J&D's Travelog



November 23, 2007

The Thanksgiving holiday was rapidly approaching, and we were thrilled to learn that D’s sister and young nieces were coming to visit. Not used to having little ones about the house, we needed to come up with a plan to keep them entertained. We had a little brainstorming session, but most everything was ruled out because of the cold weather. In the end, the decision was made for us – the girls wanted to see Pilgrims.

A portico was built around Plymouyh Rock to protect it from souvenir hunters.
The portico in Plymouth

Surprisingly, the rock is still exposed ot the tide.
Plymouth Rock

Artisans work with traditional tools and demonstrate techniques used by the colonists and Native Americans .
Artisans at Plimoth Plantation

This scale reporduction of the Mayflower was sailed from England to Plymouth in 1957.
The Mayflower II

Apparently "Native Amercains" is no longer an acceptable term.
Observing political correctness

Historical interpreters were on hand to answer questions about the colonists' way of life.
A lady Pilgrim

Food for the harvest feast was cooked  in the authentic 17th century manner - and tasted as such.
Our Thanksgiving feast

A Plymouth Thanksgiving

It was a cold yet sunny day as we headed down to Plymouth to find some Pilgrims. Plymouth is a relatively small town but draws crowds at this time of year as people gather to see Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower II. Some people claim to be slightly disappointed once they actually see Plymouth Rock, and while they didn’t come out and say it, the girls appeared to be less than wowed. It was just the first in a string of historical inaccuracies that we encountered which contradict what we hold as common knowledge. The Pilgrims actually made their first landfall near present-day Provincetown on Cape Cod, an event that is memorialized by a giant stone tower jutting into the sky. There’s an element of irony here to anyone familiar with Provincetown – but that’s another story. The Pilgrims considered carrying on to their original destination in Virginia but thought better of it. As they had no authority to set up a colony in this region, they drafted the Mayflower Compact, thereby establishing the rules by which the new colony would be governed. It wasn’t until after another five weeks of looking for a suitable site that the Pilgrims finally settled on a natural harbor they called Plymouth, after their original point of embarkation in England.

There are only two eyewitness accounts of the founding of the Plymouth Colony that survive, and neither mentions anything about landing on a great rock. In fact, the first recorded instance of the Plymouth Rock story can date the legend only as far back as the 18th century. Nevertheless, experts agree that the rock did exist as a large glacial boulder on the Plymouth waterfront when the Pilgrims arrived and no doubt served as a notable landmark. Despite its historical significance, the rock has been manhandled over the years. In the 18th century, the stone was broken in half while being moved to a more convenient location. The top half was displayed in the town square where souvenir hunters freely chipped off pieces. Another mishap during a move to a more secure location cracked the rock. Finally in 1880, it was moved back down to the waterfront and cemented together with the other half. A portico was built around it to protect it from harm and impart the feel of distinction that one of America’s oldest relics deserves.

We snapped some pictures of the girls with the rock in the foreground so they could show them to their classmates and then moved on to visit the boat. There are no detailed descriptions of the original Mayflower, but a replica typical of the period was created in the 1950s using traditional shipbuilding techniques and sailed from England to Plymouth. Our first impression of the ship was amazement that 102 passengers could be squeezed into such cramped quarters for the journey, given there was also livestock onboard. The exhibit guides were quite knowledgeable and pointed out to us that a second ship, the Speedwell, was deemed unseaworthy, meaning its passengers were also squeezed on to the Mayflower for the 65 day journey. Even today, the boat was getting a little crowded, and the girls were beginning to succumb to the chilly November ocean breeze. We refueled with some hot chocolate, and made our way to the main attraction.

A few miles out of town stands Plimoth Plantation, a re-creation of the original English colony as it appeared in 1627. The exhibit goes to great lengths to ensure that the story is told from the viewpoint of both cultures, and thus a few feet away from the English settlement is a Wampanoag encampment. As we were gathering our stuff from the car, our youngest niece pulled out her construction paper Indian headdress that she made in class. So we had an uncomfortable conversation to explain how some of the Native Americans might feel that it was offensive, but she wasn’t having any of it. Making and wearing these headdresses (and Pilgrim hats) was a school-sanctioned activity to celebrate the holiday. How could they be offensive? We agreed to adopt a wait-and-see approach, and this proved to be a prudent move as we encountered a sign instructing us of political correctness near the Wampanoag village on the Eel Pond shoreline. Interpreters representing a number of Native American tribes explain everything about 17th century life, including affairs with their European neighbors.

A hundred yards away, at the fortified English village, we finally found Pilgrims. The interpreters spoke in character and tended to the same chores of collecting firewood, cooking, and feeding the animals as the colonists of the day. Still the girls were not convinced. Where were the black suits with the white collars and the buckles on the hat? These people wore brown baggy clothes and spoke with a funny accent. Our nieces’ attention quickly turned to the farm animals that kept them entertained until dinner. The authentic 1627 harvest Thanksgiving dinner was to be the highlight of the evening. After a short wait that conveniently gave everyone time to visit the multitude of gift shops, we were escorted to our assigned spaces at the banquet table. We were joined by the Pilgrims who welcomed us to the feast and introduced our menu for the evening. Servers scampered around the room with several courses each of meat, vegetable, and desert. As was customary of the time, we dug in with only a spoon and our fingers to field greens, followed by turkey, stewed pumpkin, cabbage, fish, and various other dishes - no sign of stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, pumpkin pie, or even cranberry sauce. We appreciated the historical accuracy, but the lack of spices which we tend to take for granted in today’s cuisine, meant the food was tasted especially bland. Even the cheesecake, which came in the middle of the meal, was not sweet seeming more like a quiche than a cake. Meanwhile, the Pilgrims sang and took questions from the guests. It was an educational experience all around, even if it was for more than some of us had bargained.

native people from a number of tribes were available for questions.
At the Wampanoag encampment

Rather than carving, fires were used to hollow out canoes.
Boat making is demonstrated

Visitors were offered tastes, but not many seized the opportunity.
Some chilly natives prepare dinner

The English village at Plimoth Plantation.
The English village

Live entertainment took our minds off of the food.
Pilgrims regale diners with song

Colonists fortified their village despite an initially amicable realtionship with the native population.
The sun sets at Plimoth Plantation

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