European Colonization of North America

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Upon arriving in the New World, what sensory sensations did  the Pilgrims experience that were distinct from the locations from which they came?

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The Pilgrims had already begun a protracted transition in the world long before they arrived in what would become Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in 1620 (the landing at Plymouth would occur shortly later).  By the time they set sail across the Atlantic Ocean -- during which time they would have experienced a considerable amount of sea spray and rough sailing -- they had already experienced the transition from their native England to Amsterdam in modern day Netherlands."  There is no question, though, that their arrival in the New World presaged a more radical transformation and one that would have involves new sensory experiences.

Arriving in the northeastern part of what eventually became the United States would not have presented as much of an olfactory or visual challenge as landing along the mid-Atlantic or southeastern coasts would have involved, but it was certainly a radical change.  Suddently finding themselves immersed among thousands of indigenous Wampanoag natives, the Pilgrims would have immediately have experienced visual and audio sensations unlike anything they had witnessed before.  This was land untouched by "modern" European settlers, and the sights and sounds associated with the native peoples and their customs and language would have been among the more notable sensory experiences.  One of the Pilgrims' leaders, William Bradford, bequethed to American history a wealth of observations on their arrival in Plymouth:

"But when we came, there was no house nor town, nor certain place we knew, where to sit down . . . Some forth were sent, to seek a place fitting, where we might harbor, and make our dwelling.  Butin a place where one cold night they lay, they were assaulted, about break of day, by these Indians, with great clamor loud, whose arrows fell, like to a dropping cloud."

So, right off the bat, the Pilgrims are experiencing the sights and sounds associated with attack from a mysterious and seemingly hostile presence.  Sight and sound were affected by the "great clamor loud" and the assault by "these Indians."  In addition, the birds and other wildlife present in that region would have presented new and unfamiliar sounds to the newly arrived immigrants.  When Bradford writes that "we were exposed to much cold and wet," it is a good indication that their sense of touch and of feeling was noticeably uncomfortable.

With regard to food, the first notable sensory sensation was that of maize, which Pilgrim scouts discovered among native structures, which provided the basis for the corn fields that would be planted.  Bradford, though, also writes of "Famine once we had, wanting corn and bread; But other things God gave us in the stead, as fish and grounbd-nuts, to supply our meat . . ."   Both England and Holland are maritime regions, with fish an major part of the daily diet.  That would have been similar to the new region, which was obviously also coastal and would have provided ample opportunities for fishing.  The corn seeds planted requiring months to mature, only already-harvested corn from the natives would have been immediately available.

Bradford spends considerable time in his journals describing the wide range of grains and vegetables that were grown, including "wheat and rye, barley, oats, beans, . . . parsnips, carrots, turnips . .  . onions, melons . . ." and so on.  Again, these all took time to plant, tend and harvest.  Initially culinary sensations were much more restricted to what was immediately available.

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