Plymouth, Massachusetts in a Day- Itinerary
Exploring the Mayflower Pilgrims
“All great & honourable actions are accompanied with great difficulties and must be both enterprised and overcome with answerable courages. It was granted ye dangers were great, but not desperate; the difficulties were many, but not invincible.”
- William Bradford, Plymouth colony governor
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We had one day to visit Plymouth, Massachusetts. I’d I’d recommend another 1/2 day if you add Plimoth Patuxet (formerly Plimoth Plantation), which we had to miss. Just 40 miles Southeast of Boston, Plymouth is worth the drive (under an hour). A cozy seaside town with cute shops, colonial era homes, and rich, national history, visiting Plymouth was bucket list for us. To dive into exploring the Pilgrims & Plymouth colony, we took a walking tour, and visited Pilgrim sites & a museum to set the stage. To read some of our surprising finds, check out my 10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Pilgrims post. It’s a small town so things are close and parking is easy & often free, with metered or pay lots, too. Leave early enough to hit all 8 stops by closings at 4:45p. Or relax and enjoy Plymouth for a weekend!
The Pilgrims’ Voyage:
The Pilgrims came to America on the crowded Mayflower in the early winter of 1620. A ship about the length of a high school swimming pool & just ½ the width. Two levels, crammed with 102 people and the basics you need to build, not just a new life, but a new community with no way to buy or borrow necessary supplies. Furniture, kitchenware, small livestock, weapons, linens, food & water, seeds & tools. No toilet, no baths, in the middle of the ocean, with waves that continuously soaked the ship & lashed so high, 1 was swept away, yet saved. The battering waves severely cracked the main beam, threatening to crack the wooden boat, itself, into splinters. The Pilgrims took refuge in the dark, stinking belly of the ship where they, too, were beat and battered around by the sea. The ship shook violently, flinging people, animals & goods around. The chamber pots brimmed & spilled over with vomit & human waste. A rough & stormy voyage that left many Pilgrims so seasick they could barely stand. It took 66 long, miserable days to finally reach land. But, things were about to get worse. They stepped into a harsh winter with no settlement, little food or water, and a strange land they knew nothing about. They didn’t know it, yet, but the coast that welcomed them still whispered of mass death. Up to 90% of the local native tribes had been wiped out by a ‘plague’, just the year before. The Pilgrims’ own mass deaths would soon follow. In cramped quarters, sharing germs, weak from frigid cold and lack of food & water, ½ of the colony died that 1st brutal winter. Of the 102 who landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts, only 51 remained the following spring.
The Pilgrims were Separatists who had separated from the Church of England because they wanted the freedom to worship & have a relationship with God, not worship under the terms of King James & the English crown. They were different from the Puritans, such as those in Salem a few years later, who tried to ‘purify’ the church by changing it from within. The Pilgrims, however, were Separatists who thought they needed to break from it, altogether. They gained that religious freedom by moving to Holland, but they wanted to start their own Godly, English community based on their beliefs, customs & principles to raise their children in.
Enormous at 81 feet tall, it was planned to be twice as big, but funds ran short in the Civil War. The architect was an abolitionist & original illustrator of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Old Farmer’s Almanac. It represents the Pilgrims’ cornerstone principles in which they founded Plymouth colony. Faith is the central figure of the monument, surrounded by 4 seated figures representing Morality, Law, Education, and Liberty. There are 4 bas-relief scenes that illustrate the Pilgrims’ journey- Departure from Holland, Peace Treaty with the Natives, Mayflower Compact, & Landing at Plymouth Rock. Panels include quotes, a Mayflower passenger list, and dedication “by a grateful people in remembrance of their labors, sacrifices and sufferings for the cause of civil and religious liberty”. It’s dedicated to our nation, but is not a federal monument.
There are many intricate details with much symbolism behind its design. Guided tours can be purchased locally, or online videos may help you fully appreciate its meaning. Christian documentaries have been devoted to it. Its size is stunning and the detail beautiful. It’s a must-see when you’re in Plymouth, though you can save it for the end of the day, since it’s open dawn- dusk, April- November. Well-kept sidewalks lead to the monument with a slight incline. It is part of the Pilgrim Memorial State Park, along with Plymouth Rock.
After lunch, 1/2 mile from Pilgrim Hall, we met historian Leo Martin for a walking tour at the Jenney museum (c1749). Leo is a local expert & Director of Education at the Jenney museum & grist mill. Walking tours enrich your visit, giving deeper understanding, making History come alive, particularly for kids. This one was excellent. The info is well-paced & fascinating, giving background & context- the why, the how & the what happened next. He pointed out important details that aren’t on signs. Leo has made a life out of doing the research for you. He can answer your questions, makes History interesting, and gives you those stand-out stories, bringing everything together for a much fuller view. The kids were enraptured, as was every adult. Times vary depending on season, but he often offers 2 a day, Mon- Sat. If you can make it early and particularly if you have kids, do this 1st in Plymouth to make everything in town that much more interesting.
The tour is 1 hour & 15 minutes, about a mile long & includes walking up several hills. Indoor presentations are available for those who can’t walk or during inclement weather, among other tour topics offered. Reservations are required & may be available the day of, but can sell out in popular seasons. We ordered in advance & had a full tour. Family rates are available. This walking tour includes Brewster Gardens, Plymouth Rock, the historic waterfront area, Mother Pilgrim statue, Burial & Cole’s Hills, Leyden Street & Town Square. He also points out a number of statues that you may miss, otherwise. He gives you the religious, economic, political and social background & issues surrounding the Pilgrims. A definite must-do to understand the Pilgrims & Plymouth more deeply.
Pilgrim’s view from the site of their fort & the 1st Thanksgiving, overlooking Plymouth Harbor where the Mayflower landed.
Stop 4, 5, 6 & 7- Revisit Cole’s Hill, Burial Hill, Plymouth Rock (less than ½ mile away):
The tour goes briskly, so we returned to the waterfront area for more pix & exploration. We revisited Cole’s Hill on Carver St., which is across the street from Plymouth Rock, and Burial Hill is 2 blocks away.
Stop 4– Cole’s Hill, the 1st Pilgrim burial ground. Today, contains the sarcophagus of a mass grave of ½ of the Plymouth colony who died during that 1st winter. For photo & more on this site, see my 10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Pilgrims article.
Stop 5- Burial Hill, location of the Plymouth colonists’ fort with a beautiful view overlooking Plymouth Harbor where the Mayflower anchored & Plymouth Rock lies. It’s where their cannons stood guard over the harbor, where their meeting house was and they also held church. The 1st Thanksgiving was held on this hill. A number of Pilgrims, including William Bradford, have been buried here, today, though not with the original headstones, which were wood. The only Mayflower passenger’s grave with original headstone is in Salem, Massachusetts & is discussed in my Salem post here.
Stop 6- Plymouth Rock– During American Revolutionary fervor in 1774, leaders tried moving Plymouth Rock to Town Square, but broke off the top. In 1834, they tried moving the top to Pilgrim Hall, but it fell from the cart & broke in 1/2, now mortared together. In 1880, they reunited the top to its buried base on the shoreline of Plymouth Harbor & carved in the landing year, 1620. After breaking twice & souvenir seekers chipping away pieces, it’s estimated to only be 1/3 or ½ its original size and only 1/3 of the rock is visible above ground. It is covered by a small portico, along the shore on Water St. For more on the Plymouth Rock legend, see my 10 things You Didn’t Know About the Pilgrims article.
Stop 7- Pilgrim Mother fountain, just 200 feet North, across the street is a memorial erected on the 300th anniversary in 1920, honoring the women on the Mayflower. Women & children were the only Plymouth colonists who couldn’t sign the Mayflower Compact (their 1st governing document for how things would be run). Indentured servants & non-Pilgrims even signed it, if male. All but 4 of the women died that 1st winter, along with 1/2 of the rest. Many, mothers who gave the bulk of their tiny portions of food to their kids, leaving themselves weaker and prone to the weather & pneumonia.
Just ahead, the Mayflower II is normally docked, the ‘Waterfront Exhibit’ of Plimoth Patuxet (formerly Plimoth Plantation). Since 2016, it underwent an $11.2 million restoration in Connecticut. It was in preparation for the 400 year anniversary of the Pilgrim’s voyage, in 2020. The original Mayflower sailed back to England in the spring, never to return, although another ship was named Mayflower and it made the voyage several times. The original was probably broken up for wood when she was retired. This Mayflower II is a full-scale reproduction of what they believe her to have been, consistent with other merchant ships of the time. It was a gift of friendship from England in the 1950s, after WWII. It has informative plaques & a few exhibits. Period characters onboard describe 17 century conditions, aboard the ship. Your visit will take about 45 minutes. Tickets were $10 for adults, $7 for children- subject to change. It may be a bit pricey for families, but it’s something you should visit if you’re here. It helps kids and even adults get a better idea of size, layout & conditions to better visualize what that voyage may have been like.
We had a great day in Plymouth. In grade school, we learn about the Pilgrims, Native Americans, and Plymouth, so it was exciting to visit in person, walk the same land and see some of the same landscape they saw with our own eyes. The Itinerary worked out really well and was a full visit, not too busy, all great sites. But, you could spend a couple of days, visiting cute shops and relaxing in this mellow, little sea village. Kids will enjoy seeing things they’ve all learned about and parents will have a peaceful, enjoyable day. The town also has ties & memorials for the Revolutionary & Civil Wars and for 9/11, and nearby towns have a number of other Pilgrim sites & monuments. 2020 is the 400th Anniversary of the Mayflower landing. If you’re in Massachusetts, Plymouth is well worth the trip!
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