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New England by Heart

Plymouth MA Tour: The Boat, the Rock and the Hill

Image of the Mayflower II

This jaunt takes you to the three of the most important sights in Plymouth – the Mayflower II, Plymouth Rock and Cole’s Hill. If I were to visit Plymouth only once and only for a few hours, this is what I would do. It certainly does not do full justice to the town, as there is much more to do and see, but these are the obligatory stops.

Mayflower II

The first stop is the Mayflower II, right down on the waterfront, and yes, in the water, docked. No, this is not the original Mayflower, which is long gone, but yes, it’s an accurate seaworthy replica that will leave you in awe that anyone could have crossed an ocean in it. Get on board for a tour. The stories of that voyage are more than worth hearing.

Departing the tour and heading back to Water Street, you’ll find a couple of gift shops in old style buildings that are still within the tiny state park, with quality items and books that are very well worth browsing. Then cross Water Street and optionally stop into the usual souvenir shops and snack bars. 

After your fill of t-shirts and ice cream, stay on this side of the street and head north (with the harbor to your left). 

Image of the Mayflower II
The Mayflower II in dock in Plymouth - take a look at those people aboard to imagine how cramped this was. 102 passengers and a crew of about 30, spending 66 days at sea in this, not to mention the additional time before they could really set up on land.
Image of the Pilgrim Mother
Pilgrim Mother statue and fountain

Pilgrim Mother Statue

Stop at the Pilgrim Mother Statue and fountain to honor the women that came over on the Mayflower. Of the twenty-nine women and girls, only five adult women survived that first winter. Three were pregnant when embarking on the Mayflower, with two infants surviving and one stillborn.  

Plymouth Rock

Continue on and cross the street to Plymouth Rock, recognizable by the columned stone canopy sitting guard over it.

Image of stone canopy over Plymouth Rock
This stone canopy stands guard over Plymouth Rock.

About the Rock, as it is affectionately known by locals – it is not impressive as a boulder, let’s just get that out there – many have been the tourists with bemused and disappointed miens as they peer over the railing at this mighty pebble. Also, it may or may not have been where the Pilgrims first set foot in Plymouth – that being a legend passed down orally from an early Colony elder who might have got it wrong, or not. There’s no written record. What is sure is that the poor thing has been battered, sundered and plundered through time, and is now a third of its former self. I will not divulge this sorry history because that is best done through the interpreter (and signage) at the site – this is well worth hearing about – you will laugh, you will cry, and you will surely walk away with a greater appreciation for the humble Rock. 

Image of Plymouth Rock
Plymouth Rock gets more than 1 million visitors per year.

Cole's Hill

Across the street from the Rock is Cole’s Hill. There is nothing much to mark its significance from here, so it’s easy to miss the importance of the slope. This is where many pilgrims were buried in secret to keep the natives unaware of the toll of that first winter. This is not to be confused with Burial Hill, which is an actual cemetery that was established in 1637, which is on one of my other tours.

Pause for a moment to honor those long-dead pilgrims (and we’ll revisit them again), then climb the granite steps and head left to admire the statue of Wampanoag Chief and Grand Sachem Massasoit, sculpted by Cyrus Edwin Dallin.

Massasoit was a great friend to the Pilgrims in the early years, teaching them much about living off the land, and determined that there should be peace between the settlers and the Wampanoag. That peace survived throughout his lifetime (he died in 1661). We can only be glad that he was fortunate enough to miss the later disintegration of that relationship.

A little further on, is a sarcophagus built in 1921 to house the remains that had been over the long years recovered from Cole’s Hill. They were previously held in the old 1867 monument over Plymouth Rock. With a new monument built in 1920 a new monument was built over Plymouth Rock, it was time for a new home, and the Society of Mayflower Descendants came through. The sarcophagus lists the names of those who perished during the first winter. Check out this Patrick Browne’s post on Cole’s Hill in his wonderful Historical Digression blog.

“But it pleased God to vissite us then, with death dayly, and with so generall a disease, that the living were scarce able to burie the dead; and ye well not in any measure sufficiente to tend ye sick.”
– William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation

Image of Massasoit Statue
Massasoit was a major factor in the Pilgrims' survival. Unfortunately, the great peace he sought was not to be.

From here, you can can head back down to the waterfront or up to Main Street for some shopping or libations, or pick up one of the other tours.

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