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

In the spring of 2003, 17 would-be colonists arrived at Plimoth Plantation for an intensive two-week training session, designed to prepare them for life in early 17th-century New England. From diverse backgrounds and locales, they cautiously began to explore a lifestyle that would be both physically and psychologically demanding as well as culturally foreign to many of them. As the days progressed, the colonists underwent subtle transformations. Muscles ached and blisters blossomed. Appearances changed as articles of period clothing (shoes, hose, an occasional hat) found their way into daily attire. Friendships developed and a sense of community took tenuous root. In the first week, the colonists were excited by learning about the period; by Day 10, they were straining at the bit to start living it.

For months, the COLONIAL HOUSE project kept many of us at Plimoth Plantation very busy, creating a colonial environment into which unsuspecting participants would soon arrive. Although the eight-part series would not be broadcast until May of 2004, work on the project began at the museum in late 2002. Staff built houses, a storehouse, and animal shelters on location in Maine. We made furnishings (including books, ceramics, furniture, textiles, and baskets) and prepared provisions (including 1,500 pounds of salted meat and 850 pounds of dried peas). We organized household necessities, planned and planted gardens, and provided expertise in answering literally hundreds of questions about the details of colonial life circa 1628. All of this was not entirely out of the ordinary for us; after all, we have long been in the field of recreating 17th-century immersion environments. What was unique and, for many of us, most interesting was the challenge of imparting, in one or two weeks, enough information to enable 26 "colonists" to live a 17th-century life for four months.

In May 2003 and again in July, Plimoth Plantation staff worked with COLONIAL HOUSE participants to prepare them for their 17th-century experience. Fledgling colonists explored everything from riving and hewing, starting a fire with flint and steel, and cooking over an open hearth, to 17th-century worldview on such issues as child-rearing, government, social hierarchy and servitude -- learning how an English colonist from 1628 experienced the world.

This worldview training was very similar to training we provide for our own museum role-players. Although we knew that the participants in COLONIAL HOUSE would not be role-playing -- assuming 17th-century identities -- they were expected to conform to the rules of a long-ago world that included ideas that were contrary to many modern notions. They were also going to be assigned the roles like governor, single man, servant, or widow. In the 17th-century colonial world, these roles (and gender and age) had a great effect on how one lived one's everyday life. Led by Carolyn Travers, John Kemp, and Lisa Whalen, the worldview discussions included "The Rhythm of the Colonial Day," "The English Protestant Reformation," "Colonial Economics and Government," "Family Life," "Domestic Order and Education," "English Preconceptions and Experience in the New World," and "Social Order, Servitude, and Gender Issues." These topics sound like a graduate level course work and many of the ideas were complex; but these concepts were critical to understanding the life they would be living for the next four months. What was considered immodest behavior? How did your "role" affect the work you had to do? What happened to people who chose to defy authority? The classes often involved very lively discussions, disputes, and debate -- giving us a good sense of the very interesting personalities and conflicts that would be part of COLONIAL HOUSE. With each passing day, as participants got their daily dose of 17th-century worldview, they became increasingly aware of the practical application of the teachings and the impending realities of assuming a particular 17th-century role.

Nevertheless, the majority of our time was devoted to the many practical daily life skills that the colonists would need in Maine. Everyone received training in some very basic information skills -- things like "Period Fire Techniques" (making tinder, starting and tending a fire, and avoiding setting the house on fire), "Know your Colonial Provisions" (an introduction to the very limited world of the colonial foodstuffs the colonists would be eating), "Farming" (how to grow corn in a blueberry barren!), "Keeping a Garden" (from turning muck heaps to discouraging pests), and "Basic Tool Handling" (basic skills including tool identification, safety, and sharpening).

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