A visit to Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts today can give you a new appreciation for the hardships our forefathers faced in the name of religious freedom.
Every year when the leaves begin to turn crimson, orange, and yellow, our thoughts turn to Thanksgiving. From that popular feasting day, it's just one short mental hop to Pilgrims, those hearty souls we have to thank for that big turkey dinner with all the trimmings. To learn everything there is to know about our Pilgrim forefathers, Plymouth, Massachusetts is the place to be.
The Pilgrims began as a religious group who believed the only way to practice their religion was to separate from the Church of England. These "Separatists" centered around Scrooby, a village in the English Midlands. The congregation first moved to Amsterdam and in 1609 to the city of Leiden, in the more religiously tolerant Netherlands. The community began to move to America in 1620. The history books tell us the Mayflower landed after a grueling 65 days at sea on November 9, 1620.
In fact, the term "Pilgrims", referring to religious travelers, was not generally used to describe the early Plymouth colonists until the early 1800s.
Plymouth, now home to about 45,000 inhabitants, is located on the western shore of Cape Cod Bay, an hour south of Boston. Directly across the bay, at the tip of the raised arm of Cape Cod is Provincetown, site of the Pilgrims' first landing, before moving on to settle at Plymouth.
Every child in school learns about Plymouth Rock. Following in Pilgrim footsteps, you can visit the famous rock, now situated in a waterfront park in Plymouth. The visible portion of the rock is hardly larger than a standard coffee table, with the date 1620 cut into its surface. In past years, it was gouged by careless souvenir hunters and dragged around the city. The rock is today covered by a Greek-style temple. Whether the weary travelers landing in Plymouth actually set foot on the surface of this rock is debatable, but there's no disputing the historical importance this beloved symbol has come to represent. Perhaps it only seems small because our society has elevated this hunk of rather ordinary stone to such lofty heights.
Not far from the rock, the Mayflower II rests in harbor. Although no plan or picture of this ship remains, this reproduction is closely based on knowledge of the period. On board you can see certain areas of the ship set up as they would have been in 1620. Once a week there are demonstrations of maritime trades including carving, rigging, and tool making, among others. It's hard to imagine 102 people and two dogs crammed onto this relatively small ship. Courage and fortitude were clearly needed to face the long ordeal at sea. Constructed in England, this vessel sailed across the Atlantic in 1957 and is operated by Plymouth Plantation.
At Pilgrim Hall Museum, you'll see the baby's wicker cradle Susannah White brought to Plymouth aboard the Mayflower. Into it was tucked the first English child born in New England. A boy, called Peregrine White, whose name means "traveler" or "pilgrim”, was born shortly after the ship anchored in Provincetown Harbor. Susannah was one of three Pilgrim women who were pregnant when they set sail from England. Other artifacts owned by the pilgrims are on display at the museum, along with a portrait of Edward Winslow, the only known likeness of a Mayflower passenger, painted from life.
If you continue to wander around town, you can see several centuries-old houses with close ties to the first settlers, while Burial Hill contains the grave of Pilgrim John Howland, who died in 1673. The last of the passengers to die was Mary Allerton Cushman who survived until 1699.
Plymouth Plantation is located just outside of town and has enough activities to last a full day. Each year about a half million modern day adventurers come to visit this living history museum. In the pilgrim village, every day corresponds to a day in the year 1627 and the Colonists speak with 17th century dialects. Depending on the season, you'll see a garden being planted, cornfield tended, or the harvest brought in for storage.
Another section of Plymouth Plantation is Hobbamock's Homesite. Hobbamock was a Pokanoket Indian who acted as the Colony's interpreter, guid,e and advisor. He lived near the colonists from about 1621 until his death sometime before 1643.
At Plymouth Plantation is the Carriage House Crafts Center, a modern day exhibit where visitors see goods being made such as cloth, candles, furniture, and pottery. In truth, the pilgrims were far too busy building houses, farming, and doing what was necessary to survive to spend time making goods, so most of these things were imported or brought with them. For this reason, the making of these items is not represented in the 1627 Pilgrim Village. Items produced at the Carriage House are either used in the interpretive programs or offered for sale in the adjoining shop.