Plymouth Rock

From Academic Kids

Plymouth Rock is the traditional site of disembarkation of William Bradford and the Mayflower Pilgrims who founded Plymouth Colony, in what would become the United States. There is no contemporary reference to it, and it is not referred to in Bradford's journal Of Plymouth Plantation or in Mourt's Relation. The first reference to the Pilgrims landing on a rock is found one hundred years after they landed in 1620.

The location of Plymouth Rock, a boulder of granite (more specifically, Dedham granodiorite), at the foot of Cole's Hill is said to have been passed from generation to generation. In 1741, when plans were afoot to build a wharf at the site, an octogenarian, Thomas Faunce, Elder of the church, pointed out the precise rock his father had told him was the first solid land on which the Pilgrims set foot upon their arrival in the New World. (In fact the Pilgrims had landed at the site of Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod in November 1620 before reaching Plymouth).

An attempt was made by Col. Theophilus Cotton and the townspeople of Plymouth to move the rock in 1774. In the process the rock was split into two halves, and it was decided to leave the bottom portion behind at the wharf and the top half was relocated to the town's meeting-house.

A published reference to Plymouth Rock was made by Captain William Coit in the Pennsylvania Journal of November 29, 1775, relating a story of how he brought captive British sailors ashore "upon the same rock our ancestors first trod".

The upper portion of the rock was relocated from Plymouth's meeting-house to Pilgrim Hall in 1834. In 1859 the Pilgrim Society began building a Victorian canopy at the wharf over the lower portion of the rock. Following its completion in 1867, the top of the rock was moved from Pilgrim Hall back to its original wharf location in 1880. The date "1620" was carved into the rock.

In 1920, the rock was relocated and the waterfront rebuilt to a design by noted landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff, with a waterfront promenade behind a low seawall, in such a way that when the rock was returned to its original site, it would be at water level. The care of the rock was turned over to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and a new very sober Ionic portico designed by McKim, Mead and White was built for viewing the tide-washed rock protected by gratings beneath the platform.

Alexis De Tocqueville wrote in 1835:

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.


It has also been described as "the most disappointing landmark in America." Reasoning for this being the extremely small size (no more than two and a half, three feet across) and relative distance from viewing platforms. Many tourists visiting New England find Plymouth "out of the way" as it is located in South Eastern Massachusetts, about an hour's drive from Boston. Also, for those traveling without a car, the MBTA runs very few trains to Plymouth and find local public transportation to be poor.

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'Plymouth Rock' is also the name of a breed of chicken with black and gray feathers that was developed in eastern Massachusetts.


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