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New England by Heart

A Visit to Plimoth Patuxet

The colonial village at Plimoth Patuxet - Plymouth MA

You remember this from your school days, perhaps having made a field trip if you grew up in the area. But don’t rely on those childhood memories. This is a museum that is well suited for an adult visit.

Of course, I admit that I love living history museums – the immersion into a different time, with docents in costume and in character, answering your questions and educating in an engaging way.

In this living museum, there is the recreation of 1627 Plimoth Plantation, and Patuxet, representing the community of Wampanoag that inhabited the area ahead of the Pilgrims.

The colonial village at Plimoth Patuxet - Plymouth MA
The 1627 recreated village

Plimoth Plantation changed its name to Plimoth Patuxet in 2020 to put more emphasis on the Wampanoag and their way of life. It’s a tragic part of history that the Patuxet village was almost entirely depopulated ahead of the Pilgrims’ landing by the disease that the Europeans had unwittingly unleashed on the Wamponoag tribes. Along with the conflicts that came later, it’s no wonder that the United American Indians of New England observe Thanksgiving as a National Day of Mourning.

The Patuxet docents are modern day staff (as opposed to the “in character” docents in the colonial village) that educate visitors on the life of the Wampanoag. Patuxet includes winter and summer wetus (temporary huts), a cooking area, and gardens.

A Winter Wetu - Plimoth Patuxet - Plymouth MA
A winter wetu in the Patuxet village
Canoe in progress - Plimoth Patuxet Village - Plymouth MA
Burning out a tree trunk for a canoe in Patuxet village

Most fascinating for me is the method for making canoes out of tree trunks using only fire. If you are not familiar with the ways of the Wampanoag, this is an excellent chance to learn more, and to dispel many of the myths that surround the older Pilgrim-centric historical records.

On to the colonial village, which is ostensibly a recreation of Leyden Street, Plimoth Colony’s first street, set in the early days of the colony.

Fear Brewster and a neighbor at Plimoth Patuxet - Plymouth MA
Fear Brewster takes a little break with a neighbor at Plimoth Patuxet

On my visit, I met Fear, the third daughter of Mayflower Pilgrim William Brewster, who arrived with her sister Patience in 1623. Fear was to be married to Isaac Allerton, 20 years her senior, and seemed happy enough about it. But, you know, there weren’t a lot of choices and it was pretty important for young women to be wed and bear children in those days.

An early home - Plimoth Patuxet - Plymouth MA
The early homes were primitive, most with dirt floors and thatched roofs
Possessions from home - Plimoth Patuxet - Plymouth MA
Possessions from home were prized, and a juxtaposition to the primitive dwellings

Stepping into the many houses brings home, so to speak, the primitive early shelters these settlers hastily put together to protect from the elements and the cold. The stark contrasts between their fine possessions brought from home and the meager dwellings of the early years illustrates the hardship of setting up in a new country.

A pleasant day at Plimoth Patuxet - Plymouth MA
Strolling up the solitary street in the 1627 village.

Having now spent the better part of two hours exploring the two villages, it was time to head over to the to the Craft Center.

Expert Potter at Plimoth Patuxet craft center - Plymouth MA
Plimoth Patuxet's craft center is a hive of activity for traditional artisans.

I enjoyed watching expert artisans working at 17th-century crafts. A potter was creating real time and there were several finished pieces on display (many works are available for sale in the gift shop). At the apothecary I learned about herbal remedies and visited the medicinal gardens just outside.

Finally, tired and happy, I nonetheless found enough energy to peruse the excellent (and large) gift shop. This is, in my view, the best gift shop in town. It’s only open from spring through Thanksgiving, like the museum, so early shopping for holiday gifts is a must.

Even if you were fortunate enough to have a field trip here as a child, don’t believe that “you’ve been there, done that”. This requires another visit as an adult, whether or not you’re toting along your own offspring.

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