Charlie and I both love history. Just try getting to me to read something other than historical fiction – I’ll get bored within five pages. One thing we’ve really enjoyed about living in New England is the rich history this area boasts. I think of the South as offering more Civil War era historical sites, and it’s been fun to be here where things pre-date the Revolutionary War. With that in mind, we’ve been waiting for the perfect, sunny day to visit Plymouth and re-learn the incredible story of those who came over on the Mayflower.
We learned so much on this trip that it’s hard to sum up in one post (without making it obnoxiously long!). So we’ll tell part of the story today and finish up tomorrow. I know we learned all of this in elementary school, but seeing the actual locations and re-learning it from an adult perspective was fascinating and I don’t want to forget the details!
Plymouth is about a three hour drive from us, and we pulled into town around 11:00 a.m. Our first stop was the Mayflower II docked in Plymouth Harbor. It’s a recreation of the original Mayflower and was built in the 1950s. It even made the sail from Plymouth, England to Plymouth, Mass., just like the real ship.
There’s a nice outdoor museum before you enter the ship, which was a very helpful in refreshing us on why the Pilgrims left England in the first place. A small group of families did not agree with the newly-formed Church of England and sought a refuge where they could worship more freely. This led them to Holland, which was known for its religious tolerance, in 1609. However, it was hard for them to get jobs here and they actually found the culture to be too tolerant and morally lazy. Not wanting their children to grow up in these conditions and slowly become Dutch, they secured a charter to settle a colony in the new world in 1620. England was happy to be rid of them, and they were happy to be rid of England and raise their families according to their biblical beliefs.
The Mayflower II really opened our eyes to the cramped conditions the passengers endured for the two-month journey. It was hard to imagine how 102 people (passengers and crew) would have fit on this ship, much less how one woman would have given birth during the journey. We learned that most of the passengers remained below deck during the trip, out of the harsh sailing conditions. This means that the majority of people were all in one room, practically on top of each other, for 66 relentless days.
There were two costumed actors on board, representing actual women who made the trip. We had fun talking to them, asking them how they felt about being in a new world, whether or not they were scared, who they traveled with, what they ate, etc. They never broke character and they knew so much! It was really interesting to feel like you were talking with someone who was actually there – they were that good!
The Mayflower II was the perfect place to begin our Plymouth tour, as we now had a better idea of why the Pilgrims came and what they endured just to find a place they could worship the way they wanted. After lunch near the harbor, we headed out to learn more about what it was like when they actually arrived and had to survive in the new land.
We made the last-minute decision to bypass Plymouth Plantation, which is a large recreation of the original settlement located just outside of town. Instead, we booked a guided tour through town and it was by far our best travel decision yet! I’m sure the plantation attraction is great, but we really enjoyed being in the actual historical locations, listening to in-depth stories about the settlers’ first year, and imagining all these things happening on the very ground we walked.
Our tour began at Jenney’s Grist Mill, the first mill in the U.S. and the birthplace of modern public utility. We got lucky and were the only two people on the 1:00 p.m. tour with Leo, the miller. This older gentleman has been giving these tours for years and he was fantastic! He picked up on the fact that we are believers, as is he, and included a lot of fascinating information about the pilgrims’ beliefs and religious reasons for coming to the new world.
Leo provided a lot of details about the pilgrims’ first year at Plymouth Plantation, and we enjoyed relearning this famous story. More details tomorrow!