Misspelling with the Pilgrims

By Jack Sheedy

Thomas J. McSheey found it quite ironic that one of the most commonly misspelled words in the English language is “misspell.” It made him chuckle for hours on end. That and the philosophical question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” He felt the answer to this question was actually a paradox of sorts, as he believed they both came at the same time, only they arrived in different taxis.

Some classic cases of misspelled words can be found in the annals of Plimoth Colony, during the glorious age of the Pilgrims – that being in the age before Noah Webster. In fact, the word “Plimoth” itself was a misspelling of Plymouth (for the English port city whence the Pilgrims sailed). A misspelling attributed to Governor William Bradford, no less. His journal, reprinted in book form under the title Of Plimoth Plantation, is littered with misspellings.

Here are some examples, reprinted from my social media page, wherein I attempt to promote my book, CAPE ODD, by showcasing some of its Pilgrim stories:


We jump to Chapter 8 of CAPE ODD, a chapter titled “Earthquakes, Waterspouts, and Meteorites.” When one thinks of earthquakes, California comes to mind. Not Cape Cod and Massachusetts. Yet, this region has experienced more than 2,000 tremors and tremblers over the years since the arrival of the Pilgrims. In fact, Governor William Bradford wrote in his journal in 1638 of an earthquake which occurred at Plymouth as follows (estimated at about a 6.5 magnitude based on reports from that time of it being felt throughout the northeast):

“This year, aboute ye 1 or 2 of June, was great & fearfull earthquake, it was in this place heard before it was felte. It came with a rumbling noyse, or low murmure, like unto remoate thunder; it came from ye norward & passed southward. As ye noyse approached nerer, they earth begane to shake, and came at length with that violence as caused platters, dishes & such like things as stoode upon shelves, to clatter & fall downe.”

As you can see, the Pilgrims had a liberal attitude toward spelling.


In Chapter 9 of CAPE ODD we provide some Pilgrim stories, including information on the longevity of some of those who arrived at Plymouth aboard the Mayflower. Governor William Bradford kept note of the goings on at the Colony in his journal.

Even though 50% of the Mayflower Pilgrims succumbed during that first winter, a number of those who survived went on to live long and productive lives. In fact, according to Bradford, as scribbled in his journal: “Of these 100 persons which came over in this first ship together, the greater halfe dyed in the generall mortality; and the most of them in 2 or three months time … of the old stock … there are yet living this present year, 1650, nere 30 persons.”

So, of the 50-ish who survived that first winter, nearly 30 were still alive 30 years later.

Of course, 30 years had still not improved their spelling.

Next, we’ll discuss Mary (Cushman) Allerton, the last surviving Mayflower Pilgrim … who still operates a gift shop down by the Rock.


The Pilgrims were a hardy group indeed. Of those who survived the first winter, a good number lived long lives, as we mention in Chapter 9 of CAPE ODD. Within the pages of William Bradford’s journal, penned by someone else years after his death (in 1657), it reads: “Twelfe persons liveing of the old stock this present yeare, 1679.”

So, of those who came over on the Mayflower (the old stock), and who survived the first winter, about a quarter of them were still alive 60 years later. That’s astounding! And that’s without taking a multivitamin each morning.

Journal notes continue eleven years later with: “Two persons liveing that came over in the first shipe 1620, this present yeare, 1690. Resolved White and Mary Chusman (Cushman), the daughter of Mr. Allerton.”

A final entry tells of the final Mayflower Pilgrim: “Mary Cushman is still living, this present year, 1698.”

The most amazing thing, besides Mary Cushman surviving into her eighties in 17th century Plymouth, and without an HMO mind you, is that it took until nearly the end of the century before the Pilgrims could correctly spell the words “living” and “year.”


We conclude our look at the longevity of the Pilgrims with a bit about Mary Cushman, who came across on the Mayflower at around age four and who lived into her mid-eighties. A remarkable feat, given that average life expectancy in those days was about forty!

From our book, CAPE ODD, Chapter 9: “Mary Cushman was born Mary Allerton around 1616, making her quite young during the Mayflower voyage which she made with her father, Isaac, and her mother, Mary, and her two siblings, Bartholomew and Remember.”

Who could forget Remember?

Continuing: “Mary later married Thomas Cushman, who arrived in Plymouth in 1621 aboard the (ship) Fortune. Cushman was a teenager when he arrived and was left in (William) Bradford’s care as the boy’s father, Robert, headed back to England on business, where he later died...Thomas and Mary were married in either 1635 or ’36, and ‘hath 4 children’ in 1650 according to Bradford. Thomas died in 1691, in his eighties, while Mary Cushman passed in 1699, also in her eighties, as the last living Mayflower Pilgrim.”

In an interview, conducted at a Plymouth rest home near the end of her life, she said of the historic Mayflower voyage, “It was all quite scary. We struck the iceberg at 11:40 pm and the great ship sank around 2:20 in the morning. A terrible tragedy. Terrible … Oh wait, I’m sorry, that wasn’t the Mayflower. That was the Titanic!”

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and to all a good night!

Jack Sheedy, the author of six books about Cape Cod, and of hundreds of articles in newspapers, magazines, electronic and other media sources, can trace his family to Plymouth, Massachusetts … but that’s the last he’s seen of them.

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