2009-11-25 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

Were there any dogs or cats on the Mayflower? Presumably so. When the Mayflower reached Massachusetts in 1620 there were 102 human passengers plus two dogs and several cats. Last week the American Kennel Club (AKC) sent out a press release announcing an English Springer Spaniel and a Mastiff made the voyage. Hmmm. This statement may be a bit too specific.

Most likely, the cats came along as nautical rodent control. But how do you verify the dogs? First you have to document that dogs got on the ship in England; then that they were present in New England. There are several primary sources about the Pilgrims. Although several reports say the dogs boarded in Southampton, England, I couldn’t find any mention of them in Of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford’s journal which chronicles the Pilgrims from 1608 in the Netherlands until 1847 in the New World. It doesn’t mean the dogs aren’t there. I may have missed them.

Only one primary source- Mourt’s Relation- cites these dogs in America. Mourt’s Relation is the earliest known eyewitness account of the Pilgrims’ saga up through November 1621 (the first Thanksgiving), written primarily by Edward Winslow, although the first section appears to be penned by Bradford. The book which once had a 70 word title was originally published in London in 1622. The digitalized version I perused belongs to Harvard College Library, an 1865 reprint still in Old English but with annotated footnotes and someone’s handwritten notes in the margins.

Besides providing companionship, in the first explorations of Cape Cod the dogs were quite helpful during that harsh 1620 winter ashore. On page 37 of Mourt’s Relation, the Pilgrims, while describing how they followed Indian tracks into wigwams and a graveyard, state that inside a tree they found “peeces of Venison, but we thought it fitter for the Dogs then for us.” The remark sounds as if they are referring to particular dogs.

These two dogs, or at least the Spaniel, belonged to John Goodman, one of the passengers seeking religious freedom. He set sail as a 25-year-old linen weaver. Many of the English expatriates had been forced to take up a cloth trade when they fled to Holland. Goodman traveled on the Mayflower without a wife or children, and supposedly died without any descendants. The date of his death is still disputed. Bradford says in his passenger log that Goodman died of a sickness right after the first winter, even though a “John Goodman” is listed on a 1623 division of land.

Peter Browne was the other Pilgrim mentioned in regard to the dogs. He was not a religious Separatist but came as a young carpenter with skills crucial to building the settlement. In 1633 Browne succumbed to an illness that spread through Plymouth Colony, survived by his second wife and three children. Both Goodman and Browne were signers of the Mayflower Compact.

Later in Mourt’s Relation, on January 12, Goodman and Browne got lost when they left the Plantation to gather thatch for roofing. A search party couldn’t find them. The missing Pilgrims “having a great Mastiffe bitch with them and a Spannell” [translation –Mastiff and Spaniel] strayed further into the woods as the dogs chased deer. Upon their safe return, the men recounted the tale of how they were forced to spend the cold, wet night up a tree because they thought they heard lions. They couldn’t climb too high, since they had to hold the Mastiff by the neck, “for shee would have beene gone to the Lyon”. The lions were probably wolves.

The excursion scarred Goodman, who had his shoes cut off his swollen frost-bitten feet. On January 19th he and the Spaniel ventured out again because he wanted “to use his lame feete”. This time two wolves pursued the Spaniel, and the poor dog ran between his legs for comfort. Goodman had no weapon, so he picked up a stick and threw it at them. The wolves ran off but not before “they sat both on their tayles, grinning at him.”

A Mastiff was certainly a breed possibility in 1620. Various Mastiffs have been around since ancient Babylonia. The Romans brought Mastiffs to England around 55 B. C. In the 15th century, English nobility used Mastiffs to scare hungry hunters off their property. No doubt the Plymouth Mastiff would take on a “lion” or the wolf.

On the other hand, Goodman’s dog was indeed a Spaniel but it’s a stretch for the AKC to claim he was an English Springer. Most believe Spaniels, the oldest of hunting dogs, came from Spain, but early on there were many Spaniel types with no consistency of size or color pattern. Back then Springers and Cockers were born in the same litter. At the start of the 19th century, that breed distinction was suggested to suit different hunting purposes. A Springer breed standard wasn’t adopted in England until 1902 or in the US until 1927, long after the wolves chased the Pilgrim’s Spaniel.

Sadly, the Mayflower was no Noah’s Ark. With only one of each breed on American soil, there was no way to continue the Mastiff or Spaniel pedigree. It would be interesting to learn if the Pilgrims accidentally bred “Muttiffs” our first designer dog.

On that note, according to legend and the tribesmen of Afghanistan, often considered the most ancientthe Afghan Hound (my breed) - was chosen to book a double stateroom on the Ark, although it remains unclear where Noah fit the grooming table.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: The pets there waiting do not have families with which to celebrate Thanksgiving, so we try to bring the holiday to them. Babylon Shelter is closed both Thursday and Friday this week. Shown with the Pilgrims, petite Nelly in Cage 34 is a brindle Whippet mix, timid but sweet. She has made progress but needs more TLC. Bewildered “Smitty” in C-5, doesn’t know the meaning of the word “eviction”. This 6-month-old orange kitten also has no idea why there is a turkey in his cage.

More Cats: “Winston & Penny” – the other eviction cats would love to stay together.

Male Dogs: “Pops” white Poodle; black Corgi Cage 3; silly Shepherd mix Cage 20; “Teddy” Retriever mix Cage 6; Beagle mix pup Cage 8.

Female Dogs: “Roxy” Cage 25 great family dog; “Hallie” patient Pit Cage 38.

Special thanks to the students at Deauville Gardens Elementary and their art teacher Ms. Scudlo for making posters to promote adoptions.

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