Learning the Real Story of Plymouth MA

Published: July 26th 2012
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My New Home In The WoodsMy New Home In The WoodsMy New Home In The Woods

Indianhead Resort - Plymouth MA
My relocation from Sandwich MA to Plymouth MA on June 19, 2012 held a brand new curve ball. I knew the trip would be one of the shortest campground to campground journeys of my “professional tourist” career, but was dumbfounded when MapQuest calculated the route from Peters Pond RV Resort (Sandwich) to Indianhead Resort (Plymouth) at only 12.39 miles. Scratching my head in bewilderment, MapQuest rescued me from the threshold of a rubber room. To reach downtown Plymouth from Indianhead Resort, I would have to travel an additional 13.94 miles! It literally took longer on each end of the trip to make ready my travel trailer than it did to traverse the route. After set-up, my Pilgrim (the brand of my travel trailer) felt right at home in Plymouth.

Wednesday found me venturing back toward the Inner Cape Cod town of Chatham to take advantage of a rare open house at the Chatham Lighthouse. The lighthouse is on the grounds of the United States Coast Guard Lifeboat Station at Chatham and is still an active aid to navigation. The tours are conducted by the Coast Guard Auxiliary. For those who follow my blog, I talked about the Chatham Light originally having two towers. When rotation of the lighthouse beacons became mechanically possible in the early 1900s, the second Chatham tower became unnecessary, and the spare was moved to Eastham – former home of The Three Sisters. Chatham Lighthouse is, indeed, a physical twin to the Nauset Lighthouse in Eastham; but the history of the facility is markedly different.

As I stated earlier, Chatham also is a lifeboat station. During the night of February 18, 1952, the tanker Pendleton broke in half off the coast of Chatham during a fierce storm that generated sixty foot waves. Coast Guard Lifeboat CG 36500 responded from the Chatham fish pier amidst the adversity of darkness. On the way to the doomed tanker, the compass of the rescue boat was washed overboard. After reaching and rescuing 32 of the imperiled crewmen from the stern section of the ship, the Coast Guardsmen managed to find their way back to shore. The fete has been called the Mount Everest of rescue by the Coast Guard, and each of the four lifeboat crewmen was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal for their bravery. Unfortunately, the bow section along with the Captain and seven crewmen sank. The 'Pendleton' Rescue is interesting
Hazardous Shifting ShoalsHazardous Shifting ShoalsHazardous Shifting Shoals

Chatham Lighthouse - Chatham MA

As my group was preparing to descend the lighthouse tower, I thought I heard one of my fellow tourists respond to the query of a docent that he was from Rockford IL. Once on the ground, I approached him and he confirmed my information. Seeing the “Retired Firefighter” cap I was wearing, he told me his father (name) retired from the Rockford Fire Department. I replied that his dad had retired before I started my career but that his son had delivered the mail to the station where I was assigned at one point in the late 1970s. “That was me!” he exclaimed. The small world just got a little smaller. About my age, he was now retired from the U.S. Postal Service and was enjoying his Golden Years.

Of course, what brought me to Plymouth was the Pilgrim experience and its associated historical significance – like that makes me unique or something! (Actually, what brought me to Plymouth was the Dodge Ram, but the Pilgrim was in tow!) Oh, by the way, the passengers of the Mayflower referred to themselves as Puritans. The name Pilgrim was not applied to the Puritans until so used by Governor William Bradford in 1630 (ten years after the crossing of the Atlantic). Anyway, the 100-foot Mayflower departed Plymouth, England with 102 passengers and a crew of about 30 in September 1620. The Mayflower originally was bound for the mouth of the Hudson River in New York and land granted to the London Virginia Company in a patent from the British Crown. During the second month of the voyage, the ship was hit by strong storms and first sighted land at Cape Cod. After several days of trying to sail south to their planned destination, strong winter seas forced them to return to the safety of the Provincetown Harbor at Cape Cod. While at sea, there were two deaths, but this was just a precursor of what was to happen after their arrival in the New World when almost half the company would die during the first winter. For the life of me, I have never understood why anybody would embark on a two month voyage for New York in September. Maybe they planned to check in to a Best Eastern until spring!

Since the patent was not granted for Massachusetts, the colonists decided to establish their own government. The
Physically Unimpressive, Historically EnormousPhysically Unimpressive, Historically EnormousPhysically Unimpressive, Historically Enormous

Pilgrim Memorial State Park- Plymouth MA
Mayflower Compact was based on the settlers' allegiance to the king and was, in essence, a social contract in which the settlers consented to follow the compact's rules and regulations for the sake of the survival of the group. While exploring the Provincetown area, the Puritans happened upon and procured (either stole or “finders, keepers”) a stash of corn that had been stored for winter by the indigenous inhabitants of the Cape. Ya think that mighta ruffled an eagle feather or two? After finding no dependable source of drinking water after five weeks of exploration, the Mayflower pulled anchor and moved from Provincetown to Plymouth – with the corn, of course.

True to form for me, an initial stop was at the visitor center in downtown Plymouth. Based on my interests, the attendant gave me a suggested list of attractions to satisfy my historical appetite. Getting ahead of myself a little, parking is a challenge. Most of the on-street parking is metered with a two-hour limit. I found the best parking option to be a free lot near the Jenny Grist Mill. The five or six block walk to the waterfront is relatively level and passes along the gristmill
One Of The Few Cloudy Days Encountered During The Great AdventureOne Of The Few Cloudy Days Encountered During The Great AdventureOne Of The Few Cloudy Days Encountered During The Great Adventure

National Monument to the Forefathers - Plymouth MA
(and its requisite stream) and through a municipal park. There is also a free parking lot adjacent to Burial Hill when you visit that landmark.

After departing the visitor center, I took a familiarization drive around the historic district and stumbled upon the National Monument to the Forefathers. The 81-foot granite monument was dedicated in August 1889 and was, "Erected by a grateful people in remembrance of their labors, sacrifices and sufferings for the cause of civil and religious freedom." Atop the base, a statue of Faith points toward heaven with her foot on Plymouth Rock while figures of Liberty, Law, Education and Morality sit at her feet. Below each of the seated figures, three-dimensional “pictures” depict four significant events in Pilgrim history: the departure from Holland, the signing of the Mayflower Compact, the landing at Plymouth Rock and the treaty with Chief Massasoit. The shrine is a must see for Plymouth visitors and deserves at least thirty minutes to absorb the significance and to appreciate the craftsmanship and the art.

Plymouth is not an attraction “to do” but rather an experience to embrace. There is the only remaining house where a Mayflower passenger lived at some point – now a privately owned residence not open to the public. There are statues of Chief Massasoit, Governor Bradford, the Pilgrim Maiden, the Pilgrim Mother and Myles Standish. Plymouth Rock itself, Burial Hill, the Burial Hill monument to those who succumbed to the first winter and the aforementioned Forefather's Monument are there. Even the Pilgrim Memorial State Park is atypical. I’m sure there is a map somewhere that defines the boundaries, but the entire historic district echoes with the voices of our forefathers. There is much less “to do” than most tourist destinations, but there is an abundance of things to see and to contemplate. The Plymouth experience will cause pause to appreciate the struggles and sacrifices of ALL our predecessors.

Of the three attractions “I did” in Plymouth, two are traditional museums and one is a living museum. Pilgrim Hall Museum has a very academic air and is focused on telling “The Pilgrim Story” through original art, documents and artifacts. Built in 1824, Pilgrim Hall Museum is the oldest continuously–operating public museum in the U.S. and has an unmatched collection of Pilgrim possessions including William Bradford’s Bible, Myles Standish’s sword, the only portrait of a Pilgrim painted from
Preserving “The Pilgrim Story” Since 1824Preserving “The Pilgrim Story” Since 1824Preserving “The Pilgrim Story” Since 1824

Pilgrim Hall Museum - Plymouth MA
life (Edward Winslow), the cradle of Peregrine White (New England’s first–born of European descent), William Brewster’s “great chair” and the earliest sampler made in America (embroidered by the teenage daughter of Myles Standish).

Patents were charters to large areas of land granted to merchant entrepreneurs giving the permission of the King to start a settlement in the New World. In 1620, the Virginia Company was issued the (First) Peirce Patent for the land that was to be inhabited by the Pilgrims in the Virginia territory (which then included modern day New York). The First Peirce Patent was never effectuated because the Mayflower landed outside the bounds of the area described in the granting document. When the Mayflower returned to England in April 1621 and the sponsoring merchants learned that the Pilgrims had settled at Plymouth, they then obtained a patent that granted them the authority to settle the land in the Plymouth area. This Second Peirce Patent confirmed the Pilgrims’ settlement and governance of Plymouth. The Pilgrim Hall Museum possesses and displays the 1621 Second Peirce Patent as well as a subsequent 1630 Bradford Patent.

It is sobering to stand in front of a sword that made its
Did This Travel On The Mayflower?Did This Travel On The Mayflower?Did This Travel On The Mayflower?

Mayflower Society Museum - Plymouth MA
way to America on the Mayflower. The museum indeed is awesome; however, from a learning perspective I believe the museum web site is an equal to the bricks and mortar. The Pilgrim Story has biographies of many of the Pilgrims, has insight into the Mayflower Compact (the original document has disappeared and what we know of its wording is from the writings of William Bradford) and offers a dialogue about a single day with different names and two antithetical meanings: Thanksgiving and The National Day of Mourning. According to the web site, “The mission of Pilgrim Hall Museum is to protect and foster this heritage as a dynamic national resource.” Mission accomplished! By the way, photography is not allowed except for the stained glass in the lobby.

The other traditional museum, where photography is allowed, is the Mayflower Society Museum. The museum is housed in a spacious 1754 house built by Edward Winslow, the great-grandson of the third Governor of Plymouth Colony and subject of the aforementioned painting. Young Edward remained a Royalist and an outspoken supporter of the King when revolutionary fervor was rampant. After the British evacuated Boston, Winslow fled to New York. In his absence, his house was
Did this Belong To A Pilgrim?Did this Belong To A Pilgrim?Did this Belong To A Pilgrim?

Mayflower Society Museum - Plymouth MA
sold to pay off his debts. Ownership of the house changed several times through the years, and modifications reflected the new owners’ tastes and desires. In 1941, the house was purchased by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

It’s cool that the house was built by a Mayflower descendant, and it remains a neat house regardless of the modifications that were made; however, the artifacts make this attraction really appealing. Although the pieces are not one-of-a-kind-(like the William Bradford Bible), they certainly are one-of-a-few. My overall impression is that Mayflower Society Museum is oriented to the individuals who sailed on the Mayflower and to the descendants of those brave souls (there is a noteworthy genealogy library on site); whereas, the Pilgrim Hall Museum is more focused on the Pilgrims, their struggles, their creativity, their determination and their victories as a group. The museums are very different, and both are worthy of your time. I would suggest visiting the Pilgrim Hall Museum web site to gain background before your visit. I did not, but it surely would have enriched my experience.

The Plimoth (sic) Plantation has two outdoor living exhibits, a 17th-century English village and a Wampanoag native homesite.
Readying Timbers For A New BuildingReadying Timbers For A New BuildingReadying Timbers For A New Building

Plimoth Plantation - Plymouth MA
Inside, there is a craft center where 17th-century tools and techniques are used to build products needed in the village, a Family Discovery Station where children can learn and explore, a visitor center and, of course, a café and gift shop. Every “living historian” I encountered offered unprompted explanations of the “whats” and “whys” of the activity in which they were engaged and was totally receptive to questions from the audience. One young man was chopping another notch in a log (several notches already were completed). When I approached to take a picture, he took a break and, in his very understandable old English brogue, explained the technique. Notches are chopped to a certain depth at specific intervals along the length of the log so it can be “split cleanly” to form a supporting beam for a new “home” that will be built in the English village. At almost every turn, a “living historian” was engaged with a visitor whether in the English village, at the Wampanoag homesite or in the craft center.

An interesting and informative exhibit in the visitor center contrasted the meanings of the late-November, Thursday holiday as perceived by two different cultural groups. The Pilgrim
Thanksgiving EvisceratedThanksgiving EvisceratedThanksgiving Eviscerated

Plimoth Plantation - Plymouth MA
Progress began in 1921 as part of the celebration of Plymouth's 300th anniversary. The event re-enacts a colonial procession to church. The National Day of Mourning began in 1970 when Frank James and other leaders in the indigenous community wanted to "create awareness of the American Indian, to promote and show Indian unity and to present the Indian concept of the Pilgrims to the American public." Both events occur on the Plymouth waterfront on Thanksgiving Day.

What had begun as a New England regional holiday spread as the population grew and new territories were settled. Along the way, "The Pilgrim Story" evolved, and the archetypical Pilgrim embodied the complete set of "American values," including democracy and freedom. As thousands of immigrants sought out a better life in America, the mythical Pilgrim offered them a sense of a shared tradition and a connection to their newfound national identity. Locked in the throes of the Civil War, the first national Thanksgiving was proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863; but it was not until 1941 that federal legislation made the date of the holiday the fourth Thursday (and not always final Thursday) in November.

Okay, Paul Harvey, it’s time for
Getting The Kids InvolvedGetting The Kids InvolvedGetting The Kids Involved

Plimoth Plantation - Plymouth MA
the rest of the story. Remember the stores of corn the newcomers took while exploring the tip of Cape Cod? Well, that was just the beginning! The newcomers also brought diseases to which the natives had no immunity. Entire villages were obliterated and many more lost a large percentage of the populace. As more newcomers arrived, they began hunting and gathering in areas reserved for the natives to eke out a living. They then pushed deeper into the natives’ lands to build colonial homes and, indeed, entire communities. The agreements were never renegotiated. Through the 1800s, native lands were lost from treaty, purchase and war. The bison were slaughtered, and the natives were herded onto reservations. Their way of life was decimated. Now, you know the rest of the story.

Well, okay, you already knew all of that, but it sure was easy to overlook and rationalize away – until The National Day of Mourning began in 1970. You might have known about kidnapping of natives for use as or for sale as slaves by the fishermen and explorers of the 1500s, but you probably didn’t know that the colonists documented in their own journals that they had entered
So You Want To Build A Fleet Of Dugout Canoes!So You Want To Build A Fleet Of Dugout Canoes!So You Want To Build A Fleet Of Dugout Canoes!

Plimoth Plantation - Plymouth MA
the houses of the natives and had dug up the graves of their dead during their explorations and, in both instances, had taken away "some of the best things." You might not have known that early colonist Edward Winslow never used the word Thanksgiving when he wrote the only known contemporary description of the 1621 harvest celebration or that the word Thanksgiving was not used to describe that event until some 220 years later when so used by Alexander Young in 1841, "This was the First Thanksgiving, the harvest festival of New England." In spite of the inaccurate basis for the holiday, I vote we keep it so the Lions and the Cowboys can continue playing football on the fourth Thursday of November!

Affiliated with Plimoth Plantation is Mayflower II. The replica is a treat for the kids and would be interesting for adults who have never been on a similar vessel; however, it is not as interesting nor is the crew as animated as the re-enactors at the Plimoth Plantation. The small additional cost of the combination ticket for both attractions makes skipping the Mayflower II quite a miserly deed. The admission fee for Plimoth Plantation allows access
The Cone Of Danger Cast From WNW To ESEThe Cone Of Danger Cast From WNW To ESEThe Cone Of Danger Cast From WNW To ESE

Nobska Point Lighthouse - Woods Hole MA
for two consecutive days; however, I doubt most visitors would need the second day unless one held some extensive dialogue with the re-enactors. Who knows? It’s only June and there may be a lot more demonstrations and interactive displays when the peak season finally arrives.

What brought me back to the Inner Cape Cod area on Saturday, June 23, 2012 was, what else, an open house at the Nobska Point Lighthouse in Woods Hole. The lighthouse is nice but doesn’t have the storied history of some nor the spectacular vistas of others but does hold one feature I have not seen before. In one area of Vineyard Sound (between the island of Martha’s Vineyard and the mainland), hazardous shoals exist. Passage on either side of these shoals is safe, but when mariners are in the danger area they see a red beacon emanating from the lighthouse instead of the normal white light. Red glass panes were installed in the beacon room of the tower and as the light revolves through this reddened glass area it emits this “red” warning light. The grounds are open daily, but the tower is only open during scheduled open houses. The former keeper’s dwelling
How The Warning Color Is AccomplishedHow The Warning Color Is AccomplishedHow The Warning Color Is Accomplished

Nobska Point Lighthouse - Woods Hole MA
is home to a U.S. Coast Guard commanding officer.

Woods Hole also is home to a plethora of governmental and private marine research and educational facilities. During my visit, two were accepting visitors - the Woods Hole Science Aquarium and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Exhibit Center. The aquarium began in 1875 when a group of biologists led by Spencer Baird moved into a shed that became the first research station in Woods Hole. Baird believed in the principle of public empowerment through knowledge and believed the public had the right to know about activities funded by tax dollars. Today, Woods Hole Science Aquarium continues Baird’s mission through education, research and conservation.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is the largest independent oceanographic research institution in the United States. The institute studies about a dozen ocean-related topics (each with sub-topics) including costal science, climate, hazards such as earthquakes and resulting tsunamis, ocean currents, ocean resources such as seafloor mining, the ocean’s floor including hydrothermal vents, marine life, natural oil seepage and underwater archaeology. The exhibit center touched on a variety of topics but the star of the show was the RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Titanic.

Both facilities I visited
A Female Lobster “In Berry” - Note The Eggs Under Her TailA Female Lobster “In Berry” - Note The Eggs Under Her TailA Female Lobster “In Berry” - Note The Eggs Under Her Tail

Woods Hole Science Aquarium - Woods Hole MA
are small but well done and interesting. The seal feeding at the aquarium was of particular interest as the non-releasable animals are rewarded for performing acts necessary for “domesticated” life such as tooth brushing and examination by the vet. Okay, there were a few tricks during some play time for mental stimulation. Both facilities are worthy of a visit. They are four or five blocks apart, and the essence of each should be absorbed in an hour or less – important because parking is at a premium and the metered street parking is good for only two hours. I understand there is public trolley service during the peak season. Woods Hole looks like a very interesting village, and I hope to return again – perhaps when I catch the ferry to travel to Martha’s Vineyard.

My week in Plymouth found me wandering away from Plymouth proper on two different days. A stop in Plymouth is almost a requirement for any visitor to east central Massachusetts, and there is plenty to keep the average tourist busy for two or three days but a week might be a bit much for most. The village is steeped in history but it doesn’t
Note The Herring Fish Ladder On The RightNote The Herring Fish Ladder On The RightNote The Herring Fish Ladder On The Right

Jenney Grist Mill & Jenney Park - Plymouth MA
really have an “I need to return some day” impact on me personally. I guess it lacks “seductive quaintness,” but those sorts of qualities “are in the eyes of the beholder.” There definitely is history in the land the Pilgrims discovered that cannot be duplicated anywhere else in the world.

Additional photos below
Photos: 44, Displayed: 35


Liberty Depicted – Along With Law, Education and MoralityLiberty Depicted – Along With Law, Education and Morality
Liberty Depicted – Along With Law, Education and Morality

National Monument to the Forefathers - Plymouth MA
Signing Of The Mayflower CompactSigning Of The Mayflower Compact
Signing Of The Mayflower Compact

National Monument to the Forefathers - Plymouth MA
Seat Of County Government Since 1820Seat Of County Government Since 1820
Seat Of County Government Since 1820

Plymouth County Courthouse - Plymouth MA

28th July 2012

Trusted Guide
How difficult it is to peel back the overlay of successive generations at a place like Plymouth. Those Pilgrims, who seem so familiar to us, are as foreign as a people living on some Asian isle. You're a trusted guide, Larry.
29th July 2012

A trusted guide!
Thanks, Tom. Coming from someone as knowledgeable as you, I consider that a real honor. I trust all is well at WILL and in the greater Silver City metro area. LOL Take care, and thanks for the comments you have taken time to write.

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