Travelling Back in Family History at Plimoth Plantation

We had breakfast in the hotel each morning.  This was ideal as there were lots of options to  keep everyone’s bellies happy, from scrambled egg to cereal to bagels to yoghurt to self-made waffles, and because it saves on time when you want to get your day trip underway.

It was a short journey to Plimoth Colony, past lots of archetypal New England houses with wood shingles, coloured clapboard against white woodwork, external staircases and widow’s walks along the tops of roofs.  I do love New England style. I very much covet the dusky blue paintwork and the whale weathervanes.

Mr Pict and our boys have a family history connection to Mayflower and Plymouth Colony in that they are directly descended from people who crossed the Atlantic aboard ‘The Mayflower’.  We explained to the kids they would not exist – or at least not as themselves – had Priscilla Mullins and John Alden not survived the Winter of 1620 unlike so many others, including Priscilla’s parents and brother.  This personal connection to such a pivotal episode in American history certainly added an extra dimension to the trip and provided a useful means of engaging the children in what they were seeing at the recreated site.

We began in the lovely visitors centre by watching a video presentation about Plymouth Colony.  This proved to be more of an introduction to the site than an insightful documentary about the history of the place, which was rather disappointing.  Leaving the visitors centre, we started at the Wampanoag village.  This section of the site was populated by Native Americans wearing loincloths and other traditional clothing who could talk to us about contemporary tribal life as well as the history of the local Native American people and their interaction with the European settlers. We saw the winter huts and summer huts and it was interesting to be able to actually see close up and even feel the different construction process and materials used.  The kids found it interesting to see piles of shells and bones near the houses and had fun searching for crab claws and deer bones.  We also saw fishing nets being woven, women making turkey soup and cranberry tea.

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A brief walk along the Eel River brought us to the recreated plantation that demonstrates how the English colonists lived.  It was populated by people in authentic costume, completely immersed in acting the role of seventeenth century settlers even down to their patterns of speech and peculiar accents.  They never once broke character.  It was a most impressive skill while also adding interest and being engaging.  The actors really did bring it to life and add an extra dimension even if it was really quite disconcerting talking to them, as I felt as if I had to translate myself into a more formal, archaic pattern of speech and avoid any modern vocabulary.

The settlement was set up as they envisaged it would have been in 1627.  It was interesting to note just how compact the buildings were.  So much so that only the master and mistress of each household had beds as the other residents, whether children, servants or lodgers, slept on mattresses on the floor.  We went in and out of lots of buildings, including the meeting house at the top of the hill which afforded us a great view over the colony and out to the bay beyond.  We also went into the house that was representing that lived in by the Aldens.  We didn’t meet the “ancestors”, however, as they were “working in the fields”.  Shame.  That could have been goofy, nerdy fun.

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After a nose around the visitor’s centre, a short drive took us to the waterfront of Plymouth where we continued our visit by boarding ‘The Mayflower II’.  Obviously this was a modern replica ship but one that had actually sailed from England in 1957 nevertheless.  As much as there was lots to explore on board, it was not on a large scale so it was incredible to think that 102 people had squeezed aboard and – except for two of them – survived the hard crossing across the Atlantic.  The boys and Mr Pict are descended both from pilgrim passengers and a member of the crew (John Alden was the ship’s cooper) so it was useful to be able to show the boys the ship in addition to the replica colony.  They thoroughly enjoyed scurrying around the deck, below deck, nosing in cabins and dressing up in sailor costumes.  The ship was staffed by contemporary crewmen, who could answer technical questions about sailing such a ship, and people in costume representing the passengers.  Two of them, a young man and woman, even burst into some plain singing at one point which was quite delightful.

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After locating all of our children on ‘The Mayflower II’, we strolled along the shore line pathway to Plymouth Rock.  It is set beneath a grand, Greek style portico but the contents are deflating: the rock looks sad and neglected for all its historical (though probably inauthentic) association with ‘The Mayflower’.  Litter was scattered all around the rock which made it look scuzzy.  Would it really be so hard to get someone to go and clean out the space ever so often?  Another amble took us to see the fountain that serves as a monument to Pilgrim women.

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Back at the hotel, the boys immediately sloughed off their clothes and pulled on their swimming clobber so that they could grab a couple of hours in the swimming pool before heading out to dinner.  We went out to dinner at a place called Dave’s Diner.  This was my parents’ first experience of an American diner.  My Father-in-Law is an expert in diners so we knew it was not an authentic diner but it still had the right vibe to it and it had really great food, very filling, and great service all in a nice environment.  We left feeling beyond satiated and feeling we had had a very good experience.


5 thoughts on “Travelling Back in Family History at Plimoth Plantation

  1. Sounds like the perfect day out. We love living history places like this but it sounds as if this one is particularly special – with the family connection as well it must have been fascinating for your children. Shame about the Plymouth Rock though.

    • The whole place made me think of Beamish as it has that feeling of faked reality about it. Based on your blog, I think Plimoth Colony would definitely appeal to your family. The family connection was just a useful way to get the kids to engage in both American history and their family history – I’m determined to turn one if them at least into my apprentice family historian. Yes, Plymouth Rock was definitely a let down and a surprise as I never would have imagined they would present it so shabbily. Maybe one day you will visit and it will appear on your blog. Thanks for your lovely comment.

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