Colonial House Picture of the colony
Meet the Colonists Behind the Scenes Interactive History Media Gallery
Behind the Scenes
Introduction Interview with the Executive Producer Colonial Life, Then and Now

The Native American Story
A Historian Awakens 1628
Religion on the Colony
The Longest Day
Building the Colony
Candid Camera
The Training
The Training
By Liz Lodge
Photo of Liz Lodge

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For many of the other practical training areas, it made sense to divide the training and trainees by gender. Women spent days learning about the daily life of a colonial housewife. Food historians Paula Marcoux and Kathleen Curtin led hands-on workshops in hearth cooking, roasting, bread making, pie making, dairying, and safe food handling. Jill Hall, Noel McGonigle, and Denise Lebica instructed the women in basic sewing and mending techniques as well as simple embroidery, while material culture specialist Maureen Richard offered household hints, from scouring brass to tightening bed ropes, for the 17th-century housewife. Little did the colonists know that seemingly benign discussions of period lighting sources and techniques foreshadowed impossibly dark, claustrophobic nights and daily concerns over shortage of candles.

The men spent much of their time with staff artisans Rick McKee, Mark Atchison, and Tom Gerhardt learning period woodcraft. The second day of training found all the men in the woods, felling trees and processing materials for fences and tool handles. Daily hands-on sessions included riving (splitting) wood for clapboards and fence pales, sawing lumber, basic house construction, digging, and fence building techniques. In many instances, the skills learned would be immediately applied to projects such as constructing animal fencing. The importance of other skills, sawing boards or riving clapboards, did not become evident until further into the project. In some cases, colonists applied their newly acquired 17th-century skills to some interesting 21st-century innovations -- creative oven building and loft configurations, to name a few.

The men also took to the seas and learned the rudiments of period fishing with maritime artisans John Reed and Peter Arenstam. Several of men had some intensive training in period boat handling -- they would have the use of one of Plimoth Plantation's smaller vessels, our 22-foot ship's boat, during their stay in the colony. All colonists had a chance to "disembark" a period ship, climbing down the side of Mayflower II into the shallop moored alongside her.

But life was not just academia and hard labor. John Kemp frequently led the group in 17th-century songs and psalms while, in the evening, Cindy Barber conducted beginning recorder, tabor, and pipe sessions for a few game colonists. And when Ruth and Mark Goodman arrived from England a few days before the end of spring training, dancing, singing, and sporting prevailed.

As training neared completion, we experienced mixed emotions -- from relief at having made it through training without divulging roles, colony location or upcoming scenarios to the colonists, to anxiety over whether or not we had adequately prepared them to respond to any number of situations. At the most basic level, how would they feel on that first night -- no matches, lights, dry firewood, or even easily accessible snacks? On a much more complex level, how would they respond to issues regarding the arrogance of colonization? We had, at the production team's request, not focused on colonization from the perspective of the indigenous people. First encounters with both Passamaquoddy and Wampanoag would occur in the colony rather than in a classroom and the manner in which colonists interacted with them would draw as much on 21st-century mindsets as on 17th-century worldview.

When we began to consider training the participants for COLONIAL HOUSE, the colonists were a list of names -- abstract people whom we viewed as more than a little crazy to actually try to live a 17th-century life for four months. We hoped that their experiences would provide us, from an experimental archaeology perspective, with an abundance of information about village life in colonial New England. By training's end, they had become friends whom we wished every success in a challenging and unprecedented adventure.

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