Sunday, July 24, 2016

An Ordinary Rock

Kinneberg country school

my mother on the left with Miss Ovestrud
Well, here’s another bit of American history that I had wrong.  I learned about Plymouth Rock in grade school, a one-room country school for grades one through six with ten other students. I had the same school teacher that my older brother and sisters had— Miss Geneva Ovestrud.  I loved her.

example of early buildings
History class, for the two of us in my grade, was to go up and sit at the Big Table with Miss Ovestrud where we were to narrate the chapter of history that we had just read.  It wasn’t okay to fudge and say, “they” or “he” did this or that.  “Who was ‘they’?” she’d ask.  The whole story was important.  Frankly, I was pretty good at it.  Perhaps, that is why this whole thing came as a bit of a shock to me.

The Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock.  Everybody knows that the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, right?  Except that they really didn’t land there first. Sigh. Sadly, the Mayflower was way off course, having intended to sail to Virginia to join the Jamestown charter granted by the King of England.  
headland outside Plymouth Harbor

The first land the Mayflower folks saw and set foot on was Cape Cod. It was late November and they were too far north. The sailors scouted around for a while and by December 1620 chose the place they would call home. They named it Plymouth, after Plymouth, England.
History of Plymouth includes Massasoit assistance to survive

So, who were these Pilgrims?  We all know that they came over seeking religious freedom and that they wore primly starched clothes.  I should have been suspicious just by the drawings of white caps, collars and leggings.  Even I knew as a child that you don’t go mucking around outdoors wearing white clothes!  And by the time those poor Pilgrims arrived on this continent, they were no doubt, very dirty and definitely lacking starch. 
replica of Mayflower

The Pilgrims came from England, right?  Well, yes and no.  I would now prefer to call them by what I think is a more appropriate term, the Separatists.  They did not see that the Church of England, the Anglican Church was capable of changing in the direction that their beliefs led them. Therefore, they wanted to separate from the Church of England.  BUT, they did not immediately just give up on the entire continent of Europe and strut off in a huff. 
home of early settler

They first moved to Holland which was more tolerant of religious differences than England was in that day.  It was an improvement, but still not good enough.  Holland was fairly urban, even back then, and these religious people were agrarian.  Even more problematic was that their little Pilgrim offspring were coming home speaking Dutch and acting very “Dutch-like.”  Clearly, they had to get farther away…….from the Dutch.  
Even Pilgrims had forts.   

So, they gathered together, one hundred and one of them. They went back to England to board a couple of English ships to the New World.  Unfortunately, one ship came up lame, and so they all packed themselves onto the one tiny ship, the Mayflower.  And here’s another surprise. The bulk of them were NOT Separatists at all!  There were only 31 of that ilk. All the others were laborers and sailors endorsed by the Crown to establish what should have been the second colony of settlers in Virginia.  It was only faulty navigation that put them elsewhere. 
Plymouth Rock

In my child mind, Plymouth Rock was an enormous boulder.  How else could a whole shipload of people get onto it?  The size of the Rock was never a specific point of discussion up at the Big Table, but I was pretty sure we were talking about a monstrous rock. I was wrong.  The rock that we have been calling Plymouth Rock for the past few hundred years is really not that big.  Furthermore, the top of it has been chiseled away from the bulk of the rock by a group of well-meaning folks so that it could be moved to a more convenient location.  No, no, no, no, NO! That was just wrong. 
The "home" of Plymouth Rock

The bigger issue to me, however, has to do with the identification of the specific rock.  Again, in my child imagination, the people got off the Mayflower and stood on this humongous rock and someone said something historic, like, “This (giant boulder) shall be called Plymouth Rock.”  Nope, that never happened.  In fact, they probably got off the boat and said, “Praise the Lord, we are shed of that boat ride from hell.”  As far as we know, there was no conversation whatsoever about any rock. They just got busy building lodging and finding food to eat. 
First church of Plymouth

So here’s where it gets really fishy—one hundred and twenty years after the Mayflower landed an old man came forward with the rock story.  He was a member of that first church of Plymouth, and had known some of the old-timers that came over on the Mayflower.  He asserted that “This was the rock they landed on.  No, not that one, THIS one right here.”  In those days, respect for one’s elders would have prevented others from saying, “Well, that’s just a bunch of hooey.”  So, they all went along with it.  What was the harm? 
This child will know the truth about the Rock


So, there it is.  Plymouth Rock is a rather small rock.  With “1620” nicely engraved upon it.  And built above it is a Greek style portico, somewhat reminiscent of the Lincoln Memorial.  It looks very officious.  Tourists come from all around the country to see that rock.  Plymouth is certainly full of tourists.  I’m not saying I feel like I’ve been had all these years.  Well, maybe I am.  It’s just that I liked my childhood image of the Rock so much better.  
Elder William Brewster.  He did not talk about the Rock.


1 comment:

Mark Bennett said...

William Brewster was my 10th great grandfather. John Howland, another Mayflower voyager, was my 9th great grandfather. Interestingly, John Howland fell off the ship during a storm, but managed to hang onto a rope and be pulled back aboard.