John and Priscilla Alden in PlymouthThe marriage of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins is the one bright event in the sober settlement of Pilgrim Plymouth. More fiction than fact runs through the literature every schoolchild has to read, yet in spite of the juggled history and poetic license, the love story survives, the thread of young true love running clear through all the fanciful trappings writers have thought up.
John and Priscilla were passengers on the MAYFLOWER, he hired to take care of the beer and water casks, she accompanying her parents to the new world, and since they were young, it was easy for them to become acquainted on the long voyage.
All through the first hard winter John Alden was a working member of the colony, lending his skill with tools to the work of building the houses. Perhaps this skill, along with his youthful good looks, made him stand out among other young men, particularly in Priscilla's estimation. His mind was on the Pilgrim girl all that winter, and when his contract time was up, he chose to cast his lot with the settlers. The MAYFLOWER sailed without him. As Gov. William Bradford recalled it in 1646:
"John Alden was hired for a cooper at South-Hampton, wher the ship victuled; and being a hopful yong man was much desired, but left to his owne liking to go or stay when he came here; but he stayed, and maryed here."
Priscilla Mullins' parents, brother, and the family man servant, all died in the sickness that took so many lives that first winter, leaving her orphaned but not alone. There were few houses in the settlement and only a few well people, so Priscilla undoubtedly just continued in the common house, taking her share of the nursing and cooking, with little time to brood over her situation. She was one of the surviving women in that little band, part of a common family, bound together by common need, danger, and sorrows. One can suppose she grew close to the other young members of the colony, to John Alden in particular. He was constantly in and out of the houses, taking time from building houses to bring in the firewood and help with the heavy work. There were days when the weather kept all indoors, time for the young men and women to talk about their lives and their futures. It was during this long and hard winter that John and Priscilla probably made their own plans for the next winter.
The first marriage in the colony was in May 1621, Edward Winslow and Susanna White, both recently widowed, and it is generally held that the second marriage was that of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, sometime later in that same year. It was a civil ceremony before the Governor, according to the Dutch manner.
Where and how they lived in the next few years can only be pieced together from the few facts and from the known manner in which all lived then. It is even questionable whether there was a house of their own in 1621, but by 1627 they were in a house on the one and only street on the hillside, across from the Governor's and near the fort. The house was built by common effort, but certainly with John's skill going into it. A replica of it stands today in Plymouth Plantation, the house John and Priscilla had as long as they lived in Plymouth. And it is certain that the first two children were born in Plymouth before June 1, 1627 when the list of families entitled to share in the cattle division was made, for Elizabeth and John, Jr., are on that list.
Life was hard for the first few years in Plymouth. Every piece of furniture in the small house had to come from mate- rials at hand, every item of clothing Priscilla must make, every bit of food John must produce in a harsh climate. Besides the small house lot, each family had an acre garden spot outside the palisaded village; all other fields were farmed by common effort, and all livestock owned by the colony. And so it was for seven years.
In 1627, came the deal whereby the colony bought out their backers, the Merchant Adventurers, and owned their settlement outright except for a debt of 1800 pounds, a sort of mortgage to be paid off at the rate of 200 pounds a year. In order to contract for this purchase the Pilgrims formed a group to be called the Undertakers, since they undertook the responsibility for payment on behalf of the colony. Among the undertakers, right along with the ablest men was John Alden, a fact that puts him as early as 1627 among the leaders in Plymouth.
Next came a division of the land whereby each man would have a farm of his own, large enough to support his family. Where previously a man had a house on a small lot and a one acre field, he now was to have twenty acres for each one in his household. From this time on a man could plan, could prosper by his own efforts, could have property to bequeath to his sons.
The farm grants had to run along the shore since there was no good farm land to the west, and each man drew his location by lot. John Alden drew a grant "on the other side of the bay", along Blue Fish River, a one hundred acre grant, good land and a good location. just what month or what year the Aldens moved to their farm is uncertain, as they first came only in the summer growing months; but it was soon apparent that it would be their permanent home. By 1632 John Alden, along with many other settlers, had decided to stay on the new land all year round and the Plymouth Colony very reluctantly agreed.
Eventually John Alden sold his land in Plymouth and his unoccupied house reverted to the colony, breaking his land ties with the first town. So the John Alden family completed its move to Duxburrough Town. Interested to read further ... look for the book by Dorothy Wentworth!
Last update: July 18, 1997.