Pilgrim Memorial State Park
Pilgrim Memorial State Park comprises two monuments in Plymouth, Massachusetts: Plymouth Rock and the National Monument to the Forefathers. Closely related to these memorials is the Myles Standish Monument State Reservation which can be seen across the Plymouth Bay in Duxbury, Massachusetts. Owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, these sites are managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.
The Pilgrims believed in freedom of worship and called themselves Separatists. They were people of England who objected to paying the tax which supported the Church of England. To escape this tax, they left England and settled in Holland. After many years, the situation in Holland became unfavorable. The wool business was in decline, they lacked the rights of citizenship, and they foresaw war with Spain, a war in which their children would be expected to fight. Liquidating all their assets, they went back to England in the early 1600s and petitioned the crown for a charter to travel to the northern part of Virginia, the land in the New World which had been claimed for England. Provisioned to sail in July, the Pilgrims had commissioned a ship, the May Flower, and were aboard. They were awaiting the Speedwell, another ship that was journeying from Holland. However, the Speedwell was greatly delayed, and the Pilgrims spent two months on board the Mayflower waiting for it to arrive. The journey was interrupted three separate times, because the Speedwell sprung leaks and had to be repaired. After the third time, the Mayflower had to decide if they would make the journey alone. It was Christopher Jones, the ship's Master and quarter-owner, that made the decision to sail without the Speedwell. Leaving port in September, the Mayflower, with all 102 passengers and over 30 crew, encountered a stormy, cold Atlantic Ocean. The journey took 66 days, the Mayflower travelling at an average speed of under 2 miles per hour.
Sighting the tip of Cape Cod in late November, instead of the part of Virginia where their charter had assigned them, the Pilgrims were tired and weary. They had arrived so late that it they would be unlikely to find any food or be able to start a settlement because of the cold. They needed to find fresh water and a good place to settle as quickly as possible. Upon sighting land, the ship's carpenter assembled landing boats from premeasured boards that were stored in the ship's hold, which many of the Pilgrims had used as their beds. Two shallops were assembled, and an exploration party went ashore in what is today Provincetown, leaving the Mayflower anchored in the harbor. The explorers were disappointed, as they found no good source of fresh water, and an area that did not lend itself well to settlement. In December, staying anchored at Provincetown, the Mayflower sent one of the Shallops west towards Plymouth, because earlier maps by John Smith indicated that there was fresh water there and a good harbor. The other Shallop continued exploring the Cape, landing in what is now Wellfleet, Massachusetts and Truro, including a landing at First Encounter beach, which was the place of the first encounter with Native Americans, where the Pilgrims were chased away from a cache of corn by angry Natives...
As the other Shallop rowed eighteen miles across Cape Cod bay toward Plymouth, there was a problem with the rudder, and they landed at an island near the entrance to the harbor which became known as Clark's Island. It was Sunday, and so the Pilgrims held their worship services, and climbed to the highest point on the island as the rudder was being repaired. Looking about, they saw their future home. Plymouth's topography, created by glacial action, offered a source of fresh water, an area to settle, and a height of land naturally fortifiable, within a natural harbor, as well as a jutting glacial erratic boulder for natural landing from small boats. After exploring, the Shallop rowed back to the Mayflower, reporting what they had found. They decided to settle in Plymouth, and the Mayflower sailed to Plymouth harbor on December 21, 1620. The Mayflower had spent a total of five weeks at Provincetown, and four passengers had already died.
Once anchored, the passengers of the Mayflower faced the difficult prospect of trying to establish a settlement and survive in a hostile environment. The Pilgrims had chosen the area to settle which had a fresh water stream in a wide glacial valley and a large hill which would be easily fortifiable, rising right up out of sea level from one large rock. All of the Shallops that traveled to this new settlement needed a decent place to land, because if they had to wade in the cold December waters, they surely would have died of hypothermia. Fortunately, this one large glacial rock projected from the base of the hill onto the shore, and at high tide a Shallop could row next to this boulder and its passengers could step out onto it, staying dry. All throughout the first winter, the Pilgrims sheltered on The Mayflower, because it was too cold for everyone to get off the Mayflower and settle, and building was impossible. Malnutrition and exposure claimed the lives of half of the Pilgrims throughout that first winter. William Bradford refers to scurvy in his records. Many trips were made to shore during the winter months, primarily to bury the dead, gather fresh water, and harvest the trees that would provide the lumber to build a fort atop the hill. The large rock at the base of the hill had no real symbolic value at this time, but the Pilgrims undoubtedly saw it as a blessing from God, and it became a sure landmark for Shallops repeating the journey to the settlement all throughout the winter, as well as the passengers aboard the ship, desperately waiting for the day when they could land at the rock themselves...
The fort was finally finished in late March of 1621. By this time half of the Original Pilgrims had already died. This meant that those that had survived could all fit into the new fort for protection and shelter. So in early April the weary passengers of the Mayflower finally were able to disembark from the ship and land at the Rock. The fort was positioned on the south side of the hill, and was armed with two of the four cannons that the Mayflower had brought with it. This allowed the fort to both defend the source of fresh water and beginning gardens in the valley, and the fort commanded an 18-mile view over the water and land.
The Mayflower and crew sailed back to England in mid-April, but two of the crew members stayed. John Alden was the ship's cooper, and he married Pricilla Mullins. ? English was hired by the Pilgrims to stay with them to advise them in Naval pursuits. The Mayflower had many more years of use, but never returned to Plymouth. After it was retired, the timbers of the hull were used in the construction of a barn in Buckinghamshire, England, which still stands today.
One day in mid-march, a Native American man walked out of the forest towards the settlement, shouting "welcome, welcome Englishmen!" Amazed, the Pilgrims welcomed him to visit with them. His name was Samoset, and he was the Sachem of an Algonquin tribe at Monhegan Island in Maine, and was visiting chief Massasoit. He had learned broken English from the several fisherman and fur traders in Maine who came to trade with his tribe. Samoset spent several days with the Pilgrims, and then introduced them to Squanto. Squanto had been captured in 1605, was brought back to England for questioning, trained as an interpreter and served for many years. He was trained in the Catholic faith by a Spanish monk, and then slowly made his way back to New England several years later. Squanto was once part of the Patuxet tribe that had lived in this area, but the Patuxets were wiped out by war and famine before Squanto was able to return. The Pilgrims treated both Samoset and Squanto very well and fed them, and the two Indians stayed at the plantation. Squanto quickly befriended the Pilgrims, and went to summon Massasoit, who was visiting with the nearby Nemaskets. Massasoit was the chief Sachem of the Wampanoag tribe of natives, the largest tribe in the region.
Chief Massasoit appeared on the nearby hill attended by 60 of his men. Although their first meeting was careful and reserved, both sides quickly expressed their desire to live together in peace. A military treaty was signed with Massasoit, and he became the Pilgrims' greatest ally. Massasoit and other Wampanoags provided the Pilgrims with seed corn, showed them how to farm in this area, and traded with them. Massasoit and his generosity towards the Pilgrims helped to ensure their success, and so the next fall, after the plentiful harvest, Wampanoag and Pilgrim alike gathered at the Plymouth settlement for a three-day feast known today as the first Thanksgiving.
Plymouth Rock remained where it was at the base of Fort Hill for over 120 years. By 1741 a shoreside road had been built, and wharves were being built. One of these wharves was to be built directly over the Rock so Thomas Faunce, an elder of the community, asked to be carried down to the site of the rock to protest this wharf, and a town meeting was assembled so this protest would be recorded in the official town record. In 1741 Thomas Faunce was 95 years old, and his father had traveled to Plymouth on the Ann in 1622. He recalled as a young boy playing and having services around the rock. He also named 23 of the original Mayflower passengers that he remembered telling him about the landing at the rock and its significance to them. The wharf which Faunce was protesting was still built, but the rock was not moved, and an area of the wharf was built around the rock so as not to cover it. The rock's legend again spread, and people from all over came to see it.
In 1774 the beginnings of the American Revolution were stirring. A colonel from Boston, Theophilus Cotton, was in the Plymouth area attempting to gain support for the Revolution. He heard about the famous Plymouth Rock, and thought it could be used as a wonderful rallying point, encouraging young men to enlist and fight in the revolution. However, the rock would only be a suitable rallying point if it could be moved up into town square. With thirty team of oxen, the rock was levied and lifted up from its resting place with block and tackle. As it was being lifted, the rock mysteriously broke in half, overbalancing on the oxcart and half falling back into the ground. The colonel turned to the crowds that had gathered and proclaimed that the rock had broken to symbolize that the colonies should break away from England. Colonel Cotton took one half of the Rock, while the other half remained in the wharf at the waterfront. The rock was used for Colonel Cotton's purpose, and was then left in town square for many years. It seemed that the rock was again allowed to be forgotten.
In 1820 Daniel Webster spoke to the men of the Old Colony club, encouraging them to "have the courage of their forefathers." This inspiration caught fire, and Pilgrim Hall museum was built to house pilgrim artifacts. The Rock, now called Forefather's Rock, was again moved, paraded through town and placed in front of Pilgrim Hall museum. Some say that at this time the rock was dropped again, and another crack appeared on the face of the rock. However, this is not documented anywhere, and so now this crack is attributed to a glacial fissure and natural weathering action on the rock. 1620 was painted onto the rock, and a fence was built around it, each one of the spikes representing one of the original passengers on the Mayflower.
Daniel Webster was building on an addition to his home at this time, and thought it appropriate that he should take a piece of Forefather's Rock and incorporate it into part of his foundation. When he did this, other descendants of the Pilgrims thought that they should have equally large pieces, and so it began. Many large pieces were taken and became parts of people's homes. After the civil war ended, the town gave away more pieces, as cornerstones of other Plymouth's when young men were moving west, also as cornerstones of other monuments, such as Forefather's Monument.
In Finally in 1880, the Pilgrim Society decided that the rock was getting too small, and should be reunited with the other half of the rock down at the waterfront, and the two pieces were reunited at the waterfront, enclosed in a Victorian style "monumental canopy." Finally in 1920, the old wharves were removed and the waterfront was re-landscaped, and in 1921 the current Plymouth Rock portico was dedicated, and Pilgrim Memorial State Park was created.
The Park Today
Pilgrim Memorial State Park was created in 1920 to celebrate the 300th Anniversary of the Pilgrims landing. Landfill had been brought in, and the shoreline was changed, creating arms of land around the Rock. The portico was completed and other Memorials donated and dedicated. The park has continued to undergo changes throughout the years. The most recent improvement is the new modern bathroom facility and landscaping of the state pier.