Researching and writing about puritan poet Anne Bradstreet

Sunday, April 1, 2012

On The Dock

Replica of the Arbella, flagship of the Winthrop fleet.
Wouldn't you love to climb that rigging if you were
a kid stuck on this boat for weeks?
My writing goal was to get Anne Bradstreet to the dock by the end of April -- that is, to finish Part I, the set-in-England part of the story (in which we meet the characters and the groundwork for future themes and events are laid out) and to have her set out on the journey.  Yesterday -- the last day of MARCH, mind you -- I finished off Part I and am ready to fast-forward a year or so to where she and 1000 others are at the Isle of Wight, preparing to sail across the Atlantic.

I was going to skip the voyage because the thought of it bored me.  Yes, yes, seasickness, scary storms, bad water, hardship . . . ho hum.  But after talking to a literary consultant associate of mine (whom I am also married to by a happy coincidence), I'm getting engaged in telling some of those on-board stories.  I've been thinking about what it might have been like for the 8- to 14-year-old boys, stuck on this little tub of a ship for weeks and weeks.  What would you do if you were nine, on a ship and bored?  Climb on the rigging -- have a peeing contest off the back of the ship -- hang around the sailors and pick up some stories -- and generally drive everyone nuts.  Well, maybe not -- seventeenth-century boys were probably much better behaved than our boys, because discipline was much harsher.  But still, the olde saying is, "boys will be boys," and I love the peeing contest too much to leave it off.

There are too many interesting things about that voyage that are not generally known to skip it entirely.  The ladies cooked meals for their families right in their sleeping areas, for instance.  (Think about that one.)  Passengers had to pay fare for themselves and their goods, and the goods rate was by the TON.  (These folks were not packing all their worldly goods in a portmanteau; they brought their stuff.)  Whole families emigrated together -- parents, kids, aunts and uncles, brothers- and sisters-in-law -- sometimes even grandma and grandpa came.

Let's think about that last one for a minute.  Sailors commented on the number of "elderly" people -- in that age, in their 60s and maybe 70s -- who made the voyage.  Traveling to America would be the equivalent for us of traveling to the jungle and camping there while we built a house and developed a farm.  It seems that the best age to do that would be in one's teens or twenties.  But during the puritan migration, the average age was (as I recall, not bothering at this moment to drag out my notes) mid-30s, married with kids.  And then there's Granny.  Why does Granny go?  What's in it for her?  Sure, she'll miss her bunchkins if she stays, but is it really worth it for her to go and face the cold and discomfort in those first few months? Clearly, the answer was, "yes."  There was a wave forward, across the Atlantic, and it picked up a lot of people who seem to our eyes to be very unlikely immigrants.  Most Puritans stayed in England, but those who came brought community with them, and that is one of the reasons why their settlements were so successful.

1 comment:

  1. YAY!! She's on the dock!!! And I love the stuff about being on the boat . . . Cool Joyce!