By now, we all know the story. The Pilgrims piloted the Mayflower across the Atlantic Ocean and landed at Plymouth Rock in the New World (now Massachusetts). Shortly after arriving, they met Native Americans and had a feast that became the first Thanksgiving dinner.
But is this how things really happened? Is Plymouth Rock real? If so, how big is it? Curious minds are WONDERing! What’s the truth?
According to legend, Plymouth Rock is the large glacial erratic stone that the Pilgrims first stepped upon when they landed at Plymouth in 1620. Historical documents from that time period, however, make no mention of the rock.
No written reference to the rock can be found until over 120 years after the Pilgrims’ landing. Nevertheless, the people of Plymouth Colony believed for hundreds of years that Plymouth Rock was the site of the Pilgrims’ landing. Their beliefs may have been based upon claims by those who had known some of the passengers on the Mayflower.
A rock historically identified as Plymouth Rock has been a fixture along the shore of Plymouth Harbor for many years. In 1774, the Plymouth townspeople used a team of oxen to move the rock from its original location at the base of Cole’s Hill. Unfortunately, the rock broke into two pieces as a result of their efforts.
The bottom portion of the rock was left in its original location. The top portion of the rock was displayed in various areas over the course of the next hundred years. In 1880, the two pieces were reunited and the date “1620” was carved into the rock.
Over the years, many people chipped off pieces of the rock as souvenirs. Some estimate the portion of the rock now on display — and protected — along the Plymouth waterline is only a third of the top portion of the original rock.
So is Plymouth Rock the first solid piece of land the Pilgrims stepped on in the New World in 1620? Probably not! Historians believe the Pilgrims first landed near Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod in November 1620 before moving on to Plymouth.
In any case, Plymouth Rock symbolizes for many the struggles and the hardships the Pilgrims faced in boldly coming to the New World to start a new life. It represents freedom and the desire for a better life. It still attracts almost one million tourists every year to Pilgrim Memorial State Park.