We left off our Plymouth recap with meeting Leo the miller and heading out on our tour through the original settlement sites. Charlie and I kept grinning at each other behind Leo’s back because he knew so much about all the things we were seeing and was a great storyteller to boot. We were having a blast!
The first place we stopped was the small creek that runs through the center of the original plantation (what is now downtown Plymouth). The water was crystal clear and Leo explained that the creek is actually spring fed. This small stream widens at certain points through the town and provided all of the water needed by the first settlers. The fact that it was spring fed was a clear sign of the Lord’s provision. Of all their many concerns when they arrived at Plymouth, the Pilgrims would not have to worry about drought. As I watched the water run by our feet and saw the ducks and muskrats splashing around, I praised the Lord for the simple graces He provides to make difficult situations that much more bearable. He truly sees and cares for all of our many needs!
We next went to the monument of William Bradford, the plantation’s second and longest-serving governor. The first governor was elected aboard the Mayflower, when the passengers signed the Mayflower Compact. You see, the group’s charter from England allowed them to settle in Virginia (at that time, VA extended up to the Hudson River). The Mayflower got off course and actually landed north of the area stated in the charter. Since it was already November and a harsh winter would soon set in, the Pilgrims wanted to settle in the land they currently saw. Other passengers (not the separatists, but those hired by investors to colonize the new world), wanted to settle in the land England had given them. They claimed no one on board had control over them, and they would leave the main group to set out for Virginia.
Eventually, a man named John Carver convinced the entire group that their survival chances were much better if they stuck together. He recognized the need for some type of social government to help the colony run smoothly and ensure survival. These regulations became the Mayflower Compact, which each passenger signed whether in agreement or not, in an effort to work together for the overall good. The compact allowed for elected government in the settlement, and John Carver was unanimously voted as the first governor. When he died after the first winter, William Bradford was elected and served for 30 years.
Bradford’s monument is down by the harbor, just feet away from our next stop at Plymouth Rock.
This is said to be the first piece of land that the Pilgrims touched when they stepped off the Mayflower. I found it kind of hard to believe that the Pilgrims would somehow preserve this rock as special, given how practical they appear to have been. No first-hand accounts mention anything about a rock, and it wasn’t until 1741 that the rock became a part of our history when plans were made to build a wharf at the Pilgrims’ original landing site. The town’s 94-year-old record keeper, Thomas Faunce, opposed the idea of commercializing the sacred spot. He claimed that his father often identified this particular rock to be the Pilgrim’s stepping stone, and since he was older than everyone else, no one opposed him. The crack in the rock comes from when the town tried to temporarily move the rock to the town square in an effort to rally the men to fight in the Revolutionary War. When it split in transit, the larger half was declared the “American” half, while the significantly smaller portion was labeled the “British” half. It seems public relations is an age-old profession!
From the rock, we saw the monument of the Pilgrim Mother, honoring the mothers who made the journey in search of a better world in which to raise their families. Inscribed on the monument is: “They brought up their families in sturdy virtue and a living faith in God without which nations perish.” Though I’m not yet a mother, my heart went out to these women. They believed the Lord was calling them into this new land, and they, along with their husbands, packed up their children and set sail for the unknown.
After seeing the Pilgrim Mother, we walked up Cole’s Hill to see the monument of Massosoit, the Wampanoag Indian chief. This tribe was very important to the Pilgrims and helped them survive in many ways. Massosoit and William Bradford were actually good friends and there was peace between the two groups until much later when Massosoit’s son raided the plantation.
We were not familiar with the story of Cole’s Hill, which turned out to be fascinating. This small hill facing the harbor was the initial settlement line, when the coastline was located several yards inland. When half of the initial settlers died the first winter, the remaining families did not want the Indians to know how desperate their situation was becoming and how poorly they were adapting to their new environment. So when a settler died, they would bury them on the hill in the middle of the night, covering the unmarked graves with corn. Just imagine taking your family so far from home, losing them under such terrible conditions, and then burying them in secret out of fear and desperation. When heavy rains later unearthed the graves, the remains were moved to a sarcophagus on top of the hill.
From Cole’s Hill, we took a right onto Leyden Street. Originally called First Street, this was the first street the settlers built. It was a little surreal to be walking down one of our nation’s first streets (pre-dated only by St. Augustine and Jamestown I would think). There are some historical homes still along this street, though not the original dwellings of the Pilgrims. As Leo said, these modern homes only date back to the 1700s!
At the top of Leyden Street is First Parish Church in Plymouth. While the building has changed on this location, this congregation began with the Pilgrims and is the oldest continually-meeting congregation in the United States. This granite church was built in 1899.
However, a very rare thing happened within this congregation. A new pastor took charge in 1800 and was seen by some as being too theologically liberal. A group of 52 congregation members decided they couldn’t stay under his leadership and split off to form a new congregation, which is now called The Church of the Pilgrimage. What? A congregation disagreeing? That is so odd!
Now, the funny part. This group of 52 scouted around for where to build their new church and finally settled on the perfect location: directly perpendicular to the existing church. As in, thirty feet away on the same street. Awkward.
Across the street from the second church (perpendicular again to the original church) is the oldest wooden courthouse and the longest used municipal building in the United States. Built in 1749, John Adams actually used to run his law office from here. Apparently Adams’ good friend Paul Revere used to wait for him outside on the square. Leo says that over the years, Adams’ good friend Paul Revere would pass the time waiting for his friend to complete his business by building the church bell that is still in use in the church shown above.
After briefly walking by Burial Hill, Plymouth’s first cemetery, we were back where we started at the Jenney Grist Mill. We were so happy that we chose the personal walking tour! To stand on the original land where so many historical things took place was unforgettable. It may sound cliche, but it was inspiring to think that all of this started with a group of seemingly average people just looking for a place to worship the Lord the way they wanted. They couldn’t have known what would happen when the ship pulled out of the English port, but they just knew the Lord was calling them to go. And despite the relentless hardships on the way, they just kept walking the road the Lord laid before them – faithful in their trust that He is good and He is sovereign. What a great example of how unchanging the Lord is! No matter what time or culture we live in, His desire for us to walk by faith is always the same. And no matter how different our circumstances may be, His faithfulness to care for us as we follow His will is eternal.