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Massachusetts’ Plimoth Plantation Will Change Its Name

The new moniker will incorporate the Mashpee Wampanoag name for the region: Patuxet

Plimoth Plantation is a living history museum that features a recreation of Plymouth's 17th-century English village and a Wampanoag homesite. (Photo by David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
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Earlier this month, living history museum Plimoth Plantation shared a new logo featuring two words: Plimoth—an alternative spelling of the Massachusetts colony’s name—and Patuxet, the Wampanoag name for the land where English settlers landed in 1620. Per a statement, the museum will decide on a new moniker incorporating these titles within the next several months.

The announcement is expected to coincide with events marking the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s landing in what is now the town of Plymouth, reports Lucas Phillips for the Boston Globe. The new name will drop the word “plantation” in order to better represent the fact that the site includes historical reenactments of both the 17th-century English colony and the Wampanoag tribe.

Representatives of the Mashpee Wampanoag Nation describe the change as a welcome first step but point out that museum can still do more.

“The name change is something we’ve been considering at the museum for over a year,” spokesperson Kate Sheehan tells CBS Boston. “[It] is about making sure that we are fully reflecting what we do here, and that includes and has long included the history and culture of the Indigenous people of this region.”

In the United States, the word “plantation” is widely associated with the “antebellum South, whose economic system depended on slave labor,” wrote Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman for Grammarphobia in 2015.

“But even before its use in America,” the pair added, “the word had meanings connected with colonialism and the domination of defeated countries.”

Plimoth Plantation was established in 1947 as a memorial to the pilgrims. The recreated English village is staffed by historical reenactors who replicate 17th-century life by wearing period clothing, speaking in the dialect of their character’s home region and taking on roles essential in a 1620 community. Closer to the Eel River, the museum also has a living exhibition centered on the Wampanoag tribe.

“Unlike the people you’ll meet in the 17th-century English Village, the staff in the Wampanoag Homesite are not role players,” the museum writes on its website. “They are all Native People—either Wampanoag or from other Native Nations—and they will be dressed in historically accurate clothing, mostly made of deerskin.”

Plimoth Plantation is a common destination for school field trips, which encourage visitors to learn by interacting with the staff and exploring the recreated landscape. It reopened in June after closing temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The museum’s announcement arrives amid a spate of similarly motivated name changes. On Monday, the Washington, D.C. football team said it would announce a new moniker once trademark issues are resolved; the State of Rhode Island, meanwhile, plans to remove the latter half of its name—“Providence Plantations”—from official documents.

Shirley High-Rock sits inside a nush wetu, or house with three fire pits, at Plimoth Plantation's Wampanoag homesite. (Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman / The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

“Previous centuries marked anniversaries with statues, pageants, orators, and urban renewal projects that reflected contemporary views of the world,” the museum says in the statement. “We intend this change to be part of the lasting contribution our Museum makes to this century’s commemoration.”

Speaking with the Cape Cod TimesBeth Treffeisen, David Weeden, historic preservation officer for the Wampanoag Tribe, notes that the museum’s programming offered him the opportunity to learn traditional activities from tribal elders.

Still, he adds, controversies remain: Plimoth dedicates an entire village to the area’s English colonists, for instance, but the Wampanoag exhibition consists of a single homesite. Adding more homesites would allow for broader representation, Weedan says. He also emphasizes the need for discretionary authority over programming, fair and equal wages, and equal budgeting for programs.

“I think the name change is a start,” Wampanoag spokesperson Steven Peters tells the Cape Cod Times. “But they need to dig a lot deeper than that, and there are more ingrained issues within that institute that need to shift along with the name.”

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