1 June 2020

Guest Post ~ The Last Pilgrim: The Life of Mary Allerton Cushman by Noelle A. Granger

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The Last Pilgrim: The Life of Mary Allerton Cushman captures and celebrates the grit and struggle of the Pilgrim women, who stepped off the Mayflower in the winter of 1620 to an unknown world – one filled with hardship, danger and death. The Plymouth Colony would not have survived without them.

What was a woman’s life like in the Plymouth Colony? 

The Last Pilgrim will tell you.

Growing up in Plymouth, Massachusetts, I was steeped in Pilgrim history. Costumed in period clothing, I portrayed various girls and young women in the weekly reenactments of the Pilgrims’ progresses up Leyden Street, and at the Old Fort – Harlow House, I learned the goodwife arts of cooking on a hearth, making candles, and the washing, carding, spinning and dying of wool at the Harlow House. Then, after a year of studying for the role, I became one of the first tour guides at the re-creation of the early Pilgrim village at Plimoth Plantation.

While working there, I became disappointed by how little we knew of the women who came on the Mayflower in 1620 and the Anne in 1623. I promised myself that one day I’d tell their story.

I chose to focus on one woman, Mary Allerton Cushman, who was only four years old when she sailed from England. She held the honor of being the Mayflower’s youngest passenger until the birth of Oceanus Hopkins. Mary lived through the entirety of the colony’s history, first as Isaac Allerton’s daughter and then as Thomas Cushman’s wife. She lived to see her 83rd year (1699), as the oldest surviving passenger of the 1620 voyage. She was indeed the last Pilgrim.

I wrote The Last Pilgrim across the tapestry of Plymouth’s history – its leaders, economy and growth, interactions with the native populations, wars, disease and continuous threats to its survival. I’ve made every effort to stay true to the real events and surroundings.

I took a writer’s license in opening the book in Isaac Allerton’s voice, since Mary was so young – in order to make the unlikely survival of the Mayflower’s passengers and challenges of the colony’s first years more immediate and real. As times passes and Mary grows, the story transitions to Mary’s voice.

Mary’s mother died during the first winter. Only five married women – goodwives – and a few older girls survived to support the forty-one survivors from the Mayflower, as well to care for the children and the baby Oceanus. It occurred to me that as the youngest by two years of all the children, Mary might have been overlooked and frequently left to her own devices, without the instruction and care she needed. So I created Mary as a somewhat fractious child.

At that time, a common practice was to put children with other families, so they might grow in godly ways, without the ‘over-love’ of their parents. While boys were usually ‘put out,’ it seemed natural to me that Isaac Allerton, lacking a wife but with two other young children, might place Mary in the Bradford home to receive the instruction and discipline she lacked.

As for her marriage to Thomas Cushman, I decided to introduce an element of romance and love. So many of the Pilgrim marriages were based on immediate need and practicality, but Mary must have known Thomas for a long time before they married. I took the liberty of continuing her forthright nature in their relationship.

Another elaboration entails the acceptance into the Mary and Thomas Cushman’s household of a young Wampanoag boy, following King Philip’s War. This was not such a stretch since after the war, some of the orphaned native children were taken in as servants. I wondered how these children might have been treated. Knowing Thomas Cushman was a man of God, I decided that the child Samuel would grow up in a caring household.

The treatment of the native populations by the settlers in New England and New York was reprehensible to our way of thinking and sensitivities, and I found most of what I discovered about the Wampanoags and what happened to them ineffably sad and cruel. Nevertheless, my objective was not to rewrite history through modern eyes, and I therefore tried to maintain a balance in telling of the Pilgrims’ interaction with the tribes surrounding them. To any I might have offended, please understand this.

Disease and, above all, childbirth ranked as the major causes of death in 17th century New England. I feel fortunate to have found The Midwives Book, written by a 17th century midwife, Jane Sharpe. This allowed me to describe childbirth, and the role of the Plymouth midwife Bridget Fuller, in detail appropriate for the time. 

My husband, an obstetrician-gynecologist, was amazed at the correct procedures and detailed anatomy described by Mistress Sharp. With regard to herbal remedies and the treatment of injuries, I depended on many online resources and books. My introduction of laudanum to the Plymouth colony might have been a little premature. While its properties had been known for centuries, it wasn’t until the 1660s that English physician Thomas Sydenham marketed it as a cure-all.

By the way, the Pilgrims were not Puritans but a more severe offshoot of the Puritan sect called Separatists. They were not called Pilgrims until William Bradford, the second governor of the colony, called the Plymouth colonists ‘saints and pilgrimes’ in his book, Of Plimoth Plantation. The manuscript for his book was lost for two centuries and was only published in 1856, when the name Pilgrim was finally given to these intrepid people.

I hope my readers enjoy learning about the lives of Isaac Allerton, Mary Allerton Cushman and her family, and especially the women of the Plymouth colony as much as I did in writing about them.

Noelle A. Granger

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About the Author

Noelle A. Granger is a Professor Emerita at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. After forty years of research and teaching undergraduates and medical students, plus earning her EMT licence, she decided to turn her hand to writing and created the Rhe Brewster Mystery Series. Having grown up in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the author worked as one of the first reenactors at Plimoth Plantation when it opened, which is where the idea of writing a book to honor the Pilgrim women took seed. This stayed with her over the years, resulting in The Last Pilgrim, the story of Mary Allerton Cushman, the oldest surviving passenger on the Mayflower. The author has also written for Coastal Living and Sea Level magazines and several times for the Bella Online Literary Review. You can find more of her writing and musings on her website: saylingaway.wordpress.com and on her author site: na-granger.com. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with her husband and a Maine coon cat who blogs, and she spends a portion of every summer in Plymouth and in Maine, researching for her books. Find out more at Noelle's website  and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @NAGrangerAuthor

1 comment:

  1. This really gave me a good insight of what it was like back then, thank you for taking the time to write this.


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