Plimoth Plantation, Thanksgiving, and How a Necklace Helped Me Understand Revisionist History (Part I)

November 26, 2016

by Jane

When I was in Mrs. Oostendorp's (to my non-Dutch friends: yes, that really was her name) third-grade class at Sylvan Christian School, we worked together as a class to write a poem about the "first" Thanksgiving—the one with the Mayflower and Squanto and those construction-paper Pilgrim hats, not one of the many other "first" Thanksgivings (some of which you can read about here). I remember only two couplets:

Pilgrims hunted with a gun.
They shot a turkey on the run!


Elder Brewster gave thanks to God
For that fine day of glory and laud.

(We were children who had sung, "All glory, laud, and honor," every Palm Sunday for the eight years of our young lives, so that final line didn't seem strange to us. It was, I realize now, an odd subculture in which I grew up.)

This fall, Steve and I got to visit the living-history museum Plimoth Plantation, near Plymouth, Massachusetts, home of that particular "first" Thanksgiving, where we saw reconstructions of the early years of the colony (1620-1627) and of a Wampanoag homesite nearby.

I'm having a terrible time writing this post, because there is so much interesting history I want to include. I've been sitting here for two days with 34 tabs open on my browser—my Tyndale teammates could tell you how excited I get about fact-checking—and haven't yet managed to distill all the information down to a reasonable length for a blog post. (Steve periodically looks over my shoulder and says things like, "I see you have a title. That's progress.") So here's my compromise: I'll include links to some of those open tabs, and if you're interested, you can read the history for yourself.

So, quick summary:
Plymouth Colony was started in December 1620 by English men, women, and children, some of whom left England for religious reasons (and whom we now call the Pilgrims, although that term wasn't used at the time) and some of whom had been recruited by the Virginia Company—the same guys who sent the ships to Jamestown in 1607 (cue the Disney song).

This may be what the colony looked like, minus the hordes of tourists. This beautiful setting is not the actual location, because the town of Plymouth is sitting on that, but this week archaeologists announced the finding of what they think is the original site.

Museum staff in period dress play specific historical people and stay in character as if it is 1624-ish. Here are Priscilla Alden and a less-famous woman whose name I didn't catch. We met Miles Standish, too, but I didn't like him, so we didn't take his picture.


The story I learned in third grade about Squanto helping the colonists is true, although I don't recall Mrs. Oostendorp mentioning that Squanto (now also referred to as Tisquantum) knew English because he had been kidnapped, shipped to Spain to be sold as a slave, and somehow found his way to London, where an enterprising businessman realized Squanto (who by now had learned English) would make a good interpreter and sent him back to New England after a short tour of duty in Newfoundland. A well-traveled man, that Squanto.

However, it's a man named Hobbamock, also a Wampanoag, who, with his family, lived near and/or with the Plymouth colonists, and his homesite is represented at Plimoth Plantation. It is staffed by Native People in period dress but not in period character; they speak from a modern perspective.

The museum staff plant the garden the way Squanto (or somebody) taught the colonists: with a dead fish under the "three sisters"; beans to fix nitrogen in the soil, corn to support the beans, and squash to provide shade and crowd the weeds out. Companion planting is nothing new.

My favorite part, though, was the description of the houses. They were intended to be easy to put up, easy to take down, and portable, so that the residents could spend the summers in the cooler north, then pull up stakes (or, in this case, posts) and head south for the winter. Just like me and Steve—only the Wampanoag didn't have to wait till retirement to do it.

The museum also includes a replica of the Mayflower, but we had to drive to modern-day Plymouth for that—and you'll have to wait for Part II of this post.

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