Pilgrims and Wampanoags

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Plimoth Plantation, a  re-created 1620’s English village, sits on a hillside overlooking the Atlantic Ocean a few miles from Plymouth, Massachusetts, site of the original 1620 settlement. (Plimoth is the spelling used most frequently by Governor William Bradford in his history of the colony) If I say Pilgrim, you probably think Thanksgiving. Most American students learn about the Pilgrims in school and how they befriended the Indians and founded the first English colony in New England. The site attempts to tell the rich story of this well-known place in American history.

Plimoth Plantation was started in 1947 and is known in the museum world as a place where the interpretive technique of role play is used to great extent. A visitor to the 17th century English village (as it’s called) encounters costumed staff talking in various English accents as if it’s the year 1627. They portray actual historical residents of the settlement and stay “in character.” The effect works well when visitors are willing to play along and travel back in time. Those visitors who don’t want to engage or have a language barrier will find the experience lacking. This living history approach  puts a degree of work on the visitor in that he must attempt to remember the date and ask questions that are appropriate.  My recent visit took place on a hot day and I questioned a villager about his clothing and commented that it must be warm. In a somewhat awkward exchange, he acknowledged my bare arms and legs and insinuated that he believed I should be more modest. I’m not sure how this conversation really was constructive. The village is filled with reproduction objects so that the staff and visitors use the space. Visitors are welcome to help with daily chores.

In the 1970s the organization added the Wampanoag Homesite to interpret traditional native lifeways. The site sits adjacent to the village on the banks of the Eel River. The Wampanoags (people of the dawn or first light) were the indigenous people when the Pilgrims arrived. Staff at the site wear traditional clothing and explain traditional tribal life, but speak from present-day perspective. I happened to be visiting during the strawberry festival and the site was bustling with activity. It was a reunion of sorts and a weekend to eat lobster apparently. Everyone I saw was chowing down on lobster – I didn’t even see a strawberry.

At the center is the garden, protected by a thicket hedge. Houses surround the garden, examples of both mat-covered homes for summer and bark-covered homes for cold weather. The Wampanoag would have migrated closer to the water in summer and farther inland in winter. Sadly I missed the mishoon races, but I did watch a young man making a mishoon, a hollowed out log canoe. He kept a small fire smoldering and was gradually scraping away the charred wood. One of the men proudly told me of a mishoon journey to Martha’s Vineyard about ten years ago to replicate the journey Wampanoags took in centuries past. Such attempts to delve into experiences from the past and traditional life can only enrich life in the present. When’s the next trip? Sign me up.

watch video of the journey: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtYEqHNmuXI

About Tim

Author, public historian, and consultant. Author site: timgrove.net - My fifth book, Star Spangled: The Story of a Flag, a Battle, and the American Anthem, was published in May 2020. Consulting site: grovehistoryconsulting.com I specialize in exhibition development, interpretive planning, education strategy, and history relevance. I'm passionate about helping history organizations of all sizes and kinds make history more relevant for their communities and the people they engage with. I'm happy to consider many types of writing projects for informal learning organizations. Reach me at tim@grovehistoryconsulting.com or authortimgrove@gmail.com
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3 Responses to Pilgrims and Wampanoags

  1. Pingback: Conflicting thoughts about Plymouth | historyplaces

  2. Pingback: Jamestown’s foothold in the New World | historyplaces

  3. Pingback: Happy Anniversary to the Pilgrims | historyplaces

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