Pilgrims: Myth vs. Reality
By Jordan Jachim
Because the Pilgrims are so important to the history of the English colonies in the New World, they have been subjected to several persistent myths (as all great men of history are). So what are these myths? You have doubtless seen the differences between the two included pictures, and I will explain some of them.
Traditionally, the Pilgrims are shown with a bell-mouthed blunderbuss. It is true the blunderbuss was invented in the 1600’s, but only the cavalry carried it, because they needed a short, easy-to-reload gun. The blunderbuss was mainly used by coach drivers in the 1700’s to repel highwaymen, or sailors fighting in close quarters, because it was only accurate at short ranges. The Pilgrims, in common with all fighting men of the 17th Century, would have carried a matchlock musket, which was longer and more accurate than the blunderbuss.
Figure 1: Matchlock Musket (42” barrel)
Figure 2: Blunderbuss (15” barrel)
Facial hair for men is also inaccurately shown. Pilgrims would not have worn mustaches without beards, nor beards without mustaches. The only clean-shaven men were those too young to grow beards, and some of the gentry. Pilgrims wore beards and mustaches, or mustaches and goatees.
The popular “sugar-loaf” hat would have been worn, but the Pilgrim men also had knitted “Monmouth” caps, and round-hats turned up on one side, along with metal “Morion” helmets for soldiers.
Top: Monmouth cap (left) and Morion helmet (right)
Bottom: “Sugar loaf” hat (left) and round-hat (right)
Collars are shown larger than the Pilgrims really wore. The Pilgrims’ collars were shorter, and often went right around the neck. They did not wear something that looks like an oversized modern shirt collar.
The somber black-and-white color scheme is just plain wrong. The Pilgrims, in common with other Englishmen, wore colorful outfits. In fact, black was an expensive color to dye clothes in the 17th century, though the preachers wore it.
Log cabins were not built by Pilgrims, but by Swedish settlers in 1638.
The hair of the women would be pinned up under the hat, not worn loose (definitely no bangs streaming out from under the cap, ugh!), while the common aprons are much too small.
The Pilgrims did not sail to America for religious freedom. They left England for freedom, but they went to Holland, not America. They left because the Dutch were a bad influence on their children, and because a truce during the 30 Years’ War might expire soon.
Buckles are dished out liberally to our mythical Pilgrims, placed on hats (definitely not), waist belts (sometimes), and shoes (wrong). The Pilgrims did wear buckles on their shoulder belts.
Every man carried a dagger, and many had swords.
While the real Pilgrims wore doublets (like a jacket that only comes to one’s waist, with or without sleeves) with coats on top, the mythical ones seem to wear coats exclusively.
The Indians to go with the inaccurate Pilgrims look as if they were pulled from the Wild West. The real Indians the Pilgrims met would have looked more like Mohawks.
The list could go on, but this article shows that the modern perception of Pilgrims is highly inaccurate.
Much of the information on myths is taken from The Thanksgiving Primer. The blunderbuss and matchlock photos courtesy of www.militaryheritage.com, hats from the collection of Aidan Jachim.