PLYMOUTH, MA -- This year marks the 400th anniversary of the historic landing of the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. A ship named the Mayflower set sail from England and eventually arrived at Plymouth Harbor, Massachusetts in 1620. The pilgrims originally tried to sail to Virginia, which was already an established colony at that time. However, rough seas and storms took them off course and they first landed in Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod in November of 1620, where they spent five weeks before moving on to more temperate weather in Plymouth by December.
The pilgrims established a settlement in Plymouth, and lived on the Mayflower until they could build their new community. More than half of the settlers died that first season because their housing was inadequate for the harsh winter weather. Luckily, the pilgrims met Squanto, who became a liaison between the local Native Americans and the new settlers. He also taught the pilgrims how to plant corn, where to fish and hunt wildlife. In the fall of 1691, members of the Pokanoket tribe shared a harvest feast with the pilgrims, which is now considered the basis for the first Thanksgiving.
Although historians report that the pilgrims first landed on the shores of Cape Cod, in 1741, Plymouth Rock was identified as the exact place where the pilgrims disembarked. Thomas Faunce, a 94-year-old man whose father had arrived in Plymouth in 1623, was confident in his belief, and several original passengers of the Mayflower confirmed it. Although modern historians are generally skeptical of this claim, Plymouth Rock had quickly become a widely recognized symbol of the start of freedom in America.
Soon after Plymouth Rock was identified, a group of colonists were determined to move the rock to Plymouth’s Town Square. Unfortunately, the rock was broken into two separate pieces after the colonists failed to place the rock safely onto a carriage. While the bottom half of the rock remained at the shore, the top half was successfully moved to Town Square in front of the Plymouth meetinghouse. This break in the rock also gained its own symbolic meaning as many began to believe this was a sign that America should break off and separate from England.
During the time of reconstruction following the U.S. Civil War, the separated pieces of the rock were restored and joined back together, with the date “1620” carved onto its surface.
Today, Plymouth Rock is now encased on the shore as part of the Pilgrim Memorial State Park and can be toured year-round. Being that it was moved and damaged so many times over the past 400 years, only about 1/3 of the original rock actually remains. Over one million visitors tour Plymouth Rock each year, and to each visitor, the symbolic rock holds a unique meaning.