By John M. Hunt, PhD
Myles Standish's second wife, who came to Plymouth on the Little James in 1623 to marry the widower Captain, visited many schools in the Philadelphia area this past March. Among them was the Valley Forge Elementary School on Walker Road, near historic Valley Forge. Here Marianne Kirby, a former teacher, playing Barbara Standish to a tee, talked informally with the students in Miss DePallo's fourth-grade class. At times she held them spellbound.
Her remarks ranged widely, pointing to differences between her way of life and that of the modern students. "Do you know where I come from?" she began. "Have you heard of Captain Myles Standish?" He husband, the source of much firsthand knowledge, told her that the Indians (also called "Naturals') use the Connecticut River as the English use a highway. "We start the calendar in March," she volunteered to the children, who seemed unaware of the fact. Did the children realize what would happen if the Separatists did not go to King James' church, the Church of England? They did indeed. The Separatists "would have to pay a fine," they shouted in unison. "In Holland," Barbara Standish explained, the Separatists "were becoming poor,' and their children, among the liberal Dutch, "were losing their ways." Her husband said that the Mayflower, on which he and other "First Comers" sailed, "was an old vessel, with about twenty years on her." They Mayflower passengers came at the worst time of year, and assumed, since they landed south of London, that the winter would be milder. Barbara Standish herself, sailing on the Little James, set out in May and reached Plymouth "in the dog days of August." When she arrived in the New World she was frankly amazed that people could drink the water there—"I like my beer," she said. She was surprised to hear that the modern students did not live in one-room cottages and that their mothers did not do the cooking outside. "Don't you lasses milk the goats?" she wondered. In any case they should eat deer, she offered them a tip: "My husband thinks it better to track down deer in the winter." (It had been illegal to hunt deer in England, of course.) Barbara Standish and her famous husband ate off pewter, though the children around them typically ate off "trenchers" made of wood. "All I eat is beef," she said, calling lobsters and clams "the meanest of God's blessings." (The boys take pigs to the shore and have them eat the lobsters!) "At night I'm frightened of wolves," she confided. Her husband killed a wolf once and gave her its tooth, a valuable remedy when rubbed against the cutting tooth of a youngster. The surgeon in town is Master (Samuel) Fuller—"he'll take out a tooth." On matters of hygiene and dress she was forthright. "I bathe when my body has a stink on it," she offered. "We keep our children in gowns until they are seven." "We put a pud on the heads of our children," she further noted, "so that they don't scramble their brains when they fall."
Barbara Standish concluded with some riddles. She thought that the modern children would receive them as eagerly as, in her experience, the colonial children did. She was right. Here is one: "what is it," she proposed, "that the first man makes but doesn't need, that thee second man buys but doesn't want, that the third man uses but doesn't know he is using?" Answer: a coffin. The third man is the dead man; the first man it the carpenter.
Barbara (———), who married Pilgrim Myles by 1624, is the mother of all the Standish children. Myles' first wife Rose, a passenger on the Mayflower, perished during the first winter in the colony. Rose could not have expressed Barbara's predilection for "beef," there being no cattle in Plymouth prior to 1623, the date of the so-called "Division of Cattle." Marianne Kirby interprets Barbara Standish according to the policy of "Plimoth Plantation," that is, exactly as she was in the year 1627.
When SMDPA Deputy Governor Steven Smith and his sister Judith Smith-Kressley attended Marianne Kirby's presentation the were watching, in effect, their own ancestor. Judith Smith-Kressley, member at large of our Board and chair of Education Committee, notes that this is the 5th year of SMDPA's full sponsorship of the Classroom Visitation Program. She calls it "a very successful program." She hopes that the Society will receive outside help in funding the program and will therefore be able to expand it beyond its present areas (Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Erie). She also hopes that members will offer lodging to the museum teachers during their visit.