This Thanksgiving, Step Back in Time and into 17th-Century Plymouth Colony | Travel | Smithsonian
Although smaller than the original settlement, the Plimoth Plantation "living museum," a Smithsonian Affiliate, features authentic reproductions of thatched-roofed houses, a protective palisade, working farms and actors who have assumed the dress, speech patterns and personas of historical colonists. (Photo credit: Richard Taylor)

Even after arriving in Plymouth Harbor, the Mayflower passengers continued to live on the ship for several months while houses were constructed on shore. During that first winter, roughly half of the Pilgrims fell sick and died, weakened by scurvy, cold weather and pneumonia.

(Photo credit: Fabienne Wassermann)
Scholars don't know exactly what the original colony looked like, but the recreated village is based on ongoing historical and archaeological research. The museum chose to place the village in 1627 because it is one of the best documented years in the historical record. (Photo credit: Office of Governor Patrick)

"[The town] is well situated upon a high hill close unto the seaside… In this plantation is about twenty houses, four or five of which are very fair and pleasant, and the rest (as time will serve) shall be made better…"

—Emmanuel Altham, early visitor to the new colony, 1623

Source: Plimoth Plantation Museum

(Photo credit: Colonnade Boston)
Furs line the benches of a wetu, the Wampanoag word for house. The staff working in the Wampanoag Village are all Native People, either Wampanoag or from other Native Nations. While their clothing and houses are contemporary to the 17th-century, the Native interpreters are not role players like in the Plimoth Plantation English Village and discuss Wampanoag culture with visitors from a modern perspective. (Photo credit: Richard Taylor)
Despite popular portrayals, Pilgrims didn't only wear black. Clothes in brick red, brown, yellow and blue were common. Black dyes were particularly expensive; therefore, clothes in this color were usually reserved for special occasions. (Photo credit: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism)
In cold weather, both men and women wore mantles, skins fastened at the shoulder and wrapped around the body. Mantles were often made of dearskin, but raccoon, otter, beaver, and other animal skins were used during cold weather. (Photo credit: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism)
The museum keeps rare and heritage breeds of farm animals that are genetically similar to the kinds found in the original colony. Milking Devon were the first cattle to arrive from Britain. (Photo credit: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism)

"Dinner," the biggest meal of the day, was served around noon, and most likely included a thick porridge or bread made from Indian corn and either fish or fowl meat.

(Photo credit: Eric Haynes / Office of Governor Patrick)
The majority of the farming activities took place outside the village walls, but women also tended small backyard vegetable gardens. Many colonists moved to the New World from cities and had never farmed before. (Photo credit: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism)

The colonists never actually referred to themselves as "Pilgrims." That moniker wasn't popularly applied to the early colonists until the 1800s.

(Photo credit: Reizigerin)
Each house typically took two to three months to construct. (Photo credit: Fabienne Wassermannt)
Although sheep were not brought to the colony until 1628, there is a small flock of heritage breed Wiltshire Horned Sheep in the village. (Photo credit: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism)
Reenactors assume the names of actual colonists and speak in historically accurate dialects. (Photo credit: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism)
Traditionally, dugout canoes were crafted out of large, wide-girth pine trees. Controlled fires were used to burn and hollow out the center of the trunk.

Visitors to the Wampanoag Village might see Native interpreters creating new canoes. (Photo credit: Fabienne Wassermann)
A role player marching through the streets of the English Village. (Photo credit: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism)
The houses in the English village are decorated with the types of objects the Pilgrims would have brought with them or had access to in the late 1620s. (Photo credit: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism)
Pilgrim children were encouraged to play games that would help them prepare for adult life, such as making house or playing with dolls. (Photo credit: Fabienne Wassermannt)
Mayflower II is a close-to-exact replica of the original vessel that carried the first 102 Pilgrims across the Atlantic in 1620. The original ship no longer exists. The voyage took 66 days, during which time three women gave birth on board. (Jonathan)
In 1627, the Plimoth Plantation was home to approximately 160 permanent residents, including 30 families and 20 single men. Reenactors go about the daily lives of the 17th-century colonists. A bowl of corn — native to the New World — sits on the table.

(Eric Haynes / Office of Governor Patrick)
A Native interpreter in the Wampanoag Village wearing historically accurate clothing. (Office of Governor Patrick)

This Thanksgiving, Step Back in Time and into 17th-Century Plymouth Colony

Reenactors in this "living museum" bring the Pilgrim's homestead back to life

The year is 1627. The seven years since the Mayflower landed in Plymouth Harbor have been hard. More than half the original passengers are dead, and many survivors have endured long separations from family members left behind in the Old World. But things are looking up, the colonists will tell you. Harvests are strong, and the population is growing. And today the sun is out, and it's a fine morning to dry the laundry.

Three miles south of modern Plymouth, MA, visitors are invited to step back in time and into the 17th-Century farming and maritime community built by the Pilgrims. Although smaller than the original settlement, the Plimoth Plantation "living museum," a Smithsonian Affiliate, features authentic reproductions of thatched-roofed houses, a protective palisade, working farms and actors who have assumed the dress, speech patterns and personas of historical colonists. Visitors are encouraged to wander the "plantation" (a term used interchangeable with "colony") and ask the inhabitants about their new lives, including their complicated relationship with their neighbors, the Wampanoag.

Thanksgiving is peak season at Plimoth (the spelling William Bradford used in his famous history of the colony), but the museum makes a point to remind visitors that the true story of the "First Thanksgiving" is riddled with missing information. According to historical accounts, Massasoit, an important leader of the nearby Wampanoag village of Pokanoket, and at least 90 of his men joined the colonists for a harvest celebration in the fall of 1621. But the exact reason behind the visit and many of the details remain mysteries. The following year, tensions rose between the two groups after a handful of English settlers attempted to expand further into Wampanoag territory.

Visitors are encouraged to get additional perspectives on early Pilgrim-Wampanoag relations in the nearby Wampanoag Homesite. The village is a recreation of what the Wampanoag settlement would have looked like during the summer growing season. The staff working in the outdoor museum are all Native Americans, either Wampanoag or from other Native Nations. While their clothing and houses are contemporary to the 17th-century, the Native interpreters are not role players like in the Plimoth English Village and discuss Wampanoag history and culture with visitors from a modern perspective.

The museum is open daily from late March through the Sunday after Thanksgiving (Dec. 1, 2013).

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus