You’re seeking religious expression, so you take your family and your belongings and board a wooden ship for a journey to an unknown world … and it’s 400 years ago.
Now try to comprehend what the native Wampanoag people, who’d lived in that world for thousands of years, must have thought when they encountered a new people—the Pilgrims—exploring the land they had farmed and hunted. It’s hard to imagine—to really know how they felt.
Fortunately, historians and tourism professionals are passionate about sharing the story of what took place in the harbors of Massachusetts back then. And, thanks to trip sponsor Gail Arndt with Tour Trends, tour host Rowena Drinkhouse with Reformation Tours, Plymouth 400 and many others, I got to experience this inspiring place and people firsthand.
Provincetown, the first landing in the new world
Standing tall upon a hill in Provincetown on Cape Cod, you’ll find the Pilgrim Monument, which commemorates the first landing place of the Mayflower. At more than 250 feet high, the monument is the tallest all-granite structure in the United States, and boy does it make a statement!
The on-site Provincetown Museum offers a look at the town’s rich maritime history. At the base of the monument, you’ll also find the Mayflower Compact Monument, which pays tribute to the signing of this historical document on board the Mayflower in the Provincetown Harbor.
If you’d like to explore the first landing site, there’s a little public park at the end of Commercial Street, appropriately named Pilgrims’ First Landing.
South of Provincetown, in what is now Eastham, Massachusetts, is First Encounter Beach. There is a marker on the beach indicating the spot where the exploring Pilgrims, led by Myles Standish and William Bradford, first met the Nauset Tribe of the Wampanoags. The encounter in the winter of 1620 ended in retreat by both parties, and the Pilgrims subsequently set sail for Plymouth Harbor, where they ultimately began their colony.
A historical walking tour in Plymouth
Leo the Miller from the Jenney Museum took us on a guided stroll through historical Plymouth. Starting from the Plimoth Grist Mill, we walked along Town Brook, stopping every so often to learn about the significance of this little waterway and the interaction it created between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people. We also learned of water power, land division and the beginnings of self-rule and civil government for a new nation.
No walking tour would be complete without taking a few minutes to view Plymouth Rock. Its history might be uncertain and its size might be underwhelming, but its meaning is vast. As an icon for freedom, the rock can be found under a granite canopy located in Pilgrim Memorial State Park on the shore of the harbor.
Step back in time
Next up was a visit to the nation’s oldest continuously operating public museum, Pilgrim Hall Museum. It offers not only the story of the Pilgrims, but also that of the Wampanoag tribe. I could have spent hours reading and studying the artifacts and collections of the families who embarked on this journey, as well as the effect they had on the native people and the complexity of that relationship that still exists today. Pretty powerful stuff.
The museum also has an exhibit of early Bibles, including Bradford’s 1592 Geneva Bible (the version most commonly used by the Pilgrims) and John Alden’s 1620 King James Bible.
Mixing in a little modern
And when you’re ready for a break, it’s an easy walk down to the harbor to hop aboard a Captain John Whale Watching and Fishing Tours excursion. This NTA-member company offers a variety of excursions, such as whale watching, deep-sea fishing and sunset tours, or setting sail on the Pilgrim Belle paddlewheeler for a harbor tour, which is exactly what we did.
The bonus, though, was that our hosts arranged for a Wampanoag guide, Darius, to be with us. Darius described the topographical features of the region. He spoke of how his ancestors inhabited the land for thousands of years and how in the 1620s they taught the Pilgrims what and when to plant, ultimately leading to the first Thanksgiving. He also introduced us to the history of Clark’s Island, where the Pilgrims celebrated the first Sabbath in America, and explained the significance of this land for the Wampanoag people.
Plimoth Plantation: A living-history museum
There’s something magical about this place. It could be the talented people who give each visitor an authentic experience. Or it could be the strategy of the organization and its partners to make sure that travelers have the opportunity to learn the perspective of both the newcomers and the natives. It could just be that Plimoth Plantation is just incredible at preserving history.
Whatever the reason, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to explore this attraction, which is a member of the Faith Travel Association. One of my favorite parts was the Wampanoag Homesite. The native people who staff this exhibit are incredibly knowledgeable of the history and culture of the people who have inhabited the area for thousands of years. But they will also speak to you about their modern culture, and that’s pretty cool.
Next, we ventured over to the 17th-Century English Village. The costumed interpreters were pretty impressive as they told stories about colonial life and interacted with visitors. With a living history museum of this caliber, it was easy to travel back in time to explore the world the Pilgrims embraced in the 1600s.
Sadly, my trip had to come to an end. Back to 2018 and real life. The good news is I left with a better understanding of Pilgrim history, the impact their arrival had on the native people of our nation and how what began 400 years ago is still developing through understanding and partnerships. I also left thinking about when I’d return for the rest of the story.
Additional details on sites in Massachusetts visited on the tour
Four Points by Sheraton Boston Logan Airport: Conveniently located by the airport and historical Boston, this NTA-member property was a great place for our group to meet and stay.
Alden House Historic Site: Our first stop was visiting the house museum of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, who both made the journey on the Mayflower in 1620. This love story was eventually immortalized in “The Courtship of Miles Standish,” a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Hearth 'n Kettle: Here we enjoyed a Thanksgiving-themed meal together. It’s located inside the John Carver Inn & Spa, a beautiful boutique hotel, and is only steps away from Historic Plymouth.
Hotel 1620 Plymouth Harbor: This contemporary hotel is right in the heart of the harbor, offering full-service amenities to its guests. From the hotel it’s an easy walk to restaurants, shopping and waterfront attractions. And if you’re up for a longer walk, it’s less than a mile from Historic Plymouth.
Tavern on the Wharf: Our final meal was spent enjoying a New England clambake at this tavern. Its scratch kitchen has a diverse menu of appetizers, burgers, pasta, pizzas, seafood and tacos. Yum!
Lobster Pot: Fresh, delicious seafood—need I say more? Celebrating its 40th season in 2019, this award-winning restaurant also offers Portuguese specialties, steaks, poultry, vegetarian and light fare.
Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum: Here you’ll learn about the history and culture of the indigenous people. The attraction offers exhibits, artifacts and heirlooms depicting settlement life for thousands of years, and it’s the only museum in existence dedicated exclusively to Wampanoag history.
To read the story that discusses the Mayflower 400 portion of the Faith Travel Association Product Development trip in England, click here.
Top photo: 17th-Century English Village at Plimoth Plantation
Photo by Lynn Li