The Plymouth Colony Archive Project
Times of Their Lives in Plymouth Colony

From the Cover to Paperback edition

Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony.
By James Deetz and Patricia Scott Deetz

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Who were the Pilgrims? Far from the somberly clad, stern, and righteous figures children learn about in school, many of the early settlers of Plymouth actually dressed in bright colors, drank heavily, and often got into trouble.

A surprising new look at America's founding fathers and mothers, The Times of Their Lives draws on a combination of historical archaeology and ethnographic studies to reveal what seventeenth century Plymouth was really like. Perhaps the world's foremost expert on the archaeology of Plymouth Colony, James Deetz has played a key role in the development of historical archaeology and is responsible for introducing an innovative interpretive program at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum in Plymouth. In The Times of Their Lives, the authors blow the dust off the dull, wooden figures of tradition and presents the people of Plymouth as vibrant individuals who lived out complex and colorful lives in a world profoundly different from our own.

Beginning with an eyewitness account of the first Thanksgiving, The Times of Their Lives offers a well-rounded, often startling portrait of Plymouth Colony that includes the legal system, religion, agricultural, family life, women's roles and gender issues, eating habits, alcohol use, sexual misconduct, domestic violence, suspicious deaths, and violent crimes. It also covers the life cycle, from childhood to adulthood to death. The result is an impeccably researched and highly imaginative work that shakes up our view of one of the most cherished myths of American history.

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James Deetz, Ph.D., held the position of Harrison Professor of Historical Archaeology at the University of Virginia, and taught at other universities during his career, including Harvard, Brown, and the University of California at Berkeley and Santa Barbara. For eleven years he was the Assistant Director of the museum at Plimoth Plantation, and he was more familiar with the physical legacy of Plymouth Colony than anyone else. He authored In Small Things Forgotten (Anchor, revised 1996) and Flowerdew Hundred (University Press of Virginia, 1993), which won the 1994 James Mooney Award in recognition of distinguished anthropological scholarship on the South and Southerners and the 1995 Distinguished Book Award of the Society of Colonial Wars, New York. Deetz was a member of the Jamestown Rediscovery Advisory Board and a Trustee of Plimoth Plantation. In 1999, he received the Hornblower Award in honor of his contributions toward the development and success of Plimoth Plantation. He passed away on November 25, 2000, with the satisfaction of having completed this new book on Plymouth Colony with his wife, Trish Scott Deetz.

the authors
The authors
Patricia Scott Deetz is a cultural historian with an M.A. in history from Rhodes University, South Africa. She worked with her husband as a member of the Research Faculty of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Virginia for several years, where she taught seminars on historical ethnography and the social history of Plymouth. Her research interests include a focus on vernacular architecture and domestic material culture in historic period settings. She is now a freelance writer and lives in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Cloth Edition
W H Freeman & Co.
351 pages
ISBN 0-7167-3830-9
List Price $24.95
Times of Their Lives
can be purchased from
book stores such as and
Barnes & Noble.
Paperback Edition
Anchor Books
Available Oct. 2001
ISBN 0-3857-2153-6
List Price $14.00

Praise for The Times of Their Lives

The Times of Their Lives has been the subject of media coverage and reviews on news radio programs in Boston and Charlottesville, the Glen Mitchell show on National Public Radio in Dallas, BBC Radio Devon, and articles in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, The Discovery Channel, and Archaeology Magazine, among others.

"No one is able better to interpret the material culture and lived history of the Pilgrims of Plymouth than James Deetz, and this book is the full harvest of his long and fruitful scholarship. Giving new life to an old myth, Deetz demonstrates that as far as Plymouth and the Pilgrims are concerned, the past is not what it used to be, and probably never was. Meticulous, generous, and irreverent, this work partakes of those same qualities that describe the career of one of America's foremost cultural anthropologists. He has written an instant classic."

  • Peter J. Gomes, Harvard University,
    former Librarian and President of the Pilgrim Society of Plymouth.

"With its riveting history and graceful prose, The Times of Their Lives will transport readers back to the seventeenth-century world of Plymouth, Massachusetts. At the same time the book urges us to consider the present, especially our tenacious hold on the nation's cherished Pilgrim myths. Thoughtful, provocative, creative, and inclusive, this book will engage any student of American history and culture. It's the next best thing to time travel."

  • Elizabeth Reis, Department of History, University of Oregon,
    author of Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England.

"There is no one who could possibly know more on a firsthand basis about life, love, and death at the 17th century American colony of Plymouth, Massachusetts than Jim Deetz. As an archaeologist, he has personally discovered the Plymouth colonists' day to day buried artifacts and, to explain their meaning, developed authentic and engaging living history programs for the thousands of yearly visitors to the Plymouth Colony museum. Add to that Deetz's meticulous journey through the vast store of 17th century personal and public records of the 17th century people of Plymouth, you arrive at a fresh, compelling, and entertaining story of the foundation and early development of a significant segment of early American society."

  • William M. Kelso, Director of Archaeology, Jamestown Rediscovery.

"The Times of Their Lives is required reading for anyone interested in ethnographic history. While keeping their eyes trained on the Plymouth Colony, James Deetz and Patricia Scott Deetz envision an exciting new kind of cultural history shaped by paths they cut through historical archaeology, anthropology, material culture, and social history. Readers already familiar with the rich interpretation in Jim's In Small Things Forgotten and Flowerdew Hundred should prepare themselves to be challenged and rewarded anew by this book. This time, the Deetzes have done it again!"

  • Robert Blair St. George, author of Conversing by Signs,
    and professor of history, University of Pennsylvania.

"Opening with a close reading of the documents, expanding through analysis of mute artifacts, closing with a consideration of the museum as a cultural setting, the wonderful new book on Plymouth by James Deetz and Patricia Scott Deetz merges perfectly the crafts of the historian, the archaeologist, and the anthropologist. If we could free the word myth from its connotations of untruth, and see it as the highest form of historical discourse, as that history most meaningful to people, then this book could be taken as a retelling for our age of one of the key myths of the American experience. Mythic in power, graceful in presentation, The Times of Their Lives, is a gift to the people, made by generous, skilled scholars."

  • Henry Glassie, Folklore Institute, Indiana University.

Additional Praise for the Deetzes' work: "I read In Small Things Forgotten as a graduate student and have never been able to look at artifacts -- or history -- in quite the same way. For my students it is still the first step."

  • Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Midwife's Tale.

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Tributes to Jim Deetz (1930-2000)

Last Modified: October 30, 2014

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Patricia Scott Deetz, Christopher Fennell
and J. Eric Deetz