Due to medical issues (my thyroid cancer surgery and Debbie’s knee replacement) we had to cancel our summer RV travel plans and were resigned to spending the summer in Langhorne. However, we were finally able to “escape” to our family cottage on Cape Cod in early September.
Coincidentally, Dick’s 55th High School Reunion was being held during that time just 50 miles away in Plymouth, MA during the time we were planning to be on the Cape. While the reunion was great and gave us a chance to renew many old friendships, we also had a chance to visit the historic community of Plymouth where the Pilgrims landed just shy of 400 years ago and where, despite growing up in eastern Massachusetts and having summered on the Cape, we’d never visited!
Our first stop was the Mayflower II, a full-scale reproduction of the tall ship that brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth in 1620.
Despite having been aboard replicas of:
• The three ships, Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery;
which set sail from London on December 20, 1606, bound for Virginia carrying 105 passengers and 39 crew members on their four-month transatlantic voyage. The fleet reached the Virginia coast in late April and, after two weeks of inland waterway exploration, arrived at the selected Jamestown settlement site on May 13, 1607.
• The Beaver
from which 42 chests of British tea, weighing more than 92,000 pounds, were dumped into Boston Harbor on the night of December 16, 1773, an event whose impact was one of many leading to the Colonies declaring their Independence. An anecdote: it was not until 1835 did folks start referring to the event of December 16, 1773 as “The Boston Tea Party.” For the previous 62 years, the event had been called just what it obviously was, “The Destruction of The Tea.
• And, finally, the USS Constitution, the oldest ship in the Navy, aboard which I received my Navy commission.
Launched in Boston in 1797, the oldest commissioned warship afloat earned her nickname “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812 when she fought the British frigate HMS Guerriere. During this historic battle, cannonballs fired at USS Constitution appeared to bounce off, causing one of her crew to remark that her sides were made of iron. In fact, the durability of Constitution is attributed to a three-layer wooden sandwich of live oak and white oak from all across America. The ship’s copper fastenings were constructed by Paul Revere.
We were still amazed at small the living spaces were for the 102 passengers (including women and four children), the officers and crew which consisted of about 25–30 persons, bringing the total persons on board the Mayflower to approximately one hundred and thirty.
There were two deaths and two births during the 66 day, stormy voyage. On November 9, 1620 and several days of trying to sail south to their planned destination of the Colony of Virginia where they had already obtained permission from the Company of Merchant Adventurers to settle, strong winter seas forced them to return to the harbor at Cape Cod hook, well north of the intended area, where they anchored on November 11. To establish legal order and to quell increasing strife within the ranks, the settlers wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact after the ship dropped anchor at Cape Cod, in what is now Provincetown Harbor.
The ill-prepared settlers explored snow-covered areas in what is today Eastham and discovered an empty native village, now known as Corn Hill in Truro. The curious settlers dug up some artificially made mounds, some of which stored corn, while others were burial sites. Nathaniel Philbrick claims that the settlers stole the corn and looted and desecrated the graves, sparking friction with the locals. Philbrick goes on to say that, as they moved down the coast to what is now Eastham, they explored the area of Cape Cod for several weeks, looting and stealing native stores as they went. He then writes about how they decided to relocate to Plymouth after a difficult encounter with the local native, the Nausets, at First Encounter Beach, in December 1620.
During the winter, the passengers remained on board the Mayflower, suffering an outbreak of a contagious disease described as a mixture of scurvy, pneumonia and tuberculosis. When it ended, there were only 53 passengers, just over half, still alive. Likewise, half of the crew died as well. In the spring, they built huts ashore, and on March 21, 1621, the surviving passengers disembarked from the Mayflower.
Legend tells us that Plymouth Rock is the traditional site of disembarkation of William Bradford and the Mayflower Pilgrims who founded Plymouth Colony in 1620. It is an important symbol in American history.
When the Pilgrims arrived, they may or may not have stepped on Plymouth Rock. If they did, they never mention it in their letters and written accounts.
The stone itself is granite,
Believed to have come from a formation known as the Dedham granite which was formed about 608 million years ago and transported by a glacier to Plymouth about 20,000 years ago. Interestingly, the Dedham granite is found mostly in Africa, so it is surprising to consider that Plymouth Rock came from across the Atlantic just as the Pilgrims.
In any case, the Rock was much larger in 1620, but erosion by sea and wind has reduced it to a mere fraction of its former self. Nature did havoc to the Rock, but humans did worse, chipping off small pieces for patriotic souvenirs, taking large pieces to put on display to build patriotic fervor, even using it as part of a wharf at one time.
Half of the Rock was moved and put on display at Pilgrim Hall Museum from 1834 to 1867, but was then brought back to its present site. The top (visible) ⅓ of Plymouth Rock weighs approximately 4 tons while the buried bottom portion weighs roughly 6 tons.
Situated near the harbor are several memorials and monuments recognizing both the original settlers as well as more recent immigrants.
We next visited
founded in 1947, is a living history museum, that shows the original (circa 1627) settlement of the Plymouth Colony established in the 17th century by English colonists, some of whom later became known as Pilgrims.
Alongside the English Settlement is a re-creation of a Wampanoag home site, where modern Native People from a variety of nations explain and demonstrate how the Wampanoag’s ancestors lived and interacted with the settlers.
The following morning, up early to watch an incredible sunrise over Plymouth harbor.