Following in the footsteps of the Pilgrim Fathers and the First Nations People they met
We arrived finally in Plymouth …. Phew. For those of you (I would guess this is mainly for the benefit of our friends in the UK) who don’t know the significance of Plymouth, it was the landing place of the Pilgrim Fathers in December 1620. Actually, they first landed in what is now Province Town on Cape Cod. These people were farmers and what they found on Cape Cod; sand dunes (not good for crops), flat (not good for defending), unfriendly natives (not good for living long) and no water (not good at all), didn’t suit them. So, after 6 weeks they set off again and landed on the mainland and settled in what they called Plymouth, after the town from which they set out from. 102 Pilgrims had set out on the trip on board the Mayflower and by all accounts it was a tempestuous 66 day crossing – they had to turn back twice in the English Channel as the second ship due to make the crossing kept taking in water and was deemed not sea worthy (they eventually gave up on this ship and all crowded on to the one vessel). The first year for the Pilgrims was tough and about half of them died, but they were fortunate enough to set-up an alliance with the local Native Americans, the Wampanoag.
The Wampanoag Nation extended through what is now Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The leader of the Wampanoag tribes, Massasoit, decided an alliance with the English settlers would strengthen their position with respect to neighbouring Nations. The event of Thanksgiving was born out of one feast that occurred between the settlers and the Wampanoag. If it had not been for this alliance it is likely the Plymouth settlement would have floundered. Plymouth was not the first settlement in the US – this honour goes to Jamestown in Virginia – but at that time the nearest settlement was hundreds of miles south at the mouth of the Hudson River.
At Plymouth we went down to the waterfront, where there is a State Park. The two main exhibits here are the Mayflower II and Plymouth Rock. Mayflower II was built as a replica of the original Mayflower and made the journey from Plymouth, England to Plymouth, USA in 1957. This year was the 50th anniversary of the sailing and they were giving free entry to all those who are 50 in this year – unfortunately for Karen she was born 19 days too late so we had to pay for her entry. Never mind she’ll be getting senior discounts soon enough. The boat is a very impressive recreation and it is hard to believe that 102 passengers and 35 crew fitted into such a small space. On board were a number of interpretive staff to answer questions and also a number of people who were in role – they were dressed and acted as if they were in period and despite the taunts and trickery of the visitors they impressively did not slip from character.
After touring the Mayflower we went across to see the Plymouth Rock. Now, I don’t want to be insulting to my American friends but I was somewhat disappointed by the rock, or as Jack and Emily labelled it – Plymouth Pebble. En route we had to run the gauntlet of a very nice elderly gentleman offering pony and cart rides around Plymouth. I of course tried to avoid eye contact to prevent the embarrassment of not supporting this poor gentleman in his dotage. Of course such niceties do not extend to the rest of my family who stopped to pat the horse and engage the man in conversation. The man was a real sweetie (obviously trying to break my will of iron). He gave Karen (at no charge) a print of a picture a friend of his had done of Mother Theresa of Calcutta … we will obviously cherish this and mount it on our return to civilisation or if nothing else pass it to some friends as a present. He said he had also given this picture to Prince Andrew and the Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, when they took his carriage during a visit to Plymouth. Being polite they sent him a letter of thanks – we so far have slipped from these high standards of etiquette. Dragging ourselves away we went to see the aforementioned Plymouth Rock, around which they have built a large pillared monument over (I guess so you can find the rock). It is also in a cage – I guess to stop it escaping and running off to sea. The only distinguishing feature of the Rock (which is about 6ft x 4ft x 3ft) is that it has 1620 carved into. Plymouth Rock supposedly (although this is questioned by scholars) marks the landing spot of the Pilgrims.
Our next stop was Plimouth Plantation (this is how it is spelt). This is a great place to visit – the three main attractions are living museums; a Wompanpoag village, a Colonial village (supposedly Plymouth settlement in 1627) and a craftsman’s workshop.
The Wompanoag village is manned (and womaned) by members of the Wompanoag tribe – they are dressed traditionally but don’t try to play in the character of their 17th century descendents. They can talk about life as it was then but equally are pleased to discuss how they live today and what is happening within their Wompanoag Nation (there are about 5000 active members). It was very interesting to hear a wide range of views on subjects ranging from politics and the status of establishing a Wompanoag reservation to schooling and the reintroduction of their language. The buildings’ construction was similar to those of the Powhatan we saw in the Jamestown settlement museum in Virginia except they had used bark for the main material instead of reeds.
I found the Colonial settlement to be excellent – it felt a lot more genuine than the reconstruction in Jamestown. This was also manned but by people who were in character – virtually every house (and there were a dozen or more) had someone in it in character and you could have a great chat with them about the settlement, its people and what was going on in the world (although in 1627 this was largely a myopic perspective). We had a great time, and whilst it took Jack and Emily a little while to get into it (they at first wanted just to chase the chickens around – but some “gentle” persuasion coaxed them out of their pursuit) they really took to talking to the characters.
The final exhibit is the craft centre where they have craftsman working on materials for the other exhibits; such as furniture, textiles and pottery. You can watch them and quiz them on what they are working on. Emily was taken by someone fletching (making arrows) who appeared to be of native American descent. He taught Emily some moose calls – and for those who don’t know she loves moose. This relationship went well until he told her he hunted them.