By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff
There are few Americans who didn’t learn about the Pilgrims’ 1620 landing in Plymouth. It’s hard to ignore, especially since there’s a national holiday that rolls around every November dedicated to the efforts of Pilgrims to make this land their new home. But the story we were told in school has lost a few key details after a few hundred years. Historian and teacher Christopher Daley presented his talk on 1620 and the first year of Pilgrim settlement on Tuesday, January 12, to a Zoom audience. The program was co-hosted by the Westwood Historical Society and the Westwood Library.
The talk came at the perfect time, with the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival in Plymouth occurring in November. “It’s a good time to look back and reflect on the Pilgrims,” said Daley before starting the talk. Daley’s lecture was particularly refreshing due to the fact that it was not only about the history of the colonizers; he also provided the topographical context to help the audience understand their conflicts and triumphs.
The Pilgrims arrived in Cape Cod on November 11, 1620. After being at sea for over sixty days, the passengers made their way off the boat and onto land. After taking a short break from traveling, the group began planning a series of expeditions, with a couple of goals in mind. One was to make contact with the Native Americans to trade and get some food. Another was to find a permanent settling place. A group of men decided to get off the boat and go ashore to seek what would hopefully become their new settlement. From their first steps off of the beach, members of the scouting group were in for the adventure of their lives.
During their first of several expeditions, the explorers spent their days tracking down a source of fresh water. They stumbled upon Stout Creek, where they then spent their first night on land. "This is a very important location. It’s one of the only locations I’m going to show you that does not have a marker. This was the first place that they spent the night in America and there’s no marker,” explained Daley. The explorers continued on, making their way through thick brush, when they finally arrived at a spot now known as Pilgrim Spring, where they were able to get their first drink of fresh New England water. Today, there is an official path managed by the National Park Service; it is a much easier walk, these days. “They weren’t used to having good water. There was so much pollution and filth over [in England],” explained Daley, “when they got here they just thought that water was so sweet.” It was after this that the Pilgrims knew that they could settle and make new lives in America.
First Encounter Beach marks the first place where the colonizers had a conflict with the Native Americans. Though they had spotted Native Americans from afar and noted their settlements, they had yet to actually interact with any individuals. Just as they were waking up from a night’s rest, the Pilgrims were awoken by an attack from the local Native Americans. “There were arrows and musket balls exchanged and oddly, nobody was killed in this exchange,” said Daley. After this incident, they moved down the coast to safety.
Perhaps the most famous of the iconic Pilgrim locations is Plymouth Rock. In reality, there was actually no mention of the famous boulder in any primary sources from the time. However, years later, the rock became a topic of discussion. In 1741, a town elder found out that the rock was going to be buried by a newly-constructed wharf. Upon hearing this news, he became upset and demanded to be taken to the rock. “It was there that he told the story that his father knew: [that] those people that were first ones that stepped off onto that rock,” explained Daley. Earlier reports had cited the importance of the rock, confirming the town elder’s concerns. The wharf was instead built around the rock, to save it for future generations.
Though it’s been 400 years, there are still remnants of the Pilgrims’ first days here in Massachusetts. Many are easily reachable, whether it be by a short walk, a trip to the beach, or even by gazing at a rock. All are great reminders of the events that helped shape this country hundreds of years ago.