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By Carol Antoinette Peacock, Doris Ettlinger
ALBERT WHITMAN & Company Copyright © 2004 Carol Antoinette Peacock
All rights reserved.
My daughters discovered a cat playing at Plimoth Plantation, the wonderful living history museum of Pilgrim life in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Did cats come on the Mayflower, too, I wondered.
From my research, I learned that cats sailed with the Pilgrims to the New World. Here is the imagined story of one of them, a cat named Pounce.
Pounce's mistress, Faith Barrett, is based on the lives of real Pilgrim girls. There were eleven girls on the voyage, ranging in age from less than a year to sixteen or seventeen.
Squanto, who befriends Faith in this story, was a Wampanoag Native who lived with the Pilgrims during the first trying years. Without his help, the settlers might have perished. Squanto taught the Pilgrims, adults and children, skills they needed to survive in this new place.
Two brief accounts, written by the Pilgrims themselves, are all we know about what we now call the first Thanksgiving, which took place in the fall of 1621. Some scholars believe that rather than being invited to a harvest celebration, ninety Wampanoag and their leader, Chief Massasoit, arrived because they were alarmed by the sound of Pilgrims shooting wild fowl. Then they stayed to feast. We know that the gathering included games, shooting matches, and dancing and lasted for three days.
The Wampanoag often gave thanks for the Creator's bounty, both at ceremonies and in daily life. While there is no specific record in the Pilgrim accounts of a prayer given by their Native guests at the feast, it is possible that gratitude was formally expressed.
On a breezy September morning in 1620, a stray cat prowled the docks, hunting his breakfast. The cat spieda plump mouse. He pounced and missed. When the mouse escaped to a ship, the cat followed, landing on the ship's deck. The ship was called the Mayflower.
"A cat just jumped on our boat, Father!" Faith Barrett exclaimed as she waited with her family and the other passengers to sail.
"Every ship needs a few good mousers," said her father. "He'll catch the mice on board."
It was time to depart.
"Good-bye, England!" called Faith as the Mayflower set sail. The passengers were headed across the Atlantic, leaving all they loved behind. Faith's family and many others aboard were sailing to the New World so they could worship as they pleased.
At first, the weather was calm. Then the autumn storms came. One day The Mayflower began to pitch and roll. Faith's stomach reeled. She reached for a bucket and got sick.
Afterwards, Faith peered through the wooden grating over the "hold," where the food was stored. She looked down.
"The mouser!" she exclaimed.
The hungry cat was stalking a rat. Faith found some hard cheese that she had saved from supper and dropped it below. The cat batted the morsel with his paw. The he pounced.
"I shall name thee 'Pounce,'" she said.
After that, Faith looked for him, hunting alone or playing with the other cats. Every day, she fed him a piece of dried meat or fish from her own meal. Pounce began to wait for her.
When the storms had passed, families were allowed to go on deck. How good it was to breathe fresh air! Throwing back her head, Faith twirled around and around. Then dizzy, she looked at her feet.
"Pounce!" Faith said.
His eyes closed, his tiny face tilted upward, the cat was sun-ning himself nearby.
Faith scooped up the cat and brought him inside the ship.
"Thou art a beauty indeed!" she marveled.
"Oh, Pounce," said Faith, as she stroked his head. "This voyage is a trial! We are cold and so wet, even our blankets are soaked. We eat moldy cheese and biscuits filled with worms. And then the storms! I do fear we will perish at sea and never reach the New World."
Excerpted from Pilgrim Cat by Carol Antoinette Peacock, Doris Ettlinger. Copyright © 2004 Carol Antoinette Peacock. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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