Plymouth Rock is a small boulder that has become a symbol of American history and culture. It is said to be the place where the Pilgrims, who came to America on the Mayflower in 1620, first set foot on the New World. But what makes this rock so special? Why do millions of people visit it every year? And what are some of the myths and facts surrounding it? In this blog post, we will explore the answers to these questions and more. We will also give you some tips on how to make the most of your visit to Plymouth Rock and the surrounding attractions.
The Legend of Plymouth Rock
The legend of Plymouth Rock dates back to 1741, when a 94-year-old man named Thomas Faunce claimed that his father, who arrived in Plymouth in 1623, told him that the rock was the landing spot of the Pilgrims. Faunce made this claim when he heard that a wharf was going to be built over the rock, and he wanted to see it one last time. He was carried to the shore by a chair, where he pointed out the rock and gave it a tearful farewell. His story was recorded by a local historian, James Thacher, who wrote:
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 adieu1
Faunce’s story was accepted by many people as the truth, and the rock became a symbol of the Pilgrims’ courage and faith. However, there is no evidence that the Pilgrims themselves ever mentioned the rock in their writings, or that they considered it significant. In fact, the Pilgrims first landed on Cape Cod, where they signed the Mayflower Compact, before sailing to Plymouth. They chose Plymouth as their settlement site because of its natural harbor and cleared fields, not because of the rock23
The History of Plymouth Rock
Plymouth Rock has gone through many changes and challenges over the years. It has been moved, broken, chipped, vandalized, and restored several times. Here are some of the key events in its history:
- In 1774, during the American Revolution, a group of patriots tried to move the rock to the town square as a symbol of liberty. However, they only managed to break off the top portion, which weighed about three tons. The bottom portion remained at the shore, while the top portion was dragged by oxen to the square4
- In 1834, the top portion of the rock was moved again, this time to the Pilgrim Hall Museum, where it was displayed for many years. The date 1620 was carved on its face, although it is not clear who did it or when4
- In 1859, the bottom portion of the rock was threatened by a railroad construction, but it was saved by a public outcry. It was then enclosed by an iron fence and marked by a plaque4
- In 1880, the two portions of the rock were reunited at the original site, under a granite canopy designed by Hammett Billings. The canopy was later replaced by a more classical structure in 1920, which still stands today4
- In 1921, President Warren G. Harding visited Plymouth Rock and delivered a speech, in which he said:
- In 1970, Plymouth Rock was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark6
- In 1980, Plymouth Rock was vandalized by a group of Native Americans, who painted red graffiti on it and threw it into the harbor. They were protesting the celebration of the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ landing, which they saw as a glorification of colonialism and genocide. The rock was recovered and cleaned, and security was increased around it7
- In 2020, Plymouth Rock was vandalized again, along with several other monuments in the town, by unknown perpetrators. They spray-painted various messages on the rock, such as “LIES”, “508 MOF”, and “RED MEN”. The motive and meaning of the vandalism are unclear, but some speculate that it was related to the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ landing, which was overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the social unrest in the country. The rock was quickly restored and the investigation is ongoing8
The Significance of Plymouth Rock
Despite the lack of historical evidence and the many controversies, Plymouth Rock remains a popular and meaningful attraction for many people. It is a symbol of the founding of America, of the ideals of freedom and democracy, and of the perseverance and sacrifice of the Pilgrims. It is also a reminder of the complex and often tragic relationship between the colonists and the Native Americans, and of the need for reconciliation and respect. Plymouth Rock is not just a rock, but a story, a lesson, and a legacy.
Some of the ways that Plymouth Rock has been celebrated and commemorated over the years are:
- In 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving Day, inspired by the Pilgrims’ feast of 1621, which was held near Plymouth Rock9
- In 1897, the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a tablet near Plymouth Rock, honoring the women of the Mayflower, who endured many hardships and losses in the first winter. The tablet reads:
- In 1920, the Mayflower II, a replica of the original ship that brought the Pilgrims to America, was built in England and sailed across the Atlantic to Plymouth, where it docked near Plymouth Rock. The ship was a gift from the British people to the American people, as a gesture of friendship and goodwill. The ship is now a museum and a tourist attraction11
- In 1970, the Plymouth Rock Opera, a musical comedy based on the Pilgrims’ story, was performed at the Plymouth Memorial Hall. The show featured songs such as “We’re Off to See the Rock”, “The Mayflower Compact”, and “The First Thanksgiving”. The show was a hit and ran for several seasons12
- In 1995, the Plymouth Rock Foundation, a Christian organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the Pilgrims’ heritage, launched the Plymouth Rock Festival, an annual event that features historical reenactments, lectures, concerts, and fireworks. The festival aims to celebrate the Pilgrims’ faith, vision, and values.
The Facts About Plymouth Rock
Plymouth Rock is not only a symbol, but also a natural object, with its own physical characteristics and geological history. Here are some of the facts about Plymouth Rock that you may not know:
- Plymouth Rock is made of Dedham granodiorite, a type of igneous rock that formed deep underground about 600 million years ago, during the Precambrian era.
- Plymouth Rock is a glacial erratic, meaning that it was carried and deposited by a glacier during the last ice age, about 20,000 years ago. The glacier scraped and smoothed the rock, giving it its oval shape.
- Plymouth Rock is about 6 feet long, 3.5 feet wide, and 1.5 feet thick. It weighs about 10 tons, but only about 4 tons are visible above the ground. The rest is buried under the sand and the concrete base.
- Plymouth Rock has a crack that runs across its face, which was caused by the attempt to move it in 1774. The crack was repaired with cement in 1880, when the two pieces were reunited.
- Plymouth Rock has the date 1620 carved on its face, but it is not the original carving. The original carving was done in 1880, but it was eroded by the weather and the visitors. It was recarved in 1965, and again in 1995.
- Plymouth Rock has a number of chips and scratches on its surface, which were made by souvenir hunters and vandals over the years. Some of the chips were taken by famous people, such as James Fenimore Cooper, Daniel Webster, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
- Plymouth Rock has a twin on Mars, named after it by NASA. The rock was discovered by the Spirit rover in 2004, and it is about the same size and shape as Plymouth Rock. It is made of basalt, a type of volcanic rock.
The Tips for Visiting Plymouth Rock
If you are planning to visit Plymouth Rock, here are some tips to help you make the most of your trip:
- Plymouth Rock is located in Pilgrim Memorial State Park, on Water Street, in downtown Plymouth. The park is open daily from dawn to dusk, and admission is free.
- Plymouth Rock is visible through a metal grate on the floor of the portico. You can also see the rock from the water, if you take a boat tour or a ferry ride.
- Plymouth Rock is best visited in the spring or fall, when the weather is mild and the crowds are smaller. The summer can be hot and humid, and the winter can be cold and snowy.
- Plymouth Rock is surrounded by many other historical and cultural attractions, such as the Mayflower II, the Pilgrim Hall Museum, the Plimoth Plantation, the National Monument to the Forefathers, and the Plymouth Rock Opera House. You can easily spend a day or more exploring the town and learning about its rich heritage.