Friday, June 01, 2007

Plimouth Plantation - Plymouth, MA

The Plimouth Plantation
Plymouth, MA

Plimoth (Plymouth) Plantation was the first permanent European settlement in southern New England (AD 1620). Today, this area is the site of a living museum, dedicated to recreating 17th - century life ways in the New World.

I remember well not too long ago when PBS was offering a “reality show” with 17 would be colonists arriving at the Plimouth Plantation for an intensive two week training session that would be physically and psychologically demanding, and so very foreign to them culturally. Life in early 17th century New England is what they were preparing for. If you happened to miss the program week after week, you can link up to the website for the show HERE, and find out who the players were, watch video clips and here interviews live. It’s so interesting how difficult it was for them all to recreate the time period, so just imagine what it was like for the early settlers to come to this land and really have to live like they did!

Taken from the top floor of the Meeting House.
(That's the Atlantic ocean in the background.)

We hadn’t planned on visiting the “Plimouth Plantation”, however it became second nature to do so since we were staying so close and hadn’t seen it before. After a terrific morning breakfast at a great local diner, we were off!

A great breakfast locally began our day

Last year we visited Plymouth as well, though in the town vicinity taking in a trolley tour, a visit to the museum and observing the Mayflower II, which incidentally is celebrating its 50th year in 2007, so many celebrations are on the agenda for the town of Plymouth this year.

The entry to the Plimouth Plantation

Plimoth Plantation includes several exhibits:

  • A reconstruction of the 1627 village occupied by the Pilgrims
  • A reconstruction of Hobbamock’s Homesite
  • The Nye Barn
  • The Crafts Center

All components are interpretive exhibits illustrating many aspects of life. People in historic period costumes carry out their daily tasks which would have been conducted by the occupants of the settlement. Their dialect is recreates the flavor of the period as well. My sister coached us later that night on a few of the conversations she and her family had had with some of the people on site, funny moments chatting about items we take for granted, though the players would not admit to knowing about them as they were living out the time period. For instance, none knew what tomatoes were, certain names of states or provinces, other types of clothing and so forth.

Last Monday, we were about to find out what it was like to live in a village recreated specifically to something from 1627, a village occupied by the Pilgrims. Upon entry to the museum, a map was handed to us for orientation of the property. Several times we were actually pleased to have this map, with the many trails, walkways, stairs, hills, and valleys to ascend and descend. We had not thought about this bit of a challenge beforehand, quite frankly never even dreamed about the terrain possibilities, so there were a few times we needed to stop and allow some to rest up a bit before moving forward from one site to the next. What a huge place though, maps are good!

Firstly however, we were ushered into a theatre where a film was shown as a precursor to the facility and grounds, educating everyone on the plantation and on what they were about to experience first hand, hear the history and know why there is importance in preserving such a unique place.

We entered into a reconstructed village of “Hobbamock’s Homesite” with “real” Native Indian descendants from the Wampanoag tribe recreating their heritage lifestyle, dressed in period costume right before our eyes. However, they assured us they obviously lived modern lives aside from working or volunteering at the site, their family genealogy did in fact take them back to the Wampanoag tribe, and they were proud of that fact.

How cool was this for history to "come alive"?

Within minutes, a very young boy estimated to be about six years old, with curly blonde locks ran around with his wooden spear, barefoot, bareback and in his heritage costume, obviously so comfortable with the setting he was surrounded by, our younger ones catching their eyes on him first and in awe of a real live Indian before them.

This man was fascinating!

Then, his little sister, about two years old, also barefoot and in her native costume was hugging her daddy’s leg after being chased by her brother, their mother in costume nearby and also barefoot with braids in her hair, was not far away working on her weaving project, the strap for her new pouch recently created by herself.

Weaving and crafting.

Mother and her children.

Their little family lived days such as this together, within the huts, house of two fires, and roaming the land surrounding them. We found this area to be an incredible unique opportunity to explore the perspectives of the Indigenous Wampanoag who have lived on this land for many generations. They knew their history and desired to keep it alive today.

We were pleased to enter into the “Wetu” house, the house with two fires. Surrounded by soft furs from bear, deer, and other animals, the flickering firelight was warming the home up, and there were woven bulrush mats on the floor, sealskin quiver sacks filled with real arrows for the five bows hanging off the upper post beams. A much smaller bow also hung there, and the woman told us it was her small son’s, who knew how to hunt for food at his young age already.

Outdoors we could smell the wild salmon cooking over the wood fire, woman nestled under a lean-to weaving and doing handwork on their crafts.

Cooking a fresh wild salmon over the fire.

Located not too far on the site were “mishoons”, carved and scraped out boats used today, centuries old in technique. The tranquil waters of the Eel River beyond was where these boats were paddled to catch the salmon, while others could watch from the banks as they performed their daily duties.

One of the many "Mishoons".

All the culture you would imagine from such a Native tribe was evident, interesting and of course, the people were spoke with were fascinating with their knowledge and sharing of it.

With maps in hand, we left this village, moving along the Eel river boardwalk, up the long flight of stairs, continuing onward towards the Pilgrim village, a recreation of the small farming town built by English colonists in 1627, in the midst of the Wampanoag homeland. Just seven years after the voyage of the “Mayflower”, we were immersed in live “as it was” then.

The long climb up the boardwalk along Eel River.

As we climbed the stairs, we heard the sound of mooing cattle, and knew there were animals up ahead. The younger ones were eager to see where they were inside the fort like structure with huge wooden gates to enter the village grounds.

It was beginning to get far too warm.
(Notice the thatched rooftops)

Shakespearean times were noted, not only in the speech and mannerisms of the townspeople, but also noting the modest timber homes and thatched rooftops. I immediately thought of the plague killing so many in that time period, with the rats hiding in them, especially when one of the Pilgrim woman created a tussiemussie of spices in a small cloth, tied up for another visitor to take and smell for warding off germs and disease, hoping she wouldn’t catch any plague in this new land.

Lunch was cooking on the hearth
(She was the maid brought over, and after her three year contract was over, her payment was 40 bushels of corn, and three fine dresses from the tailor in England made specially for her by her master.)

There were fascinating townspeople working in the time period, going about their daily duties with ease. Gardens with simple fencing were found behind every home, raised garden beds were the method of the day, most interesting. All provisions sought after, created, or purchased by ship from England, were hidden and protected in the lofts of the homes for winter, or for trade.

Arms were used to protect individual's provisions
as well as the people within the fort walls.

Everyone we met was dressed in exact period costume, taking on names and viewpoints of those life histories of the people who actually lived in the real colony in 1627. Everywhere we wondered, someone was performing real live tasks, everything from a woman working in the garden with bare feet so she wouldn’t dirty her socks and shoes, woman sitting in the dirt weeding their gardens, a woman baking in an outdoor oven, women cooking duck, bluefish, or soup over the hearth in a super hot home we were cooking in, never mind the food!

Working the fields barefoot!

It was time to plant the cornfield, so some laboured with handmade rakes and shovels. Some managed the barns and the animals, many of them of rare breeds. Since 1980, Plimoth Plantation has helped conserve rare and heritage breed livestock from around the world. The animals at the Nye Barn, as well as those in the 1627 English Village, are all older breeds that were common in past centuries, but have critically low breeding populations today.

A section of the farmyard, though a small bit shown.

Walking along the paths to the fort village.

The meeting house at the top of the hill was very interesting. It not only housed a pulpit, long benches and bird’s eye view of the entire village from its windows. It was the upper floor however that grabbed the attention of the children, one son specifically lingered for a good long while, and his imagination was working overtime to suddenly become transported himself back into this same time period with the thought of warfare, and all the cannons must’ve had something to do with that sudden burst of excitement. He pushed and tried to force the cannons to move, one at time, browsed each window area for positioning his imaginary gun atop the panels, decided whom the enemy might be for protecting the grounds and thoroughly enjoyed his time here. I stayed to watch and enjoy his wonderful moments of creativity.

The Meeting House On the bottom floor, the pulpit shown here.

The Meeting house, the top floor
Where battles were fought to protect the people.

Imaginations were fueled!

Last but not least, we roamed about within the “Crafts Center”, meeting and talking with the Plimouth Plantation’s skilled potters, tailors, basket makers, joiner making furniture of the time period, and all the wares they offered for use in the village. Colorful earthenware dishes, finely carved chests, willow baskets, and many newly made straw brooms were on lined up against one wall on display, everything fascinating and functional, all ready to be transported down to the houses in the village for use by the townspeople, or many of the items also are housed in the Mayflower II ship. The artisans in the Crafts Center are modern craftspeople plying historical trades, using many of the same techniques, materials and types of tools used more than 350 years ago in England and Europe.

Alas, the temptation of entering the book and gift store was before us, and yet another was at the entry building, bigger and better than the last. I purchased several items of interest to our family, and a few small gifts for friends who love the Pilgrim historical time period and have studied it with their families recently. Incidentally, if you want some great teaching ideas for your family’s history schooling, or for use as a teacher in a schooling setting, here is a great website with free activity sheets and ideas to make history come alive and whet the appetites of your children.

It was the perfect day for a sightseeing outing such as this one, warm but not too hot, a wee bit of rain falling on our heads just as we completed our stay, and then the temperatures rose to almost unbearable proportions just a while later, so all was perfect timing in the end for such an excursion, thoroughly enjoyed by all. As an aside, I have to chuckle and see if you can guess what a few children have been doing since we returned home. I’ll even give you a hint; Playmobil characters similar to the plantation characters, and bows with arrows in the backyard.