Have you ever wanted to step back in time to see the world as it was, hundreds of years before all of our modern creature comforts came to be? Do you wonder what life was like for early American settlers--and for the Native peoples who had worked the land long before them? Do you not have a working time machine? Well, we can assure you that a visit to Plymouth might be as close as you can get. We recently took some time this past fall to make a pilgrimage to this recreation of the original pilgrim village--and much more--at Plimoth Plantation. The small town functions as a living museum where one can really get a feel for the past, while the stunning sites at waterfront nearby are packed with exciting history--and should be on every traveler’s must-see list! Here are our favorite Plymouth experiences:
Nestled on a sloping hillside overlooking the harbor, a stroll through the Plantation’s 17th Century English Village and it’s main road leads you straight through a time warp. Fragrant hardwood smoke billows out from old stone chimneys, as men, women, and children, in full colonial costume, go about their day--just as they would have nearly 400 years ago! After ambling down the path, we ducked into a dark but cozy wooden house, where beams of autumn light spilled in through small windows, and cut through the smoke from the fireplace. The 3 women of the house diligently prepared a fragrant feast of smoked pork ribs, and though we were still full from our Thanksgiving dinners the previous night, the eldest woman of the house invited us to join them for supper, while describing in detail (and in an authentic early-settler accent, from all accounts) every painstaking step of preparation. We learned how the hogs were brought across the Atlantic, and which native and European seasonings were at hand in those early days of great scarcity. Stepping back out into the brisk air, we followed the beating of a distant drum, where we found local militiamen, training newly recruited troops--consisting mostly of fellow visitors, now armed with long, spear-like sticks, practicing their attack-stances and village militia protocol. A bit further down the path, craftsmen were hard at work, fashioning a wooden fence, while sheep and goat bleat off in the distance. We were enchanted by both the charming pastoral scenery of old New England, as well as the plantation’s carefully curated sense of living history, for most of that autumn afternoon.
Perhaps the most fascinating and unexpected surprise of the day was our visit to the old Wampanoag Homesite. While the 17th Century English Village is staffed by extremely talented and dedicated actors who do an excellent job at bringing the past alive, the Wampanoag site is actually staffed by descendants of local tribes, the people that once worked and inhabited this land for thousands of years before the Mayflower arrived upon these shores.
We ducked into a large wooden hut-like structure, where a palpable sense of pride filled the communal wetu (hut); a young Wampanoag man graciously answered all of the captivated crowd’s questions, and--at times, solemnly--recounted the hardships and conflicts that his resilient ancestors endured, both before and after the settlers arrived. Outside, a woman spit-roasted an exceptionally succulent looking duck over glowing embers, and described her recipe for a type of maple and blueberry porridge that simmered away over the same fire. Next to her, a man clad in traditional deerskin hollowed out a tree with fire, the same way his ancient ancestors did, to make a mishoon--a traditional Wampanoag sea vessel. Shedding light on the stories and customs of an often overlooked people’s history, we found that our visit to the Wampanoag Homesite was quite a powerful and profound experience, and one you should not miss.
Plimoth Grist Mill
A few miles down the road from the plantation, we made a stop at the Plimoth Grist Mill. Formerly known as the Jenney Grist Mill, the original structure was erected on this site back in 1636, and changed hands many times throughout its existence. After a mid-20th century renaissance of many of Plymouth's historical sites, the mill was carefully reconstructed in 1969, using parts from a 200-year old mill in Pennsylvania. The best part of the Plimoth Grist Mill was to see the colonial technology in action. We were allowed a very close up look at the grinding gears of this elaborate water-driven machinery, watching and learning how grains like corn--which was absolutely vital to the survival of the colonists--are processed into fine meal. The Grist Mill will give you a glimpse of a fascinating mechanical feat, as well as a sense of appreciation for the innovations and pragmatism of our past.
The Mayflower II
One of Plymouth’s most iconic attractions is, undoubtedly, the Mayflower II. A faithful replica and homage to the original vessel that carried Pilgrims across the Atlantic almost 400 years ago, the Mayflower II has become something of an icon in her own right, with quite a history behind her! Meant to celebrate the bonds between British and American forces during World War II, this amazing transatlantic project came to fruition after years of careful construction and planning; the Mayflower II made the amazing voyage from the shores of England to the Massachusetts Bay in 1957, and usually calls the Plymouth Waterfront her home. Of course, at the time of writing, the beloved ship is undergoing some necessary renovations up in Mystic Seaport, so we were unable to visit, but she’s anticipated to be back in the water by 2019, and ready to celebrate the 400 year anniversary of the Pilgrim’s fateful voyage to the new world. In the meantime, you can follow along with the restoration process at both the Plimoth Plantation website as well as the Mystic Seaport site, where you can see frequent updates on the project, and hear about the intriguing processes of building--and rebuilding a ship--all by hand!--and how materials like live oak timber are being sourced and donated from around the country.
One thing is for sure--we’ll certainly be back to welcome the Mayflower II back to her home port--as if we needed another reason to revisit this beautiful, historic, and fascinating town!