Going Back to the 17th century at Plimoth Plantation
The Mayflower carried 102 passengers who became known as the Pilgrims from England to the shores of Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. This became one of the first 13 colonies that later became the USA. Our spontaneous trip to Plymouth, Massachusetts a couple of weeks ago included a visit to Plymouth Rock (the famous rock that has come to symbolize freedom), the full-scale replica Mayflower II which gave wonderful background information on what the Pilgrims endured to sail from England to America. Our field trip with the kids continued on to Plimoth Plantation, three miles away, to follow the Pilgrims as they settled into their new home. Go back to the 17th century with us!
Plimoth vs Plymouth
One of the things we noticed before visiting was the difference in spelling between the Plimoth used in this plantation and the town of Plymouth and Plymouth Rock. Various documents show that the town’s spelling differed based on who was writing it with no rules in place. The colony’s governor most commonly used “Plimoth”. So, the plantation/museum founders used this spelling to distinguish it from the town.
The modern visitor’s center and gift shop was a nice way to welcome guests. We liked the orientation video that gave us a wonderful preview of the outdoor exhibit and what we shouldn’t miss.
Our self-guided tour started right outside the modern building into a wooded path that led us along the Eel River’s banks to the Wampanoag Homesite. This was the outdoor living history exhibit of the Wampanoag people. These Natives were already living here in the 1600s when the Pilgrims landed.
This exhibit was a re-creation of Hobbamock’s home. He was a Native who lived here in the 1620s. He and his family were the “only Native People known to have lived alongside the Pilgrims”. He was also the liaison between the Pilgrims and his people. This was their home throughout the year with the exception of winter when they moved inland.
We saw a couple of the Wampanoag houses right away. There was an overgrown garden in the middle. The staff manning this homesite were actual Wampanoag people or from another Native American Nation. We met one of the staff who was dressed in what his ancestors wore in the 1620s. He invited my kids to help him shave off the ash from a hollowed tree. Trees were hollowed out by using fire to make them into boats or mishoon.
We also found two women cooking some sort of stew over an open fire. They showed us some vegetables and wild herbs that would have been grown or found in the area during the 1600s. It was interesting to walk inside these houses and see how they were built with just the use of natural materials around them. There were holes at the top of the houses that acted like a chimney. They were round or dome shaped to evenly distribute the temperatures throughout the year. They were primarily covered with barks of trees and lasted quite awhile back then.
Inside one of the bigger huts was a young lady dressed in her Native clothing, mostly made of deerskin. There were various animal skins displayed throughout the house and were available for all of us to touch. They included deer, raccoon, bear and even a skunk. She was very gracious and answered all visitors’ questions on how these animals were skinned to the architecture of the hut. We also learned that they were a matrilineal society. This meant that the houses and the belongings belonged to the women and passed it on to their female descendants.
We really enjoyed our time at the Wampanoag Homesite and learning all about the Native people. It was interesting to see the differences in their lifestyle with the Native American villages we’ve learned about in the western states especially our recent encounter in Monument Valley. They both made use of the resources available to them wisely.
Our next stop was the modern and very nice building that housed the craft center which opened last year. The center was created for artisans to show how they made various crafts and items that were imported from England in the 17th century. But, they were also using the same tools and techniques used back then. Near the entrance was a man busy on a pottery wheel. We were mesmerized watching him turn a clump of clay into candleholders. There were many examples of pottery they have made here displayed around him.
Across from him was a lady busily making candles. It was so interesting to watch her produce so many candles from beeswax. Some of these items were used in the English Village exhibit but were also available at the museum shop within the center.
We just missed the baker who finished boxing up the loaves of Thirded Bread. This was common bread made by the Pilgrims using wheat, corn and rye flour. Luckily for us, they sold the bread at the gift shop within the building. It was delicious! They didn’t have any samples but try it to experience a 17th century recipe. The bakers mix and do everything by hand mimicking the olden days that could sometimes take hours. These bakers fortunately now use a wood-fired oven that speeds up the baking process compared to what the Pilgrims had.
17th Century English Village
Our last stop and the one we were looking forward to visiting the most was the re-creation of the small farming village the Pilgrims started. The timeframe of the village was 1627 which was seven years after they landed. We loved the various costumed role players (accents included) we met throughout the village. They portrayed actual Plymouth Colony residents. They did a great job with the re-creation that we felt transported back to the 17th century. It was quite interesting.
The first major building was the fort/meeting house. It was a two-story building with the first floor acting like a community hall as well as a meeting place for religious services and as a courthouse. The upstairs was an open area with six cannons in place. I’m not sure if these were ever used. As you can see, the cannons were more than historical props here but also doubled as climbing structures for kids.
The village sits on a hilltop, in a diamond shape, with rolling green pastures and overlooking Cape Cod Bay. The Pilgrims brought some tools and nails with them but everything else were built from scratch. House frames were built from the surrounding trees. The thatched roofs were made of reeds and grasses. They used thin boards or clapboards to create the house’s exterior. The house walls were made of a mixture of dirt, clay and grasses.
We entered each house where a few of the townspeople were actually doing their daily tasks like sewing, cleaning and cooking. It felt a little awkward at first entering their homes and starting a conversation about their lives. Luckily, some visitors already had engaging conversations with them that we listened to. It was interesting how these actors really took on their historical counterparts and stayed in character that included their religious views, their reasons for moving here and even opinions of their neighbors. It was fantastic insight into the Pilgrims.
Some of the backyards had a thriving garden and livestock that included chickens, pigs and sheep. These livestock were what would have also been around during colonial times. The animal enclosures were very popular with the young visitors here. Nye Barn, near the visitor’s center also has additional animals and more information.
The house interiors were simple and small. Some of the Pilgrims brought furniture, clothing and cookware with them. Additional manufactured goods and necessities arrived once a year after that from England or they traded with ships that passed through the cape. Most of the houses we saw only had one all-purpose room for cooking and sleeping. The floors were nothing but dirt and the houses barely had any windows. Some had chimneys and a loft above the ground floor. I loved seeing all the hanging dried herbs and onions inside each house.
This whole village was pretty impressive considering what the Pilgrims endured on the Mayflower voyage. It was a far cry from the comforts they knew back in England but it was a new life. This was America’s hard and humble beginnings.
My kids really enjoyed our visit to Plimoth Plantation. My 12-year old daughter was more familiar with this part of American history so she loved seeing all of it come to life. My 10-year old son, knowing he’ll be studying about the Pilgrims, was trying to take it all in. All he really knew about them beforehand was the association with the first Thanksgiving. Younger kids will most likely not get the historical importance of this outdoor museum. I’m glad they at least had the animals to entertain the younger set. I really don’t think my kids would have gotten a lot out of this place as toddlers or kindergarteners. I hope they add a few more features to make it more interactive for kids.
Living history museums can be a hit or a miss. They can border on a tacky tourist attraction and a lack of authenticity. Plimoth Plantation is a wonderful place to visit especially if you’re interested in American history. They did a great job re-creating the Native American village and did an even better job with the English village exhibit and including the costumed role-players.
Visiting Plimoth Plantation Basics and Tips
- Plimoth Plantation Only Prices: $25.95 (Adults); $15 (Children 5-12). Combine this visit with Mayflower II and Grist Mill tickets for some savings and a better overall experience.
- This is not open all year. They are open from second Saturday in March until the end of November.
- Snacks and food are available at the visitor’s center and at the Patuxet Cafe.
- There’s always something happening here so check the events page before your visit.
- Ask questions and engage the Native Americans and the English village role players to enhance your experience. We learned a lot!
*Have you visited Plymouth and the Mayflower II?
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