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Thursday, July 12, 2012

My 17th Century Experience in Plymouth

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The Very Small Plymouth Rock
Today, I had the exciting chance to visit Plymouth, Massachusetts and learn more about the first successful European settlers: the Pilgrims. I chose a great day to visit, as schools had just left out, and the weather was great.

My first stop was the Plimouth Plantation. [No, I did not spell that wrong. The plantation goes by this name, so it is not confused with the town. In the 17th century, there were no official spelling guidelines.] This historic recreation of the Plymouth settlement included a Wampanoag village, European settlement, and craft center, where visitors could watch craftsmen create replica items for inside the villages.

A Wampanoag Hut

I started my visit at the Wampanoag village. In it were several recreated huts surrounding a garden. Burnt-out logs being shaped into canoes laid near the entrance. The recreated village was not near as exciting as its residents, however. Native Americans from numerous tribes worked here as guides, tending to the village and asking any question desired. They fully replicated the original Wampanoag tribe members, doing everything from tending to fires to sewing bags. Late June was a great time to visit, as the village was not heavily filled with visitors, and I had the chance to ask questions and learn more about the Native American culture. One person working there said that at times during the school year, thousands of students may come in at one time!

I made my way up the scenic path to the craft shop, where all of the village supplies were recreated. The craftsmen were hard at work but would courteously stop and answer any desired questions. The workers here created everything from furniture to pots. I witnessed one man creating an intricately designed plate from clay. He stated that the entire process took a few weeks and a few hours of hands-on labor.

Kodak Moment at Plymouth Village
Next, I walked through the recreated Plimouth settlement. Pilgrim actors were all through the city, answering questions and engaging in 17th century town life. One man I talked to was making mud to cover the walls of his house. A couple others were constructing another building by hand in the settlement. Chickens roamed the streets freely, and each house was accompanied by its own garden. Walking through this village, it was as if I traveled back in time. The Pilgrim actors even made the 17th century setting even more realistic by pretending that we were truly in the 1600s. When they asked where I was from, and I responded, "Pennsylvania", they appeared to have no idea what I was talking about!
A Village Woman Tending To Her Garden

After visiting the recreated settlement, I returned to the 21st century and made my way to the town of Plymouth, where I saw Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower II.

For anyone wishing to see a gigantic stone, the Plymouth Rock may not be what you are looking for. It is actually quite small but was at one time much larger. This was a result of it being moved and broken in two different incidents. In addition to these accidents, people were once permitted to chisel parts off as keepsakes. After being moved by the Sons of Liberty to the town center, it has now been moved back to its original position with an enclosure around it. Inscribed in it is the year 1620, and it is believed that the Pilgrims stepped over it as they first set foot on the New World. One million people visit this [now small] rock every year!

I concluded my Plymouth trip aboard the Mayflower II, a full replica of the original Mayflower. I was surprised by the size of the captain's room when 103 passengers were packed aboard. His room was large and even included a second bed (which the man pretending to be the captain stated was his spare bed). I walked below deck and was greeted by multiple passengers. One warned me about the danger of pirates and detailed their strategies. While the room below deck was roomy, it was hard to believe that it could fit a hundred people. There were no where near that many bunks, and many probably called the floor home. It is hard to imagine how dark it would have been during the journey, as it was somewhat dark even with lights and open windows.

The Mayflower II
Visiting Plymouth really opened my eyes to the lives of America's original settlers and taught me more about the lives they lived. I would recommend visiting the Plimouth Plantation to anyone who has a love for history that wants to learn more about life in the 1600s.

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