Myths about Pilgrim's sexual attitudes

They were not as myth says incapable of pleasure. But they were very serious about putting God before secular fun. They placed primary importance on spiritual growth in fighting Satan and pleasing God. They had their faults but they were overall exemplary people with extremely high standards and very goal oriented but they enjoyed life, family and the marriage bed.

In the book Stepping Stones we read, "One of the canards hung on the Pilgrims was that they were opposed to sex and repressed it sternly.  Hardly an accurate reflection of fact.  They had large families.  Widowers and widows remarried quickly, sometimes within weeks after the death of a spouse. They did oppose and punish both illicit sex and perversion.  But they believed in normal sex."

Traditional Roles for Men and Women

In the book, A Little Commonwealth, we read, "We know in a general way that male dominance was an accepted principle all over the Western World in the seventeenth century.  The fundamental Puritan sentiment on this matter was expressed by Milton in a famous line in Paradise Lost: 'he for God only, she for God in him;' and there is no reason to suspect that the people of Plymouth would have put it any differently....Within the family the husband was always regarded as the 'head'".

The Pilgrim pastor John Robinson held a different view than most who held Eve to be the cause of the fall of man and therefore all women were suspect.  He "opposed any tendency to regard women as 'necessary evils' and greatly regretted the currency of such opinions among 'not only heathen poets ... but also wanton Christians.'  The Lord had created both man and woman of an equal perfection, and 'neither is she, since the creation more degenerated than he from the primitive goodness.'  Still, in marriage some principles of authority were essential, since 'differences will arise and be seen, and so the one must give way, and apply unto the other; this, God and nature layeth upon the woman, rather than upon the man.'  Hence the proper attitude of a wife towards her husband was 'a reverend subjection." America should restore these traditional views in their families.

Marriage was a very serious commitment.  Young people went through courtship with parental approval.  "Marriage came somewhat later than it does now and needed at the outset substantial gifts of property from both sets of parents."  Men usually did not gain positions of power and prestige until they were older.

Family functions

The book A Little Commonwealth explains that the Pilgrim family was central to the community and had many functions.  It was "first of all, a 'business' -- an absolutely central agency of economic production and exchange."

"The family was also a 'school' in which parents had the responsibility to teach their children 'at least to be able duely to read the Scriptures."

"The family was a 'vocational institute.'"  Young men were apprentices.

"The family was a 'church.'  ... Daily prayers and personal meditation formed an indispensable adjunct to the more formal devotions of a whole community."

"The family was a 'house of correction.'  Idle and even criminal persons were 'sentenced' by the Court to live as servants in the families of more reputable citizens.  The household seemed a natural setting both for imposing discipline and for encouraging some degree of character reformation."

"The family was a 'welfare institution'; in fact, it provided several different kinds of welfare service.  It was occasionally a 'hospital' ... an 'orphanage' ... an 'old people's home' ...  and it was a 'poorhouse' too."
Sunday service

They held their religious services in a one story fort, built of heavy oak timbers. Cannons were mounted on the roof, and a guard kept day and night. They had to divert some men from sowing the fields to build a fort. They had heard stories of Indian attacks and many settlers being killed.

In their services the men sat on one side of the room and the women on the other. One book says, "This custom of dividing the men and women, was called 'dignifying the meeting."

"Members of the congregation lived their daily lives according to strict rules of conduct which they called the Holy Discipline of Christ.  Their place of worship was always referred to as the 'meetinghouse' in order to distinguish it from the churches that the Saints so heartily disliked."

"Beginning at eight in the morning, on the Sabbath, the congregation stood up -- sometimes for an hour -- while the opening prayer was said.  Kneeling was never permitted, since it reminded the people too much of Catholicism and the Church of England."

"The Saints next heard a sermon, which usually lasted several hours. ... When the sermon ended, another song was sung, followed by communion."  Then they left for the noonday meal.

"In the second service, which began early in the afternoon, there was an opening prayer and a short sermon delivered by the pastor.  Then a general discussion, called 'prophecying,' began, in which the men might argue their opinions of  a text from the Bible.  The women remained modestly silent at all times, for they were not permitted to speak out at meeting."

"The bishops of England" mocked and laughed at how the Pilgrims had such long prayers and "frequent and farfetched sighs."  They even made fun of their short haircuts.

In the summer the air was stifling hot. Little fresh air came through the small windows. In the winter they wrapped themselves in extra shawls. The long benches they sat on had no backs to lean against. In the winter they shivered in the cold. They sang many songs and it lasted till five or six o'clock. Rev. Moon also divides men and women during his services and he often talks for hours without a lunch or dinner break.  Sometimes he speaks all day without stopping.  And often the members are sitting on hard floors, not comfortable chairs or even benches.  Members of the Unification Church also spend long hours on Sunday when Rev. Moon speaks.  He begins every Sunday at 5 a.m. and sometimes speaks all day without any break.  Not even to go to the bathroom or take lunch.  Some former members have written how hard it was and to them it now seems ridiculous that he does this.  But this is just another example of the fervency and urgency that pioneers feel.

During the Sunday service a man was assigned to make sure everyone paid attention – a physically enduring day. He stood at the back with a long birch rod in his hand. On one end was a squirrel’s tail and on the other a bone knob. If anyone fell asleep he tickled the person awake, and anyone who did not pay attention or misbehaved was rapped smartly with the hard bone knob.

The courage and strength of these young people are legendary. They are the most famous settlers of America. Today we call them the Pilgrim Fathers, but it is not realized by most that they were very young people.

Bradford writes movingly of how in the first few years men staggered in the street from hunger as they tried to work from morning till night, barely able to work in the corn fields which they depended on for their very lives.

Bradford wrote that the settlers were in rags, some of whom were "little better than half naked." When the newcomers arrived in late 1621, they were so horrified at the ragged condition of the Pilgrims that some "fell a-weeping." The English merchants kept sending people but no supplies. The Pilgrims were forced to go on half rations. They went three years without receiving desperately needed food, clothes and tools, but received extremely incredible difficulties because there were more people.

In 1624 the ship Charity arrived with supplies. The atmosphere of Plymouth was as happy as a modern day Christmas. They eagerly tore open the barrels and wooden chests, and exclaimed joyfully over seeing such things as new shoes and tools.