Plymouth Rock is the traditional site of disembarkation of William Bradford and the Mayflower Pilgrims who founded Plymouth Colony in December 1620. The Pilgrims did not refer to Plymouth Rock in any of their writings; the first known written reference to the rock dates to 1715 when it was described in the town boundary records as "a great rock." The first documented claim that Plymouth Rock was the landing place of the Pilgrims was made by Elder Thomas Faunce in 1741, 121 years after the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth. From that time to the present, Plymouth Rock has occupied a prominent spot in American tradition and has been interpreted by later generations as a symbol of both the virtues and the flaws of the first English people who colonized New England. In 1774, the rock broke in half during an attempt to haul it to Town Square in Plymouth. The top portion (the fragment now visible) sat in Town Square, was moved to Pilgrim Hall Museum in 1834, and was returned to its original site on the shore of Plymouth Harbor in 1880. Today it is ensconced beneath a granite canopy designed by McKim, Mead & White.
Plymouth Rock, inscribed with 1620, the year of the Pilgrims' landing in the Mayflower
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History of Plymouth RockEdit
Early history and identificationEdit
The two most significant primary sources on the founding of Plymouth Colony are Edward Winslow's Mourt's Relation and Bradford's history Of Plymouth Plantation, and neither refers to Plymouth Rock. The rock first attracted public attention in 1741 when the residents of Plymouth began plans to build a wharf which would bury it. Before construction began, a 94-year-old church elder named Thomas Faunce declared that the boulder was the landing place of the Mayflower Pilgrims. He asked to be brought to the rock to say a farewell. According to Plymouth historian James Thacher:
A chair was procured, and the venerable [Faunce] conveyed to the shore, where a number of the inhabitants were assembled to witness the patriarch's benediction. Having pointed out the rock directly under the bank of Cole's Hill, which his father had assured him was that which had received the footsteps of our fathers on their first arrival, and which should be perpetuated to posterity, he bedewed it with his tears and bid to it an everlasting adieu.
Faunce's father had arrived in the colony aboard the ship Anne in 1623, just two years after the Mayflower landing, and Elder Faunce was born in 1647 when many of the Mayflower Pilgrims were still living, so his assertion made a strong impression on the people of Plymouth. The wharf was built but the rock left intact, the top portion protruding from the dirt so as to be visible to curious visitors.
More recent generations have called Faunce's assertion into question, alleging that he invented the story or did not have the correct facts, given that he was not an eyewitness to the event. Journalist Bill Bryson, for example, wrote, "The one thing the Pilgrims certainly did not do was step ashore on Plymouth Rock", arguing that the boulder would have made an impractical landing spot. Others have taken issue with the significance of the rock based on the fact that the Pilgrims first disembarked from the Mayflower at Provincetown, Massachusetts to explore Cape Cod, more than a month prior to arriving in Plymouth harbor. In 1851, a group of Cape Cod residents formed the Cape Cod Association for the purpose of promoting Provincetown as the site of the original Pilgrim landing. Such efforts eventually led to the construction of the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown, which was completed in 1910.
Col. Theophilus Cotton (son of Josiah Cotton, a Plymouth magistrate) and the townspeople of Plymouth decided to move the rock in 1774. It was split into two parts, with the bottom portion left behind at the wharf and the top portion relocated to the town's meeting house.
The upper portion of the rock was relocated from Plymouth's meetinghouse to Pilgrim Hall in 1834. In 1859, the Pilgrim Society began building a Victorian canopy designed by Hammett Billings at the wharf over the lower portion of the rock, which was completed in 1867. The top of the rock was moved from Pilgrim Hall back to its original wharf location in 1880 and rejoined to the lower portion, and the date "1620" was carved into it.
In 1920, the rock was temporarily relocated so that the old wharves could be removed and the waterfront re-landscaped to a design by noted landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff, with a waterfront promenade behind a low seawall in such a way that, when the rock was returned to its original site, it would be at water level. The care of the rock was turned over to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and a new very sober Roman Doric portico was constructed, designed by McKim, Mead and White for viewing the tide-washed rock protected by gratings.
During the rock's many journeys throughout the town of Plymouth, numerous pieces were taken, bought, and sold. Today approximately 1⁄3 of the top portion remains. It is estimated that the original Rock weighed 20,000 lb (9,100 kg). Some documents indicate that tourists or souvenir hunters chipped it down, although no pieces have been noticeably removed since 1880. Today there are pieces in Pilgrim Hall Museum and in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
A 40-pound (18 kg) piece of the Rock is set on a pedestal in the cloister of historic Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn Heights, New York. The church was formed by a merger of Plymouth Church and Church of the Pilgrims and was originally pastored by Henry Ward Beecher, brother of author Harriet Beecher Stowe.
In 1835, French author Alexis De Tocqueville wrote:
This Rock has become an object of veneration in the United States. I have seen bits 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 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.
Cole Porter makes a comic allusion to Plymouth Rock in the title song of the 1934 musical Anything Goes, imagining that, if Puritans were to object to "shocking" modern mores, instead "of landing on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock would land on them." Malcolm X repeated the imagery in a speech on black nationalism: "We didn't land on Plymouth Rock. The rock was landed on us."
Plymouth Rock has figured prominently in American Indian politics in the United States, particularly as a symbol of wars starting with King Philip's War (1675–78), known as the First Indian War. It has been ceremoniously buried twice by Indian rights activists, once in 1970 and again in 1995, as part of National Day of Mourning protests.
Today, Plymouth Rock is managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as part of Pilgrim Memorial State Park. From the end of May to Thanksgiving Day, Pilgrim Memorial is staffed by park interpreters who inform visitors of the history of Plymouth Rock and answer questions.
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- "Plymouth Rock". Pilgrim Hall Museum. 2005-05-18. Retrieved 2012-02-16.