Plymouth Rock: History & Overview

Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

Discover information about Plymouth Rock during this lesson. Take a closer look at the historical importance of the rock, what the rock represents, how it is protected and where it is located today.

Background

Plymouth Rock is recognized as the site where William Bradford and the Mayflower Pilgrims disembarked their ship in 1620. Thereafter, the Plymouth Colony was founded.

Plymouth Rock

History

The first written reference to the rock was recorded in 1715. This was found in the town of Plymouth's written town boundary records. Originally, it was not known whether the pilgrims had actually stepped off of the ship on to a rock. What we identify today as Plymouth Rock had laid at the edge of Cole's Hill, the first cemetery used by the pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts, for nearly a century. Then, when plans were introduced to begin building at the landing site in 1741, 94-year-old Thomas Faunce came forward and said he knew which exact boulder the pilgrims had stepped on. He claimed that his father and several of the original Mayflower passengers had told him which precise rock it was when he was a child. Mr. Faunce's recollection was questioned in the years following due to his age at the time of the identification. However, historians have noted that there is no question that he grew up in Plymouth at a time when many of the passengers of the Mayflower were alive. In fact, Mr. Faunce lived three miles from the landing site.

It is estimated that the original rock weighed 20,000 lb.

pilgrim landing

Placement of the Rock

The boulder was then moved from the shore approximately 33 years later. To do this, the rock was cut into two parts: the bottom half was left at the shore and the top half was brought to the town's meeting house. The top half of the rock was later returned to the bottom half in 1880 and the date 1620 was inscribed into the rock.

In 1920, the shore was rebuilt with a walkway and seawall. A portico, an open-air structure with walls and protective gratings, designed by McKim, Mead and White was built for viewing the rock.

plymouth portico

Present Day

The rock has had numerous chunks of it taken and sold. Today, it is surmised that approximately 2/3 of the top has been removed by tourists as souvenirs before it was protected. There are also pieces that are kept in Pilgrim Hall Museum and in the Smithsonian.

Plymouth Rock today is maintained by the Department of Conservation and Recreation for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as part of Pilgrim Memorial State Park. Several months a year, the site is staffed by park employees who answer questions about Plymouth Rock and share tidbits about the history of the area.

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