Rugges 1 green one & one white one. 1 truncke & a little chaire table, wth a small carpet & a curtaine & valence for the bed. 1 smale cushen five pr of sheets 4 pr of pillowbeers [pillowcases] 2 table cloathes & 15 napkins. 4 towels & 7 shirts. 3 pr of linnen drawers & 2 wrought [embroidered] silke caps & one white holland cap & one dymety [patterned cotton] wastcoat 3 bands & 4 pr of linnen stockins
£13 8s 0d

It[em] one great Bible & a little bible. 1 Greenhams works. 1 salme [psalm] booke wth 17 other smale books £1 3s 0d

In the loft over the bedchamber
One broade axe & 2 felling axes & 2 hand sawes, 1 thwart saw w th a wrest to it. 3 augurs 2 chisels 1 gouge. I drawing knife. 1 prser 1 gimlet. 2 hamers. 1 prof old hinges. 2 chest locks. 1 padlocke. 1 splitting knife 1 old spade. 2 old howes. 2 fishing lines 1 old hogshead. 1 smale runlet halfe full of powder. 1 garden rake. 1 pitch forke. 1 tiller of a whipsaw. 3 yron wedges wth some smale implements 15 & other luber [lumber] of smale value
£2 7s 0d

It[em] the howse & garden £10 0s 0d
It[em] the Cattle being one Cow & a steere calfe £20 0s 0d
It[em] 2 Ewe goates & 1 ewe lamb £7 10 0d
It[em] one old Sow. 1 hogg. 1 young sow of 1 yeere old. 1 shote [piglet]. 1 bore 1 Canoe & a churne £7 0s 0d

Debts due unto him as apprs pr booke £20 0s 0d

Suma £99 12s 0d

Prisilla Wright allowed the Executrix & Administratrix of her deceased husband.

Mr Will Bradford bound wth her in an hundred & ninty pownds for discharge of the Court.

The Deetzes quote another inventory, for a widow, Judith Smith, which is here.

There is an account at the end of the book of the development of the Plimoth Plantation heritage site. It was begun in 1957, and the Deetzes joined it in 1959, bringing up their 9 children whilst based at the site. They rejected the “squeaky clean” appearance of the houses and developed a living history programme, with cooking, costumes made using seventeenth century techniques, and livestock. They also involved Native Americans in interpretation. There was some criticism of the changes, such as a letter saying “get rid of the realism, so-called, and give people some ideals to live up to. Clear out the radicals in command and get some 100% Americans”.

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