Friday, February 28, 2014

The Voyage To Massachusetts

From  "Every Day Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony"

"Before you come," wrote Rev. Francis Higginson, the first minister at Salem, "be careful to be strongly instructed what things are fittest to bring with you for your more comfortable passage at sea, as also for your husbandry occasions when you come to the land. For when you are once parted with England you shall meete neither markets nor fayres to buy what you want. Therefore be sure to furnish yourselves with things fitting to be had before you come: as meale for bread, malt for drinke, woolen and linnen cloath, and leather for shoes, and all manner of carpenters tools, and a great deale of iron and steele to make nails, and locks for houses, and furniture for ploughs and carts, and glasse for windows, and many other things which were better for you to think of there than to want them here."[1]  Elsewhere the good pastor set down "A catalogue of such needfull things as every Planter doth or ought to provide to go to New England" in which he enumerated the necessary victuals per person for the first year, viz.:

"8 Bushels of meale, 2 Bushels of pease, 2 Bushels of Otemeale, 1 Gallon of Aquavitae, 1 Gallon of Oyle, 2 Gallons of Vinegar, 1 Firkin of Butter; also Cheese, Bacon, Sugar, Pepper, Cloves, Mace, Cinnamon, Nutmegs and Fruit."

The household implements listed were: "1 Iron pot, 1 Kettel, 1 Frying pan, 1 Gridiron, 2 Skellets, 1 Spit, Wooden Platters, Dishes, Spoons and Trenchers."

Mr. Higginson listed in detail the food supplies required per person for a year, including a good variety of spices; and also the clothing for a man, which included a Monmouth cap, a suit of canvas, a suit of freize, a suit of cloth, four pairs of shoes, three shirts and three falling bands, a pair of blankets, a coarse rug and seven ells of canvas with which to make a bed and bolster. The settler must also bring with him a complete armor, with a long piece, sword, bandoleer and ammunition, tools for cultivating the soil and for working wood, and also household implements—a limited equipment, comparable with the kit packed by the scout or mining prospector of more recent times.

On looking backward over the span of three centuries, Time lends an enchantment to these Puritan forefathers of present-day Massachusetts. Worshiping descendants have placed halos about their heads and the hardships of life during the early years have been magnified to the extent that these independent-minded Englishmen have become types of suffering fortitude—martyrs to the noble cause of free religion and self-government. That is a long tale, however, carrying with it many qualifications, and cannot be enlarged upon here. In what follows, it should always be borne in mind that aside from the Dutch at New Amsterdam and the small colony of Swedes on the Delaware, it was English stock that settled the American colonies and that these men and women brought with them a background of generations of English life. Their standards of living, manner of working their trades and natural aptitude for barter and commerce were all modeled upon English life and customs. It was only natural that this should be so. The ships crossed the Atlantic at comparatively frequent intervals and their holds came filled with all kinds of necessities and luxuries required by English standards of living—foodstuffs, fabrics and implements which the shops of London, Plymouth or Bristol could supply and which could not be produced by the American settlements. To obtain these refinements of life the colonists required only money or merchandise. Lumber,raw or manufactured, salted fish, beaver and peltry, plantation-built vessels and other products of the colonies, could be easily converted into the comforts of English life for sale in the shops across the Atlantic.
Picture from Little Acorns

The Rev. Francis Higginson (pic below) came over in the Talbot, a ship of three hundred tons burden, which was armed with nineteen guns and carried a crew of thirty men. She brought over one hundred passengers. Sailing with her was the ship George of three hundred tons, in which came fifty-two passengers and a stock of cattle, twelve mares, thirty cows and some goats. From the original records of the Massachusetts Bay Company in New England we learn what food supplies were shipped on board the Talbot for the American voyage. The amount was supposed to be sufficient for one hundred and thirty-five men for three months. As a matter of fact, the voyage from Gravesend to the anchorage in Salem harbor occupied sixty-eight days.

The ship carried 22 hogsheads of salted beef, 12,000 of bread (biscuits), 40 bushels of peas, 20 barrels of oatmeal, 450 pounds of salt fish, 10 firkins of butter and 1,200 pounds of cheese. To wash down this food they took on board 6 tons of water, 45 tons of beer, 20 gallons of brandy, 20 gallons of Spanish wine (Malaga and Canary), 2 tierces of beer vinegar and 20 gallons of olive oil.[2] During the voyage two died of smallpox, including a blasphemous seaman. A child died of consumption and a dog fell overboard and could not be recovered. The rest came through and reached Salem harbor in a good state of health.

The Massachusetts Bay Company seems to have maintained a "company store," in the modern phrase, at which the colonists might obtain clothing, fabrics, foodstuffs and supplies of all sorts. When Governor Endecott came over in 1628, the Company sent extra clothing sufficient for one hundred men including three hundred suits of clothes, four hundred shirts and four hundred pairs of shoes. Two hundred of the suits of clothes consisted of doublet and hose made up of leather, lined with oiled skin leather, and fastened with hooks and eyes. The other suits were made up of Hampshire kerseys, the doublets lined with linen and the hose with skins. There were a hundred waistcoats of green cotton bound about with red tape, a hundred Monmouth caps, at two shillings each, five hundred red knit caps, milled, at five pence each, and one hundred black hats, lined in the brows with leather. This store supplied the natural wear and tear of headgear among the hundred men. The stock contained four hundred pairs of knit stockings, ten dozen pairs of Norwich garters, three hundred plain falling bands, two hundred handkerchiefs and a stock of sheer linen with which to made up other handkerchiefs. Scotch ticking was supplied for beds and bolsters, with wool to put therein. The blankets were of Welsh cotton and fifty rugs were sent over to place over the blankets, while mats were supplied "to lye vnder 50 bedds aboard shippe."[3]

During the ten years that followed the settlement of the Massachusetts Bay, a continuous flow of emigration from England crossed the Atlantic in all kinds of available sailing craft.[4] The passage usually cost £5 per person and this included provisions provided by the ship such as "salt Beefe, Porke, salt Fish, Butter, Cheese, Pease, Pottage, Water-grewell, and such kinde of Victualls, with good Biskets, and sixe-shilling Beere; yet it will be necessary to carry some comfortable refreshing of fresh victuall. As first, for such as have ability, some Conserves, and good Clarret Wine to burne at Sea; Or you may have it by some of your Vintners or Wine-Coopers burned here, & put into Vessels, which will keepe much better than other burnt Wine, it is a very comfortable thing for the stomacke; or such as are Sea-sicke: Sallat-oyle likewise, Prunes are good to be stewed: Sugar for many things: White Biskets, and Egs, and Bacon, Rice, Poultry, and some weather-sheepe to Kill aboard the Ship: and fine flowre-baked meates, will keepe about a weeke or nine days at Sea. Iuyce of Lemons well put up, is good either to prevent or curre the Scurvy.[5] Here it must not be forgotten to carry small Skillets or Pipkins, and small frying-panns, to dresse their victualls in at Sea. For bedding, so it be easie, and cleanly, and warme, it is no matter how old or coarse it be for the use of the Sea: and so likewise for Apparrell, the oldest cloathes be the fittest, with a long coarse coate to keepe better things from the pitched ropes and plankes. Whosoever shall put to Sea in a stoute and well-conditioned ship, having an honest Master, and loving Seamen, shall not neede to feare, but he shall finde as good content at Sea, as at Land.[6]

The Mayflower shipped 15,000 brown biscuit and 5,000 white, that is, hard bread, i.e. crackers; also smoked or half-cooked bacon, as it came from the smokehouse, which was much liked with the biscuit and when fried was considered a delicacy. Haberdyne (dried salted codfish) was also a staple article of diet; also smoked herring. Potatoes were practically unknown at that time and the store of cabbages, turnips, onions, parsnips, etc., soon ran short and gave way to boiled mush, oatmeal, pease puddings, etc. Their beer was carried in iron-bound casks.

When passengers came aboard vessels bound for New England in those early days, how did they stow themselves and their possessions? The Mayflower had a length of about 110 feet and measured about 244 tons. It was originally intended that she should carry ninety passengers, men, women and children, but when the Speedwell put back, twelve of her passengers were taken aboard, and two boys were born during the voyage. The ship also carried a crew of twenty to twenty-five men, and officers and petty officers, about sixteen in number, would bring the total of those aboard to one hundred and forty or more. Goats, pigs, and poultry occupied pens on the upper or spar deck and in the boats carried there. Small sleeping cabins were provided for the ship's officers and the more important passengers; most of the company slept in narrow bunks, in hammocks, and on pallet beds of canvas filled with straw, placed on the deck beneath the hammocks. The crew bunked in the forecastle. The chests and personal possessions of the passengers were stowed below on the lower deck where the food, water and ship's stores were kept. On the Arbella, Governor Winthrop's ship, the male passengers lodged on the gundeck and four men were "ordered to keep that room clean."

The ship Whale, in 1632, brought thirty passengers, including Mr. Wilson and Mr. Dummer, all in good health, and seventy cows of which they lost but two. The ship Regard of Barnstaple, 200 tons, arrived in 1634, brought twenty passengers and about fifty cattle. The ship Society of Boston, N. E., 220 tons, with a crew of thirty-three men, arrived in 1663, with seventy-seven passengers. A notable example of fortitude is found in the voyage of the sloop Sparrow Hawk, that sailed from London in 1626 for Virginia and having been blown off her course was wrecked on Cape Cod.

She was only forty feet in length, had a breadth of beam of twelve feet and ten inches, and a depth of nine feet, seven and one-half inches. Bradford in his History records that she carried "many passengers in her and sundrie goods ... the cheefe amongst these people was one Mr. Fells and Mr. Sibsie, which had many servants belonging unto them, many of them being Irish. Some others ther were yt had a servante or 2 a piece; but ye most were servants, and such as were ingaged to the former persons, who also had ye most goods ... they had been 6 weeks at sea, and had no water, nor beere, nor any woode left, but had burnt up all their emptie caske."[7] And this happened in the month of December!

In those days cooking on shore was done in an open fireplace. On shipboard, the larger vessels were provided with an open "hearth" made of cast iron sometimes weighing five hundred pounds and over. More commonly a hearth of bricks was laid on deck, over which stood an iron tripod from which the kettles hung. More crudely still a bed of sand filled a wooden frame and on this the fire was built, commonly of charcoal. On the ship Arbella, in which came Governor John Winthrop and his company, in 1630, the "cookroom" was near a hatchway opening into the hold. The captain, his officers and the principal men among the passengers dined in the "round house," a cabin in the stern over the high quarter-deck. Lady Arbella Johnson and the gentlewomen aboard dined in the great cabin on the quarter-deck. The passengers ate their food wherever convenient on the main deck or in good weather, on the spar deck above. Years later, a new ship lying at anchor in Boston harbor was struck by lightning which "melted the top of the iron spindle of the vane of the mainmast" and passing through the long boat, which lay on the deck, killed two men and injured two others as "they were eating together off the Hen-Coop, near the Main Mast."

The ship supplied each passenger with a simple ration of food distributed by the quartermasters, which each family or self arranged group of passengers cooked at a common hearth as opportunity and the weather permitted. Of necessity much food was served cold and beer was the principal drink. John Josselyn, Gent., who visited New England in 1638, records "the common proportion of Victualls for the Sea to a Mess, being 4 men, is as followeth:

"Two pieces of Beef, of 3 pound and ¼ per piece.

"Four pound of Bread.

"One pint ¼ of Pease.

"Four Gallons of Bear, with Mustard and Vinegar for three flesh dayes in the week.

"For four fish dayes, to each Mess per day, two pieces of Codd or Habberdine, making three pieces of fish.

"One quarter of a pound of Butter.

"Four pound of Bread.

"Three quarters of a pound of Cheese.

"Bear is before.

"Oatmeal per day, for 50 men, Gallon 1. and so proportionable for more or fewer.

"Thus you see the ship's provision, is Beef or Porke, Fish, Butter, Cheese, Pease, Pottage, Water gruel, Bisket, and six-shilling Bear.

"For private fresh provision, you may carry with you (in case you, or any of yours should be sick at Sea) Conserves of Roses, Clove-Gilliflowers, Wormwood, Green-Ginger, Burnt-Wine, English Spirits, Prunes to stew, Raisons of the Sun, Currence, Sugar, Nutmeg, Mace, Cinnamon, Pepper and Ginger, White Bisket, or Spanish Rusk, Eggs, Rice, Juice of Lemmons, well put up to cure, or prevent the Scurvy. Small Skillets, Pipkins, Porrengers, and small Frying pans.

"To prevent or take away Sea sickness, Conserve of Wormwood is very proper."[8]

The settler also must take with him a supply of food to answer his needs on reaching Massachusetts, and it was advised that enough for the space of a year might be required in which case each person should be certain to have in store 8 bushels of meal, 2 bushels pease, 2 bushels oatmeal, 1 gallon brandy, 1 gallon oil and 2 gallons vinegar. Sugar could be had in New England as the Colonial vessels were bringing it from the West Indies in the way of trade, but spices, necessary to the English diet, must be brought from England.

John Josselyn, writing in 1638, listed the following articles as necessary equipment for every family coming to New England, viz.:

Bellows £0 2 0
Scoop 0 9
Great pail 0 10
Casting shovel 0 10
A sack 2 4
Lanthorn 1 3
Tobacco pipes
5 broad howes 10 0
5 narrow howes 6 8
5 felling axes 7 6
2 hand saws 10 0
1 whip saw 10 0
1 file and wrest 10
2 hammers 2 0
2 augers 1 0
Wheels for a cart 14 0
Wheel barrow 6 0
Canoe 3 0 0
Short oak ladder 0 10
Plough 3 9
Axle tree 0 8
Cart 10 0  [11]3 shovels 4 6
2 spades 3 0
2 broad axes 7 4
6 chisels 3 0
3 gimblets 0 6
2 hatchets 3 6
2 frows 3 0
2 hand bills 3 4

Nails of all sorts 2 0 0
3 locks and 3 pr. fetters 5 10
2 curry combs 0 11
Brand for beasts 0 6
Hand vise 2 6
100 wt. spikes nails and pins (120) 2 5 0
2 pick axes 0 3 0
Chain and lock for a boat 2 2
Coulter (10 pound) 3 4
Pitch fork 1 4
Plough share 2 11

Household implements for a family of six persons, viz.:

1 iron pot 0 7 0
1 great copper kettle 2 0 0
1 small kettle 10 0
1 lesser kettle 6 0
1 large frying pan 2 6
1 small frying pan 1 8
1 brass mortar 0 3 0
1 spit 2 0
1 grid iron 1 0
2 skillets 5 0
Platters, dishes and spoons of wood 4 0

The above prices are estimated costs in England and the freight on the same would be reckoned at the rate of half a ton per person.

The vessels which carried the great emigration to New England between 1630 and 1640 were of small tonnage and the passenger accommodations on board were limited in space and barren of creature comforts. Small wonder that the health of many of the first settlers, shaken by the passage at sea, paid toll to the severity of the New England climate—the biting cold of the winter and the heat of the summer days to which they were unaccustomed.

"It was not because the Country was unhealthful, but because their bodies were corrupted with sea-diet, which was naught, their Beefe and Porke being tainted, their Butter and Cheese corrupted, their Fish rotten, and voyage long, by reason of crosse Windes, so that winter approaching before they could get warme houses, and the searching sharpnes of that purer Climate, creeping in at the crannies of their crazed bodies, caused death and sickness."[9]

The ship Talbot, on which Mr. Higginson sailed, brought over one hundred passengers and thirty seamen. She measured nearly[12] eighty-six feet in length and had a depth of hold of eleven feet. By present-day measurement she was about two hundred tons burden. The space between decks, where the passengers slept and spent much time during the dreary voyage, was so low that a tall man could not stand erect, and whenever a severe storm arose, so that the ports and hatches must be kept closed, the air below deck in time must have become intolerable. Such a storm arose when the Talbot was thirty-three days out and "ye wind blew mightily, ye sea roared and ye waves tossed us horribly; besides it was fearfull darke and ye mariners made us afraid with their running here and there and lowd crying one to another to pull at this and yt rope."

These small emigrant ships of the seventeenth century, besides men, women and children, brought over much livestock housed in temporary pens and shelters built amidships. The long boat or pinnace was also carried on board, all of which left little room for movement about the deck. But these three hundred tons ships were traveling palaces when compared with some of the smaller craft that boldly ventured across the Atlantic. Barks, ketches, pinks and other small vessels of less than fifty tons burden were common. In 1635, a "small Norsey bark" of twenty-five tons reached Boston. She was bound for Connecticut, but a stormy voyage had forced her to seek safety in Boston harbor. This vessel, little over thirty feet in length, brought over fourteen passengers, including two women, with their household goods.


[1] Rev. Francis Higginson, New-Englands Plantation, London, 1630.
[2] Transactions of the American Antiquarian Society, Vol. III, p. 12.
[3] Transactions of the American Antiquarian Society, Vol. III, p. 6.
[4] Between 1630 and 1643,198 ships brought over 21,200 passengers.—Edward Johnson, Wonder Working Providence, London, 1654.
John Josselyn, coming to New England in 1638, mentions in his journal of the voyage sighting or speaking thirteen vessels between the Scilly Isles and the New England coast.
[5] Anti-scorbutics were very necessary for the long voyage. John Josselyn during his first voyage (1638) writes that a young man, a servant to one of the passengers, "was whipt naked at the Cap-stern, with a Cat with Nine tails, for filching 9 great Lemmons out of the Chirurgeons Cabbin, which he eat rinds and all in less than an hours time."
[6] William Wood, New-Englands Prospect, London, 1634.
[7] William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation, Boston, 1856.
[8] John Josselyn, Two Voyages to New England, London, 1675.
[9] Wood, New-Englands Prospect, London, 1634.
[10] Memoirs of the Long Island Historical Society, Vol. I.
[11] Memoirs of the Long Island Historical Society, Vol. I.
[12] Mourt's Relation, Boston, 1841.


  1. Facinating facts & details! This post should be required reading for every elementary school teacher who celebrates Thanksgiving with their class :)

  2. As I read this, I was thinking of the advice and reviews posted for and by people who go on cruises today. Perhaps cruise lines should post this for their complaining passengers. Especially interesting was the packing advice for those planning the trip to New England.