Living History.

In the early 17th century, a group of English religious separatists departed their home shores for Holland, where they could practice their faith apart from the Church of England. After a time, afraid of becoming less English and more “European,” the separatists departed for a new English colony in North America. Landing first on Cape Cod in 1620, these early settlers quickly departed again for a location that would eventually come to be known as Plymouth. With the five hundredth anniversary of the establishment of Plymouth only three years away, I headed out to a unique living museum that tells the story of early American history in Massachusetts.

Established in 1947, Plimoth Plantation is a museum that seeks to preserve the history of early settlement in New England. Located 2.5 miles south of the site of the original colony, Plimoth Plantation is a recreation of the original English settlement as it existed in 1627. The early colonists left behind no blueprints or pictures of the first settlement, so the reconstructed village was created by consulting written accounts left by the settlers, examining paintings of similar villages in England and abroad, and extensive research by architectural historians. Actors inhabit the village, each portraying a person who lived in Plymouth Colony during its earliest years. Clothes, furniture, recipes, and weapons are all period-accurate, and the actors remain in character throughout your visit. Ask a question, and they will answer as if it is still 1627. Reference something modern, such as a smartphone, and they will not understand you.

Not far from the village is the Wampanoag Homesite, a Native American village as it would have existed in the early 17th century. The Homesite is inhabited by Native American staff members. Although they dress in period costume and work at tasks that would have been familiar to a Wampanoag in the 1620s, they are not actors and do not pretend to be living in the 17th century. Rather, they speak of Native American life today, and the challenges facing the indigenous peoples of North America in 2017.

With Thanksgiving less than two weeks away, I set off for Plimoth Plantation on a beautiful, if chilly, autumn weekend, to learn more about this historic site.

Map of Eastern Massachusetts. A pin indicates the location of Plimoth Plantation.
Today’s destination: Plimoth Plantation, approximately 40 miles south of Boston.
Highway exit sign for Plimoth Plantation on Route 3 South.
You know it’s a major tourist site when it has its own road: Exit 4 on Route 3 South is for Plimoth Plantation Highway.
Plimoth Plantation Visitor Center
Built in 1987, the Hornblower Visitor Center has a ticket office, gift shop, restaurant, and several reception halls. It’s a great place to get oriented to the museum.
Wedding reception behind the visitor center.
The Visitor Center is also a popular wedding venue, with indoor and outdoor locations available. Several years ago, two dear friends of mine were married here. A wedding was about to begin in the white tent (pictured) when I arrived today.
Dining room at the visitor center, with four rows of tables and chairs being set for mealtime.
Care to have Thanksgiving at the site of the first Thanksgiving? Plimoth Plantation hosts a Thanksgiving Dinner every year. Tickets sell out well in advance, so book your spot early.
Wigwam at the Wampanoag Homesite.
My first stop was to the Wampanoag Homesite. This is a wigwam, a Native American home made from tree saplings and tree bark. Its domed design allows it to survive even the worst of New England weather. Unlike tipis (or teepees), the wigwam is not portable.
Native American canoe being made from a large log.
One of the Native American staff members is making a canoe by slowly melting the inside of a large log. The process takes 3-5 days. A large audience gathered around the staff member while he worked, and he spoke about the difficulties facing Native Americans in the modern age. The museum encourages staff members to speak honestly and openly about such topics, in my eyes creating a richer and fuller experience for visitors.
Duck soup being made over an open flame.
Using all period-correct ingredients, another staff member cooks duck soup over an open fire. A dish such as this could have been brought by members of the Wampanoag to the first Thanksgiving. Our school books tend to over-simplify the interaction between Pilgrims and Native Americans  in the early years. Yes, the Wampanoag people kept the Pilgrims from starving during their first winter in America. Yes, there was a Thanksgiving feast in 1621. However, it was not simply about being “good neighbors.” French settlers and hunters, and Native American tribes loyal to the French, had been in conflict with the Wampanoag, and the Wampanoag likely saw the Pilgrims as potential allies in their fight against their enemies.
View of the 17th century English Village.
The 17th Century English Village. The Village is designed to recreate how it existed in 1627.
Interior of the Standish House.
The Standish House, a recreation of the home of Miles Standish, military advisor to the Pilgrims. It was a one-room house, as were most of the dwelling: you slept, ate, and cooked all in the same room. A little later in my tour, I met one of the managers of the museum, and he graciously took time out of his day to answer some questions. I asked how accurate the furnishings are in each house (for instance, how do we know that Miles Standish had a chair like the one pictured?). He shared with me that the Pilgrims left behind detailed last wills and testaments when they died, and those documents were used to reconstruct the furnishings of the homes.
Dutch furnishings inside one of the houses.
The settlers brought with them items from their time in Holland, and this house features many such objects. I liked the triangular chair, which was popular in Holland at the time. In front of the chair is a small box: it is a foot stove, designed to be filled with small coals. You would place your feet atop the foot stove to keep warm in winter.
Open flame kitchen with two pots above the fire.
Meals in the Village are made the same way they would have been in the early 17th century: over an open flame.
Tabletop with tastes, bread, and fruit.
All the foods you see here were made today with recipes and ingredients that the Pilgrims would have used almost 500 years ago. According to one of the staff members I spoke with, salts and spices would be imported from England, but everything else was grown in the Village.
Pot smoking over an open flame. Herbs dry on the top of the hearth. Towels dry nearby.
The fire was used to cook dinner, heat the home, dry your wet linens, and help to dry herbs. All of which was taking place 8-10 feet away from your bed. I can’t imagine all that smoke was any good for your lungs.
Three actors portraying guardsmen of the Village. They all hold pikes.
Three of the Villagers on guard duty. Actors remain in character while they are in the Village, speaking with (pretty decent) English accents. For them, 1627 is the present day and their answers to your questions will reflect that. Fun fact: we think of Pilgrims as wearing all black, but in reality they were usually very colorfully attired. Black cloth was actually horrendously expensive in the 17th century, and all-black outfits would only be worn by people far richer than those that lived in Plymouth.
Interior of the Fort/Meeting House.
Interior of the Fort/Meetinghouse. This building served both as a place of worship and also as a strong defensive post in event of attack. The top of the Fort holds five cannons. The actual Fort/Meetinghouse stood on what is now the intersection of Leiden and Spring Streets in modern-day Plymouth.
View of the Village and Atlantic Ocean from the top of the Fort/Meetinghouse.
View from the top of the Fort/Meetinghouse. The Atlantic Ocean is in the distance.
Candle Making workshop in the Craft Center.
Near the Village is the Craft Center, a modern building housing work spaces for local artisans to create many of the objects you see in use at the museum.

 

2012 Honda Accord in front of Plimoth Plantation entrance.
I mean… of COURSE I had to take this shot. You should know me well by now.

Before closing, I wanted to share with you a special journey I also undertook this weekend. A friend of mine who lives just outside of Boston owns a 2007 Honda Pilot SUV that he purchased about five years ago with 63,000 on the odometer. He’s a little internet-shy and asked to not have his real name used, so we’ll call him “Jack.” Well, Jack invited me to join him on a road trip Sunday morning to brunch in Cape Cod, during which his Pilot passed the 200,000 milestone. Congratulations Jack! Glad to see your Pilot has been a trusty companion for so many miles, and here’s to many more!

2007 Honda Pilot parked in front of airport fence.
My friend’s 2007 Honda Pilot EX, our ride of choice for brunch today. Important footnote: the vehicle is on its second set of Nokian WR G3 SUV tires. Jack, like me, is a big believer in the little tire company from Finland.
Outside of Hangar B restaurant in Chatham, MA.
Arrived at Hangar B, one of my favorite spots in Massachusetts! This is my second trip to this terrific little restaurant on Cape Cod. How small is it? There are only 8 tables!
Bread pudding French Toast, with strawberries, grapes, and blackberries on top.
I went with the bread pudding French Toast. It was simply amazing!
Odometer showing 200,000 miles.
Mission accomplished: 200,000 miles! Congratulations, Jack! That’s a whole lotta driving!

Plimoth Plantation is a fascinating exploration of early American history that presents, overall, a very balanced view of English settlement in New England. While offering an excellent recreation of the Pilgrims homes and lives, the museum also takes the time to carefully tell the story of the Native Americans who lived in Massachusetts before the Mayflower arrived, and the impact this had on their lives. The museum is open 7 days a week from 9:30 am – 5:00 pm. Adult tickets are $28, seniors 62 and over are $26, and children 5-12 are $16. Children under 5 can enter for free. Thank you for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead!

‘Til next time.

6 thoughts on “Living History.

  1. This made me want to try duck soup, and that’s something I never thought I would say. My favorite part about the Plimoth Plantation is that everything is in character. I got a kick out of the fact that if you ask the staff members about a smartphone, they won’t know what you’re talking about. Question on the Thanksgiving dinner. That would be a total bucket list item. How far in advance do you think it books out? Like do you think they’re already taking reservations for November 2018?

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the post! From what I can find, ticket sales for the formal Thanksgiving dinner begin in June. However, there is a buffet option that still has openings. And yes, that dinner is on my bucket list as well!

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