Monday 27 October 2014

Plymouth Rock

"This rock has become an object of veneration in the United States.  I have seen bits and pieces of it carefully preserved in several towns in the Union.  Does this sufficiently show that all human power and greatness is in the soul of man?  Here is a stone in which the feet of a few outcasts pressed for an instant; and the stone becomes famous; it is treasured by a great nation; its very dust is shared as a relic."  (Alexis de Tocqueville, upon the occasion of his visit from France, 1834)

Plymouth Rock, on which 135 Pilgrims first landed in 1620, courtesy

Forty years ago, when my family visited Boston, we made the pilgrimage to Plymouth Rock.  Two things stood out in my seven-year-old mind:  the fact that my dad had to bend over when we explored the decks of the Mayflower and the bronze pilgrim figurine that my mom bought me at the gift shop. Here is the history of the great rock..

Plymouth, located on the Atlantic Ocean 45 miles south of Boston, is where the Pilgrims chose to land in 1620.  Alexis de Tocqueville called them outcasts as they were a group of separatists fleeing the persecution of the Church of England.  The group, numbering in the dozens, had first landed at Provincetown, Massachusetts on Cape Cod in November.  After stealing some corn, getting in a skirmish with the Natives and failing to find a good place to settle, they set off again.  

Henry Bacon's painting circa 1834 courtesy

On a blustery December day, they landed at Plymouth where they happened upon a giant rock which served as a natural dock.  They decided to call it Plymouth after the town that they had disembarked from in England.  Relieved to have reached land, grateful to have survived that first winter and thankful for God's bountiful harvest that first summer, the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving the following November.  

Elder Faunce, in the "Story of the Pilgrim Fathers" (1841), confirmed that his father landed at the same rock in 1623 upon arriving from England.  In 1774, on the eve of the American Revolution, the giant rock was split in two, the top half remaining at the site, the bottom half being relocated to the town's meeting house in Plymouth.  Passersby would sometimes chip pieces off the stone as keepsakes.

The 1867 structure courtesy

The rock remained there for 50 years.  In 1834, it was relocated to Pilgrim Hall where a Victorian Canopy was built around it in 1867.  As in the past, tourists would sometimes steal pieces of the rock as souvenirs.

In 1880, the top half of the rock was re-attached to the bottom half of the rock at the Atlantic shoreline.  The 1620 date was carved into the rock at that time.  Estimated to weigh 20,000 pounds in 1620, the rock now measures about a third of its original size.  

While the rock has lost much of its weight, it has not lost its intrigue.  Nearly one million people flock to Plymouth each year to view the rock, a tad more than first landed on it almost 400 years ago.

The Parthenon-like portico circa 1970's, the way it would have looked when I visited on my Boston trip courtesy

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