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by Patricia Scott Deetz and James Deetz

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I - Platform for Ordnance built on the hill, 1620


December 28, 1620 - Edward Winslow and William Bradford


Thursday, the 28th December, so many as could went to work on the hill where we purposed to build our platform for our ordnance, and which doth command all the plain and the bay, and from whence we may see far into the sea, and might be easier impaled, having two rows of houses and a fair street. 


"A Relation or Journal of the Proceedings of the Plantation settled at Plymouth in New England," attributed to Edward Winslow and William Bradford. In Dwight B. Heath (Ed.), Mourt's Relation (London 1622), (Bedford, Mass, Applewood, 1963), p. 42.


Friday, January 16, 1621


[After a report that there were twelve Indians marching toward the plantation, and they saw a great fire which they made that night, and also had tools stolen in the woods by the Indians] This coming of the savages gave us occasion to keep more strict watch, and to make our pieces and furniture ready, which by the moisture and rain were out of temper.

Ibid., p. 49


Saturday, January 17, 1621


After hearing "noise of a great many more [savages] behind the hill [over against our plantation], This caused us to plant our great ordnance in places most convenient.



Wednesday, February 21, 1621


. . . the master came on shore with many of his sailors, and brought with him one of the great pieces, called a minion [a cannon with 33 inch bore, firing 2 lb shot], and helped us to draw it up the hill, with another piece that lay on shore, and mounted them, and a saller [a misprint for saker, a cannon with 4 inch bore, firing a six pound shot], and two bases [small cannons with 13 inch bore, firing 2lb shot].

Ibid., p. 50


22 March 1621 


Peace Treaty made with Massasoit, chief Sachem of the Wampanoag.

Ibid., pp. 55-59


     II - Town impaled, February-March 1622


In November 1621, the Fortune arrived with thirty-five new colonists, plus Robert Cushman who returned to England a month later. They found only fifty of the original passengers on the Mayflower had survived, so numbers in the colony now increased to eighty-five. Twenty-one of the remaining Mayflower passengers were men, and there were six young adult males, plus twenty-six men who came on the Fortune, effectively fifty-three men who could have been involved in building the palisade to fortify the town.


Richard M. Candee, in his "A Documentary History of Plymouth Colony Architecture, 1620-1700," refers to a description in the Plymouth Town Records, MSS., vol. I, p. 146, in the office of the Plymouth Town Clerk, in which there is a description "later in the century" of a palisade such as the one built around the town in 1622. It "was made of sharpened pales 102 feet long, buried 22 feet in the ground, and backed two against a third, and set >against a post and a Raile" (Old-Time New England, vol. 59, no. 3, 1969, pp. 63 and note 23, p. 70).


December 1621/January 1622? - William Bradford


Soon after the ship's departure [the Fortune, which sailed from Plymouth on 13 December 1621, according to Captain John Smith in New Englands Trials (Barbour), vol. 1, p. 430], that great people of the Narragansetts, in a braving manner, sent a messenger unto them with a bundle of arrows tied about with a great snake skin, which their interpreters told them was a threatening and a challenge . . .


But this made them the more carefully to look to themselves, so as they agreed to enclose their dwellings with a good strong pale, and make flankers in convenient places with gates to shut, which were every night locked, and a watch kept; and when need required, there was also warding in the daytime. And the company was by the Captain's and the Governor's advice divided into four squadrons, and everyone had their quarter appointed them unto which they were to repair upon any sudden alarm. And if there should be any cry of fire, a company were appointed for a guard, with muskets, whilst others quenched the same, to prevent Indian treachery. This was accomplished very cheerfully, and the town impaled round by the beginning of March, in which every family had a pretty garden plot secured.


William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, Samuel Eliot Morison, (Ed.), (New York: Knopf, 1952), p. 97.


February 1622 - Edward Winslow [Marginal date]


In the mean time, knowing our own weakness, notwithstanding our high words and lofty looks towards them, and still lying open to all casualty, having as yet (under God) no other defence than our arms, we thought it most needful to impale our town; which with all expedition we accomplished in the month of February, and some few days, taking in the top of the hill under which our town is seated; making four bulwarks or jetties without the ordinary circuit of the pale, from whence we could defend the whole town; in three whereof are gates, and the fourth in time to be.            


Edward Winslow, Good Newes from New England (London 1624). In Alexander Young, Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers of  the Colony of Plymouth from 1602 to 1625 (Boston: Little and Brown, 1841), p. 284.


February, 1622 - Thomas Prince, based on William Bradford


This [the threat from the Narragansett] makes us more carefully to look to ourselves, and agree to enclose our dwellings with strong pales, flankers, gates. February [1622]. We impale our town, taking in the top of the hill under which our town is seated, make four bulwarks or jetties, whence we can defend the whole town; in three whereof are gates, which are locked every night; a watch and ward kept in the day. The Governor and Captain divide the Company into four squadrons with commanders; every one his quarter assigned to repair to, in any alarm. And if there be a cry of "Fire!" a company is appointed for a guard, with muskets, while others quench it, to prevent treachery.


Thomas Prince, A Chronological History of New-England, in the form of Annals (Boston, N.E., 1736) (Edinburgh, Private printing, 1887-88), vol. 3, p. 53.


Beginning of March [1622]


By this time our town is impaled; enclosing a garden for every family.

Ibid., p. 55


March 1622 - Edward Winslow [Marginal date]


Following a discussion as to whether or not it was the right time to send an expedition to trade with the Massachusetts


[We] came to this conclusion; that as hitherto, upon all occasions between them and us, we had ever manifested undaunted courage and resolution, so it would not now stand with our safety to mew up ourselves in our new-enclosed town . . .

Winslow, Good Newes., p. 286.


               III - Building of the Fort, June 1622 - March 1623



The deaths of 347 English settlers in Virginia on March 22, 1622, that took place during the uprising of the Powhattan under the leadership of Opechancanough, have been believed to be the reason for the building of the fort at Plymouth. It seems clear, though, that it was the threat of attack from the Narragansett and the Wampanoag which was the initial motivation for building the fort, strongly reinforced by the news from Jamestown. It is not clear as to when the letter from Captain John Huddleston, warning the Plymouth colonists of the massacre, was received. All we know is that it arrived "amidst these straits" (the arrival of Weston's sixty settlers at the end of July and early August 1622, and increasing famine), via a "boat which came from the eastward . . . from a stranger of whose name they had never heard before, being a captain of a ship come there a-fishing." Bradford then reprints the letter, from John Huddleston, whom Morison notes was master of the Bona Nova of 200 tons. Huddleston gave the Plymouth settlers warning of the massacre by Indians which had taken place in Virginia of 400 English. Winslow was sent to meet Huddleston with a letter of appreciation from the Governor, and to ask for any food supplies which he could spare, and Huddleston provided what he could. It was not a great deal, and was given out as daily rations, but it sustained them until harvest, giving the inhabitants a quarter of a pound of bread per day per person, supplemented by whatever else they could get.


This summer they built a fort with good timber, both strong and comely, which was of good defense, made with a flat roof and battlements, on which their ordnance were mounted, and where they kept constant watch, especially in time of danger. It served them also for a meeting house and was fitted accordingly for that use. It was a great work for them in this weakness and time of wants, but the danger of the time required it; and both the continual rumors of the fears from the Indians here, especially the Narragansetts, and also the hearing of that great massacre in Virginia, made all hands willing to dispatch the same.

Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, p.111



June 1622 - Edward Winslow [Marginal date]

Winslow puts the start of the fort in June 1622. This was before the arrival of the Charity and the Swan in late July and early August with Weston's sixty "lusty" men on board, who spent the summer in Plymouth. Phineas Pratt and six others of Weston's colonists, sent on ahead, arrived in Plymouth on a shallop from the Sparrow, with three seamen on May 31, 1622. After escorting Winslow and others to the Sparrow in the hope of obtaining some food for the colony, it has been thought that the seven returned and remained in Plymouth until the Charity and Swan arrived and the search for a suitable site for a colony began in earnest. Finally all Weston's settlers moved to Wessagusset or Weymouth at the end of the summer, after causing the Plymouth colonists considerable trouble. It is doubtful as to whether any of the sixty assisted in building the fort, although it is possible that Pratt and his six companions could have done so before the arrival of the two ships, increasing the number available to build the fort to sixty. Pratt evidently formed close ties with the town, returning in March 1623 to warn them of the intention of the Indians to massacre them after wiping out the Wessagusset settlement.


In the time of these straits, indeed before my going to Munhiggen [Monhegan], the Indians began again to cast forth many insulting speeches, glorying in our weakness, and giving out how easy it would be ere long to cut us off. Now also Massassowat {Massasoit] seemed to frown on us, and neither came or sent to us as formerly. These things occasioned further thoughts of fortification. And whereas we have a hill called the Mount, enclosed within our pale, under which our town is seated, we resolved to erect a fort thereon; from whence a few might easily secure the town from any assault the Indians can make, whilst the rest might be employed as occasion served. This work was begun with great eagerness, and with the approbation of all men, hoping that this being once finished, and a continual guard there kept, it would utterly discourage the savages from having any hopes or thoughts of rising against us. And though it took the greatest part of our strength from dressing our corn, yet, life being continued, we hoped God would raise some means in stead thereof for our further preservation.

Winslow, Good Newes, p. 295.


August 1622


The Discovery stopped at Plymouth sometime in August, 1622. It carried John Pory as a passenger en route to England from Virginia, at the end of his three-year term as Secretary to the Governor and Council of Virginia. There is no date given for when the ship called at Plymouth, but Pory wrote to Governor Bradford after leaving, in a letter dated August 28, 1622 (Bradford, p.113), so his visit would have been after the town was enclosed by a palisade, but before the fort was completed, and so although the Southampton letter was written some months later, it refers to some time in the summer of 1622. Pory's description of Plymouth, from which this excerpt is taken, is the first of three written by visitors to the new settlement that have survived. A fourth was published by Captain John Smith in 1624, based on a description by someone other than himself. Smith was familiar with Plymouth as it was prior to the settlers arrival in 1620, as he visited it briefly on his voyage of exploration around the coast in 1614. He did not, however, return to New England after his departure and the publication of his discoveries in 1616, despite considerable efforts made to do so, including offering his services to the Leiden leaders. They chose instead to hire Captain Myles Standish and make use of Smith's published maps.


January 13, 1623 - John Pory to the Earl of Southampton


Now concerning the quality of the people . . . their industry as well appeareth by their building, as by a substantial palisado about their [town] of 2700 foot in compass, stronger than I have seen any in Virginia, and lastly by a blockhouse which they have erected in the highest place of the town to mount their ordnance upon, from whence they may command all the harbour.


Three Visitors to Early Plymouth: Letters about the Pilgrim Settlement in New England during its First Seven Years, by John Pory, Emmanuel Altham, and Isaack de Rasieres. Sydney V. James, Jr. (Ed.), (Bedford, Mass.: Applewood, 1997), p. 11.



October, 1622 - Edward Winslow


Winslow mentions that Weston's larger ship, the Charity, returned to England at the end of September, 1622, leaving the Swan with his colony at Wessagusset for their use. The new colonists there wished to go into partnership with Plymouth to trade for corn, and twice Standish set out to travel with them, but violent storms prevented the Swan from proceeding, and then he became very ill. Winslow then refers to the impact which building the fort had upon the little community at Plymouth.


By reason whereof (our own wants being like to be now greater than formerly, partly because we were enforced to neglect our corn and spend much time in fortification, but especially because such havoc was made of that little we had, through the unjust and dishonest carriage of those people before mentioned [Weston's colonists], at our first entertainment of them,) our Governor [Bradford] in his own person supplied the Captain's place {that of Standish]; and in the month of November, again set forth, having Tisquantum for his interpreter and pilot . . .

Winslow, Good Newes, p. 300


March 1623 - Edward Winslow [Marginal date]


Now was our fort made fit for service, and some ordnance mounted; and though it may seem long work, it being ten months since it begun . . . amongst us divers seeing the work prove tedious, would have dissuaded from proceeding, flattering themselves with peace and security, and accounting it rather a work of superfluity and vainglory, than simple necessity.

Ibid., p. 335.


Less than a year after Pory wrote to the Earl of Southampton, his description was corroborated by Emmanuel Altham in a letter to his brother in September, 1623. Altham was one of the merchant adventurers who had invested in the New Plymouth Company, and Captain of the Little James, the pinnace which the Company sent to Plymouth for fish and fur trading.


September, 1623 - Emmanuel Altham to Sir Edward Altham,


. . . And now to come more nearer to that I intend to write of, and first of the situation of the place C I mean the plantation at Patuxet [Indian name for Plymouth]. It is well situated upon a high hill close unto the seaside, and very commodious for shipping to come unto them. In this plantation is about twenty houses, for or five of which are very fair and pleasant, and the rest (as time will serve) shall be made better. And this town is in such manner that it makes a great street between the houses, and at the upper end of the town there is a strong fort, both by nature and art, with six pieces of reasonable good artillery mounted thereon; in which fort is continual watch, so that no Indian can come near thereabouts but he is presently seen. This town is paled about with pale of eight foot long, or thereabouts, and in the pale are three great gates.

Three Visitors, p. 24


1624 - Captain John Smith,


In 1624, a description of Plymouth that includes references to its fortification was published by Captain John Smith. Although best known for his critical role in the development of the English colony at Jamestown, including his rescue by Pocahontas from execution at the hands of Chief Powhatan, John Smith was no stranger to New England. In fact, it was he who gave that name to the region. He first published the result of his 1614 explorations on land and coastal survey in his Description of New England (London, 1616). It includes a Map of New England which he had presented to Prince Charles, son of James I, "humbly entreating his Highnesse hee would please to change their barbarous names for such English, as posteritie might say Prince Charles was their God-father . . ." Among the twenty-nine places renamed was Accomack, which was given the new name of Plimoth by the Prince, later marked on the map as New Plimoth. The account that follows is from Smith's General History of Virginia, the Summer Isles and New England.


At New-Plimoth there is about 180 persons, some cattle and goats, but many swine and poultry, 32 dwelling houses, whereof 7 were burnt the last winter, and the value of five hundred pounds in other goods. The town is impaled about half a mile in compass. In the town upon a high mount they have a fort well built with wood, loam and stone, where is planted their ordnance; also a fair watchtower, partly framed, for the sentinel. . .


The Generall History of Virginia, the Somer Iles, and New England . . . In Philip L. Barbour (Ed.) The Complete Works of Captain John Smith (1580-1631) (Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press for The Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1986), vol. 2, p. 472.


ca. 1628 - Isaac de Rasieres to Samuel Blommaert


A fourth description of Plymouth in its early years comes to us from a letter written by Isaack de Rasieres, chief Trading Agent for the Dutch West India Company as well as Secretary to the Director-General of New Netherland, who visited Plymouth in 1627. His is the most detailed description of the four, and the part that refers to Plymouth's fortification is as follows:


New Plymouth lies on the slope of a hill stretching east towards the sea-coast, with a broad street about a cannon shot of 800 feet long, leading down the hill; with a [street] crossing in the middle, northwards to the rivulet and southwards to the land.[1] The houses are constructed of clapboards, with gardens also enclosed behind and at the sides with clapboards, so that their houses and courtyards are arranged in very good order, with a stockade against sudden attack; and at the ends of the streets there are three wooden gates. In the center, on the cross street, stands the Governor's house [Bradford], before which is a square stockade upon which four patereros are mounted, so as to enfilade the streets. Upon the hill they have a large square house with a flat roof, built of thick sawn planks stayed with oak beams, upon the top of which they have six cannon, which shoot iron balls of four and five pounds, and command the surrounding country. The lower part they use for their church, where they preach on Sundays and the usual holidays. . . .            

Three Visitors, pp. 75-76


This fort stood until 1634, when in March a building contract was drawn up with Thomas Boardman for the construction of a new fort, to be completed by the end of May 1635. See

The Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, edited by Nathaniel B. Shurtleff and David Pulsifer (William White, 1855-61; AMS Press, 1968), vol. 1, pp. 33-34.

[1] In the text published in Three Visitors to Early Plymouth, there is a footnote, #29, inserted at this point.  It reads: "He reverses the actual bearings; and the street first mentioned was longer, 1,150 feet. [J.F.J.]"  J.F.J. are the initials of J.F. Jameson, editor of Narratives of New Netherland, 1609-1664 in which de Rasieres' letter to Samuel Blommaert was first published in 1909.

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