Tuesday, July 23, 2019

What Would Priscilla Mullins Alden Think?

Priscilla Mullins Alden was a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother and a woman of immeasurable strength.  Priscilla is also my 10th great-grandmother.  John Alden and Priscilla Mullins both came on the Mayflower and after arriving would marry, have children and eventually settle in Duxbury, Massachusetts.  (See post Finding My Pilgrim Ancestors-John and Priscilla Alden)

As 2020 quickly approaches, and the 400 year Mayflower celebrations begin, what does it mean to say you are a descendant of one of the families of the Mayflower?

I grew up never knowing of any Mayflower ancestry.  There were no stories passed down from generation to generation.  Somehow, the story was lost years ago.  I remember as a young girl that one year my mother, who is an amazing seamstress, was going to make me a ‘Pilgrim’  costume for Halloween.  Life was busy and it didn’t happen for Halloween but she would try for Thanksgiving which didn’t work either.  Fast forward about 20 years and as I’m reviewing some documents that were given to my maternal grandmother I find a supposed connection to John and Priscilla Alden as being ancestors.  As usual, life happens, and it takes about another 30-35 years for me to really do some serious research.  In 2017 I was able to successfully prove my Alden connection and before a member of the Alden Kindred of America.  (See post It’s Official! I Proved it!).  On 8 December 2018 I was also able to successfully prove my ancestry and become a member of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.  (See San Diego Colony of Mayflower Descendants and General Society of Mayflower Descendants’ Success)

Wow!  I successfully proved my ancestry to two major societies that are involved with Mayflower descendants.  So, what’s next?  When I work on my ancestry I want more than just the dates my ancestors lived.  I want to learn as much as I can about them.  
Unfortunately there are no pictures, no videos, not even a diary for me to read and learn about Priscilla.  What was she actually like as a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother and a woman?  What did she think of this new land?  Was it what she expected?  What did she think of her legacy?  Did she ever think about those of us that would come after her?

In my quest to know more, and remembering that little girl who was excited about the possibility of dressing like a “pilgrim”, I decided I could see what it would be like to dress like Priscilla did, at the least.  At the first San Diego Colony of the  Mayflower Society meeting I attended, thanks to an invitation by a friend, Alden cousin and blogger Darlene Connor Sampley, I met a Historical Seamstress named Kathy Hughes.  I enjoyed listening to Kathy talk to others about ‘Pilgrim Costume’ and decided to talk to her about making me a 'Pilgrim Costume'.  I met with Kathy and decided that yes, this is important to me and I want to have a set of clothing like my ancestors would have worn.  There would then be styles, colors, fabrics, shoes, hat, and stockings to pick and measurements to be done.  Then I had to patiently wait for my costume.

Saturday, Kathy had my ‘Pilgrim Costume’ ready and I could pick it up.  How exciting!! Good friend and fellow blogger Diane Gould Hall was able to go with me to get my costume.  We were not only able to share the excitement but I was sure I’d need some help remembering how to dress using all the pieces of clothing I would need to put on.  It’s fascinating learning about the names of the pieces of clothing Priscilla would have typically worn, how they were worn, beliefs about fabric color choices, and why things were worn the way they were.  So much to learn!  I really appreciate Kathy’s knowledge about period costume and her desire to be true to the time period.

Here is what I am wearing:
  • a white linen 'smock' with bone buttons and a collar-women wore these for day and night time wear 
  • a 'bum roll' tied at the waist-a crescent shaped pad worn under petticoats to accentuate the hips and make the waist appear smaller
  • 2 linen 'petticoats', hand hemmed-the first with a reddish color since the custom was that you should wear red close to your body and the top petticoat was cartridge pleated, both tie in the front
  • a linen 'waistcoat'-mine has ties.  I chose a simpler design for the common woman
  • a white linen 'apron' folded book style for Sunday best wear
  • a white linen 'forehead cloth' tied in the back and worn to protect the forehead
  • a white linen 'coif '(close fitting cap) tied in the back-women also wore these at night tied under their chin to keep the lice out of their hair
  • a black felt 'hat' to keep the sun out of the eyes while outside-no buckles at that time as are often seen in pictures
  • cotton 'stockings'
  • black leather shoes, reminiscent of the time period
It probably took me about 30 minutes to get ‘dressed’.  Once dressed I thought about what it felt like to wear these clothes the same type Priscilla would have worn.  They felt heavy and bulky and made me feel 20 pounds heavier.  How amazing to be able to wear clothing like Priscilla would have worn!  The dream of that little girl years ago was accomplished.  Priscilla, what do you think?  Am I dressed properly?  I think it would take some getting used to in order to do those everyday chores of cooking, cleaning and tending to the animals or gardens.  I bet all the layers and the woolen cloak Kathy is also making for me really helped in the cold New England winters.  As a teacher, now that I have my ‘costume’, what a great opportunity to visually show students what a Pilgrim wore, let them feel the fabric, shoes, hat, etc.   I can visit classrooms and read stories of the Mayflower voyage and the Pilgrims to help them get a feeling of what life was like 400 years ago.

When it’s all said and done…for me it is an honor to say I am a descendant of these ordinary people, John and Priscilla Mullins Alden.  They were adventurous and fought to make a new life in a strange new world.  I do respect what they did and how they persevered.  I wonder what Priscilla would think about so many people, all these generations later, caring about her and her family.  Would she think us ‘silly’ to be making such a fuss or honored that we remember them?  I am hoping she is smiling down on us.  As I often quote from this poem:        
“I honor their history.      
I cherish their lives.       
I will tell their story.       
I will remember them.”

The celebrations for the 400th Anniversary of the Mayflower will begin 1 January 2020 at the Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA.  I am applying to be an ‘Outwalker Participant’ to march in the parade alongside the Mayflower float.  What an honor that would be to represent my 10th great-grandmother Priscilla Mullins Alden.  Stay tuned to see if I am selected.  I will also participate in the decorating of the float and will be sure to tell you about that in future posts.  Then next Fall I plan to be in Plymouth for additional celebrations and remembrances with my ‘Pilgrim Costume’.

If you have any corrections, additions or stories to share I look forward to hearing them.
Enjoy the journey,


  1. Great post, Cousin Debby! Love your writing style—so personal and so informative!!!

    1. Thank-you so much Darlene! I appreciate your support and am so glad you invited me to that first SD Colony Meeting.

  2. As a teacher, I thought you might want to know you have a typo in the 4th paragraph, using "then" instead of "than." Otherwise, your story is fascinating, and as a Cooke and Soule descendant, I thank you!

    1. Thank-you for the error note! No matter how many times I review...I sometimes miss things. I just met another Soule descendant yesterday.

  3. Wow! That’s how I felt being able to see you wear this clothing and I’m still saying it. Wow! Hopefully, some day in the near future I will join you and Darlene as a proud Mayflower Society member.
    Great post!

    1. Thank-you Diane for your comments and for being there when I was able to wear my costume for the first time. Hopefully, your application and approval will happen very soon.