Plymouth Rock in the 17th century
There are no contemporary references to the Pilgrims' landing on a rock at Plymouth. There are two primary sources written by the Pilgrims themselves describing the landing in Plymouth in 1620, William Bradford's journal Of Plymouth Plantation and the 1622 book popularly known as Mourt's Relation. Both simply say that the Pilgrims landed. Neither mentions any rocks in their account of the landing. The first references to Plymouth Rock are found over 100 years after the actual landing.
Plymouth Rock: Landing Place of the Pilgrims
"The Consecrated Rock. – The identical granite Rock, upon which the sea-wearied Pilgrims from the Mayflower first impressed their footsteps, has never been a subject of doubtful designation. The fact of its identity has been transmitted from father to son, particularly in the instance of Elder Faunce and his father, as would be the richest inheritance, by unquestionable tradition. About the year 1741, it was represented to Elder Faunce that a wharf was to be erected over the rock, which impressed his mind with deep concern, and excited a strong desire to take a last farewell of the cherished object. He was then ninety-five years old, and resided three miles from the place. A chair was procured, and the venerable man conveyed to the shore, where a number of the inhabitants were assembled to witness the patriarch’s benediction. Having pointed out the rock directly under the bank of Cole’s Hill, which his father had assured him was that, which had received the footsteps of our fathers on their first arrival, and which should be perpetuated to posterity, he bedewed it with his tears and bid to it an everlasting adieu. These facts were testified to by the late venerable Deacon Spooner, who was then a boy and was present on the interesting occasion. Tradition says that Elder Faunce was in the habit on every anniversary, of placing his children and grand-children on the rock, and conversing with them respecting their forefathers. Standing on this rock, therefore, we may fancy a magic power ushering us into the presence of our fathers. Where is the New Englander who would be willing to have that rock buried out of sight and forgotten? The hallowed associations which cluster around that precious memorial, inspire us with sentiments of the love of our country, and a sacred reverence for its primitive institutions."
From History of the Town of Plymouth by James Thacher, 1835
Plymouth Rock & the American Revolution
"1774. - The inhabitants of the town [Plymouth], animated by the glorious spirit of liberty which pervaded the Province, and mindful of the precious relic of our forefathers, resolved to consecrate the rock on which they landed to the shrine of liberty. Col. Theophilus Cotton, and a large number of the inhabitants assembled, with about 20 yoke of oxen, for the purpose of its removal. The rock was elevated from its bed by means of large screws; and in attempting to mount it on the carriage, it split asunder, without any violence. As no one had observed a flaw, the circumstance occasioned some surprise. It is not strange that some of the patriots of the day should be disposed to indulge a little in superstition, when in favor of their good cause. The separation of the rock was construed to be ominous of a division of the British Empire. The question was now to be decided whether both parts should be removed, and being decided in the negative, the bottom part was dropped again into its original bed, where it still remains, a few inches above the surface of the earth, at the head of the wharf. The upper portion, weighing many tons, was conveyed to the liberty pole square, front of the meeting-house, where, we believe, waved over it a flag with the far-famed motto, ‘Liberty or death.’ This part of the rock was, on the 4th of July, 1834, removed to Pilgrim Hall, and placed in front of that edifice under the charge of the Pilgrim Society."
From History of the Town of Plymouth by James Thacher, 1835
1775 - Plymouth Rock appears "in print" for the first time! In 1775, America had not yet proclaimed independence. War, however, was already being waged in New England. While there was, as yet, no formal "Navy," George Washington did have 6 small ships operating from Massachusetts Bay, intercepting supplies being sent by sea to British-occupied Boston. One of Washington's schooners, the Harrison, captained by William Coit, was headquartered in Plymouth. In November of 775, the Harrison captured two British ships with geese, chicken, sheep, cattle and hogs on board, heading from Nova Scotia to supply the British troops stationed in Boston. Coit's triumphant return with his two prizes to Plymouth was reported in the Pennsylvania Journal of November 29, 1775:
Captain Coit (a humorous genius) made the prisoners land upon the same rock our ancestors first trod when they landed in America, where they gave three cheers, and wished success to American arms.
Plymouth Rock in the 19th & 20th centuries
In 1835, the top of the Rock – the portion which had traveled from the wharf to the liberty pole square to the front of Pilgrim Hall -- was enclosed by a fancy iron fence. Meanwhile, the base of the Rock – the portion which had NOT been moved in 1774 -- remained embedded in the wharf. Plymouth’s wharves were the center of activity for a busy commercial waterfront. The Pilgrim Society began buying portions of the wharf in which the Rock base was embedded, and removing the buildings which surrounded the base of the Rock.
In 1859, the Pilgrim Society laid the cornerstone for a canopy over the base of the Rock on the wharf. The canopy, designed by Hammatt Billings, was finished in 1867. In 1880, the Pilgrim Society moved the top of the Rock from its location inside the fancy iron fence in front of Pilgrim Hall Museum and reunited it to the base of the Rock under the Canopy. It was at this time that the date "1620" was cut into the Rock.
In preparation for the Tercentenary Celebration (the 300th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims), the entire waterfront of Plymouth was redesigned. Commercial activity at the wharves had dwindled and the wharves were in disrepair. In 1920, the Rock was temporarily relocated so that the old wharves could be removed and the waterfront re-landscaped. The shoreline was rebuilt so that when the Rock was replaced in its original site, it was at water level. The care of Plymouth Rock was turned over to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and a new portico, designed by McKim, Mead and White and donated by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, was built.
Plymouth Rock: An Inspiration
"We have come to this Rock, to record here our homage for our Pilgrim Fathers; our sympathy in their sufferings; our gratitude for their labours; our admiration of their virtues; our veneration for their piety; and our attachment to those principles of civil and religious liberty, which they encountered the dangers of the ocean, the storms of heaven, the violence of savages, disease, exile, and famine, to enjoy and establish. – And we would leave here, also, for the generations which are rising up rapidly to fill our places, some proof, that we have endeavored to transmit the great inheritance unimpaired; that in our estimate of public principles, and private virtue; in our veneration of religion and piety; in our devotion to civil and religious liberty; in our regard to whatever advances human knowledge, or improves human happiness, we are not altogether unworthy of our origin…"
Daniel Webster, 1820
"This Rock has become an object of veneration in the United States. I have seen bits of it carefully preserved in several towns in the Union. Does this sufficiently show that all human power and greatness is in the soul of man? Here is a stone which the feet of a few outcasts pressed for an instant; and the stone becomes famous; it is treasured by a great nation; its very dust is shared as a relic."
Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835
Plymouth Rock Facts
The top (visible) 1/3 of Plymouth Rock weighs approximately 4 tons. The bottom portion (under the sand) weighs approximately 6 tons. The Rock as it exists today is estimated to be only about 1/3 to 1/2 of its original size - the top half has been dragged around town, broken, chipped away at by 18th and 19th century souvenir hunters.
The longitude of Plymouth Rock = 70° 40'
The latitude of Plymouth Rock = 41° 57' 30"
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