Confessions of a 110-Year Old Pilgrim

 "If the great Captain of Plymouth is so very eager to wed me,
Why does he not come himself, and take the trouble to woo me?
If I am not worth the wooing, I surely am not worth the winning!"

Then John Alden began explaining and smoothing the matter,
Making it worse as he went, by saying the Captain was busy,
Had no time for such things;--such things! the words grating harshly,
Fell on the ear of Priscilla; and swift as a flash she made answer:
"Has he no time for such things, as you call it, before he is married,
Would he be likely to find it, or make it, after the wedding?" ...

... Any woman in Plymouth, nay, any woman in England,
Might be happy and proud to be called the wife of Miles Standish! 
But as he warmed and glowed, in his simple and eloquent language,
Quite forgetful of self, and full of the praise of his rival,
Archly the maiden smiled, and, with eyes overrunning with laughter,
Said, in a tremulous voice, "Why don't you speak for yourself, John?"
 

- excerpts from "The Courtship of Miles Standish" by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

priscilla_mullins_239"The Courtship of Miles Standish" is a rather lengthy, beautifully written, somewhat historically questionable, classic American poem telling of the Plimoth Plantation love triangle between Captain Miles Standish, John Alden, and the fair Pilgrim maiden Priscilla Mullins (on right).

If you remember the story, Standish asked Alden to propose marriage on his behalf to the beautiful Priscilla, whom both men were in love with. (In fact, one story suggests that Alden, who was a carpenter back in England, journeyed with the Pilgrims to the New World as a crewman on the Mayflower just to be near Priscilla - boy, talk about a crush!) Of course, Standish's plan backfired. Priscilla eventually wedded John Alden, in 1623.  They lived as a married couple for some 50 years, had 10 children, and their descendants include the poet Longfellow, Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, Orson Welles, and  Marilyn Monroe, among others.

Yet, what is not widely known is the story of the Plimoth Plantation love trapezoid, which involved Standish, Alden, Mullins, and another Pilgrim maiden, Bathsheba Higgins. In fact, Bathsheba, who was just 18 years old when she made the transatlantic crossing in 1620, lived to the ripe old age of 110 years to become the last surviving Mayflower Pilgrim.

Strangely, all record of Bathsheba being onboard the Mayflower, or of living at Plimoth Plantation, has somehow eluded the history books. Indeed, Governor William Bradford did not mention her even once in his journal of Plimoth Plantation, even though he made copious notes on all the other Pilgrims, their families, and their pets. Bradford even mentioned in his journal such mundane episodes as (for instance) the case of a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman who constantly pestered the residents of Plimoth until finally Captain Standish put him in the stocks and had the good citizens throw rotten vegetables at him. That encyclopedia salesman later moved on to New Amsterdam (New York), where he opened a bagel emporium.

So how was it that Miss Bathsheba Higgins fell through the cracks of history? Perhaps the following interview, conducted in 1712 at a Plymouth nursing home just months before her death, will shed some light on the subject of the forgotten Pilgrim maiden.

***** 

Reporter: "Today I am at the Plymouth Rock Nursing & Convalescent Home to speak with Miss Bathsheba Higgins, who at the age of 110 years old claims that she is the last surviving Mayflower Pilgrim. Hello, Miss Higgins."

Bathsheba: "It's Ms. Higgins! Hell, I didn't come all the way across the Atlantic Ocean and help start a colony in the New World to be called 'Miss.' I'm a liberated woman, you know!"

Reporter: "I'm very sorry ... Ms. Higgins ...Ms. Higgins, do you have time to answer a few questions for our Thanksgiving viewers?"

Bathsheba: "Well, okay. But you better make it quick, sonny. Bingo starts in five minutes!"

Reporter: "Great! You claim that you were one of the original Pilgrims who came to the New World in 1620. My first question is, how was the Atlantic crossing on board the Mayflower?"

Bathsheba: "It was terrible ... nothing like how it was described in the cruise brochure. I specifically told my travel agent I wanted an outside stateroom, preferably a suite, with a balcony. Instead, all the passengers and crew had to live and sleep together below decks, all 101 of us, in the throes of seasickness, men, women, children, all huddled together ... with livestock even! Terrible conditions!"

Reporter: "How about when you arrived in the New World? That must have been an exciting moment."

Bathsheba: "Exciting?! You've got to be kidding me?! We arrived hundreds of miles off course, well north of Virginia, along some Godforsaken sand spit with winter approaching. Heck, we didn't even have enough drinking water! And for food we had to steal corn from the Native Indians. Five-course meals, my eye!"

Reporter: "How about Plimoth Plantation? How did you like living there?"

Bathsheba: "Are you for real?! Haven't you ever opened a history book?! Half of us died during the first winter! There was inadequate shelter, no food, no drink, no room service whatsoever! It was horrible! I was told I had reservations at a four-star hotel and that all meals were included in the price! Travel agents! You can't trust them!"

Reporter: "Now, what of the rumors of a love trapezoid between you, John Alden, Miles Standish, and Priscilla Mullins?"

Bathsheba: (Laughing, as she remembers those early days.) "I wouldn't call it a trapezoid exactly ... definitely a polygon, perhaps even a parallelogram, but not a trapezoid ... Ha, ha, ha. Yes, there were some feelings there. Miles was a handsome, rugged man. While John was more cerebral and good-natured. But they were interested in Priscilla, who had them both wrapped around her little finger. I approached her one Sunday after church service in an effort to get her to choose one of them so I could have the other, but she called me a trollop. I thought she called me a scallop, which really sent me into a frenzy. I started throwing punches. Governor Bradford stepped in and broke up the fight. It wasn't too long after the trollop/scallop episode that I decided to leave Plimoth for New Amsterdam, where I met and married a nice fellow who ran a bagel franchise. It was a good life ... a good life ... a good life ..." (The 110-year old woman slowly nods off, a smile upon her Pilgrim face.)

Reporter: (Quietly, so not to wake the old woman.) "Well, that's all from here. Have a Happy Thanksgiving, folks."

Jack Sheedy

PS: The oft-misunderstood 20th century poet Thomas John McSheey penned a poem about the Pilgrim Bathsheba Higgins, entitled "The Scallop of Plymouth." An excerpt follows:

If the great Captain of Plymouth is not so very eager to wed me,

Why does he not at least order me a plate of scallops from the sea?

I like my scallops fresh and baked, with rice pilaf on the side,

And with a helping of coleslaw; but, alas, my travel agent lied!

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