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Wedding offers taste of Pilgrim life

Historical interpreters in action at the Plymouth museum.

Plimoth Plantation

Historical interpreters in action at the Plymouth museum.

When Robert met Mary, in the early 1620s, the marriage pool in Plimoth Colony was limited. The entire population was around 200, and single men greatly outnumbered the women. So Robert Bart­lett, who arrived in Plimouth in 1623, possibly on the same ship that brought Mary Warren, was a fortunate fellow to win the hand of young Mary.

Plimoth Plantation will reenact their nuptials in an all-day event Saturday at the living museum of the Pilgrims in Plymouth. As part of the Warren-Bartlett Pilgrim Wedding, visitors to the plantation will be taught simple country dances and songs in the morning to help them join the celebration after the 2 p.m. ceremony.

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While the bride and groom are off stage, preparing to don their finest period attire, their neighbors will be making floral bouquets and garlands to brighten the scene, working on those simple dance routines (link hands, go around a circle), making salads from their gardens — Pilgrims “ate locally” as a matter of course — and cooking “feasting meats” for the wedding meal.

Governor William Bradford will administer the wedding vows, and the festivities — a rare break from the Pilgrims’ rigorous routine, ordinarily limited to work and worship — will continue until evening.

Possibly trained as a cooper in England, Bartlett arrived in Plimoth at a time when the colony was so lightly populated that the arrival of two ships that summer doubled its numbers.

“He came as a servant,” said Cate O’Neill, the manager of historical interpretation in the museum’s Pilgrim Village. Newcomers were drawn to the colony because the company licensed to develop it owned land, and a hard-working settler might be in line to get some, she said.

“Men came over on their own,” O’Neill said. “Women came attached to a family.” One consequence of a population with more men than women was relatively few weddings.

Mary’s father was Richard Warren, one of the Mayflower passengers who survived the first killing winter. He came alone, leaving his wife and children in England, and sent for them only when it was clear “they were going to make it,” O’Neill said. “Many plantations gave up after their first year.”

Richard Warren died a few years later, but his wife, Elizabeth, became a large landowner in the colony.

Despite their reputation for religious severity, the Pilgrims did not marry in a church ceremony, but in a civil ceremony presided over by the colony’s governor. Even back home, English law required a civil license and the reading of the banns (the announcement of an intention to wed), but people still clung to the idea of marrying in a church, and the Church of England performed liturgical marriage services. But the Pilgrims were Separatists who believed they had left the established church to follow their conscience.

“The Bible says nothing about marrying in a church,” O’Neill said. It’s the consent by the partners that matters. In the civil ceremony the pledge of commitment was the essential item. “You need the bit of paper under the law,” she said. “They give their pledge.”

Witnesses were also needed, she said, and in Plimoth everybody was likely to turn out for a rare diversion and to share a happy time.

“You had watched this girl grow up,” O’Neill said of the Colonists’ view of Warren, who was 17 or 18 at her wedding. “You’d come to wish them well.”

The plantation has reenacted their wedding before, though this year the event has been expanded to include the pre-ceremony preparations of food and flowers, and the dance lessons for visitors.

Historical interpreter Malka Benjamin, a Newton resident who has performed the role of the bride’s little sister in previous reenactments, gets to be the star of the event this time.

“Having been a child volunteer growing up in the English Village for many years, I’ve witnessed a lot of weddings, so it’s really exciting this year to be the bride myself,” Benjamin said recently. “It feels like a Pilgrim coming of age.”

Benjamin brings to her role what the plantation describes as a “spot-on 17th-century English dialect’’ that “transports audiences back in time.”

Alex Bandazian, who portrays Bart­lett, has tried to think his way into the head of a man he describes as “a somewhat enigmatic figure about whom relatively little is known . . . to understand his motivations for marrying Mary Warren, and for coming to the New World.” Bandazian came to Plimoth Plantation to work in the village’s blacksmith shop.

O’Neill said historical interpreters work hard to develop and internalize the world view of the characters they portray.

The world views of Bartlett and Warren must have aligned fairly closely, as it appears their union was successful. Robert and Mary had eight children, and the family lived on a farm on the Eel River, close to the site of present-day Plimoth Plantation. Both lived into their 70s. He died in 1676. She lived until 1683.

Behind the Scenes

Warren-Bartlett Pilgrim Wedding

Plimoth Plantation, 137 Warren Ave., Plymouth

Saturday, with ceremony at 2 p.m.

$25 adults; children 6-12, $15

www.plimoth.org

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@ gmail.com.

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