A Peaceful Thanksgiving from Plymouth

In full disclosure, as I write this, I am not in Plymouth: I’m actually in New Jersey, soon to go back to Massachusetts for a spell and then to Vermont for Thanksgiving. But last weekend I was in Plymouth, which was getting everything ready for the 400th anniversary of the very first Thanksgiving, in 1621. The weather was beautiful and my husband and I visited all the spots: the newly-renamed Plimoth Patuxet Museums, the Plimoth Grist Mill, and the Mayflower of course. We walked by Plymouth Rock with a passing glance which is pretty much all it deserves, but there was a small crowd gathered round, as usual. Even though Plymouth was getting ready, it was still calm and peaceful, and a welcome refuge from Salem which has been anything but for months. When we took a break for lunch we first tried a relatively new and seemingly hip place down on the water, but it was so noisy and crowded we walked right back out; I said to myself (or maybe out loud, I can’t remember): that’s like a Salem restaurant. We ended up in local sports bar, perfectly happy. Everything was just so easy in Plymouth. There were fewer reenactors at Plimoth Patuxet than I had ever seen before, but for me, this just heightened the starkness and impression of the landscape, a reproduced one for sure, but still quite effective in transporting one back.

In downtown Plymouth, the reproductions (the Grist Mill, the Mayflower) are merely small parts of an authentic, living town with old and new structures, going about its business, a town where you can actually buy basic necessities like socks and shoes (along with violins!) from shops that are open all year round. There’s a real history museum and a historical society. As you can tell, I just can’t help but compare Salem and Plymouth: I’ve done it before and I’m doing it now. They are both old Massachusetts settlements which have become tourist towns with claims to fame based on holidays: but Plymouth clearly seeks to set its holiday in a comprehensive historical context while also preserving daily livability for its residents, while Salem, after reducing and contorting its own history to fit its chosen holiday, seems focused only on throwing an escalating party. And as we all know, parties are more fun for the guests than the hosts (or at least that’s my experience).

Happy Thanksgiving from Plymouth!

Update: Heather Wilkinson Rojo is your source for all things Mayflower in general and Mayflower 400th commemoration in particular: see all of her lovely links here: https://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/p/mayflower-400th.html?spref=tw

10 responses to “A Peaceful Thanksgiving from Plymouth

  • Nancy

    Oh, Donna! Thank you, thank you for this blog article!!! The pictures are wonderful. I’ve been studying 1600s Colonial New England in depth on my own for some time now and am ever thrilled by the construction of the house exteriors, with their thatched roofs, clapboard boarding, clay-daubed chimneys…and rude interiors with dirt floors and oiled parchment windows. So primitive. And the gardens! It’s a feast for these eyes, especially since I’ve never visited Plimoth Plantation in person. As for Salem, early on that town was important in the shipping of both people and goods and, because of its growth, retained very few of its original buildings from that time period. Ipswich, on the other hand, has more First Period Dwellings than any other place. I suppose growth and industry can be a good thing, but it can also sacrifice its visual history in the process. And I think that’s a message you have been heralding for some time now!
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Donna!

  • Helen Breen

    Hi Donna,

    Thanks for sharing your trip to Plymouth and the “newly-renamed” Plimoth Patuxet Museums. I almost forgot that this is the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving. May I put in a plug for one of my favorite books? MAYFLOWER A Study of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick – fascinating.

    Loved that shot of the Grist Mill with the pumpkins scattered about.

  • Jenni

    Thank you. This is very meaningful to me.

  • particleperson

    I usually prefer the north shore to the south shore, but Plymouth and a few other spots (Duxbury is very nice, so are Weymouth and Yarmouth) are exceptions. As we discussed, the comparison of Plymouth to Salem does seem to naturally suggest itself. I do wonder if some of the pleasantness of Plymouth and lack of it in Salem is a kind of long-term reflection of the types of people who settled in the two places.

    The Plymouth colonists seem to have been much less violent (speaking only in the RELATIVE sense) than the Massachusetts Bay people. It goes without saying, but I better say it anyhow, that both cultures were extremely violent by modern standards. Anyway, I have the impression that the Mass. Bay people were constantly stewing at each other and pursuing vendettas — the witchcraft trials being only one instance of the backbiting blowing up into something much nastier, and it never really ended so much as became diluted in the 18th and 19th centuries. I’ve read Mourt’s Relation, on the other hand, and got the impression that at least in the very early days, the Plymouth colonists were relatively at peace with each other, notwithstanding a few troublemakers like John Billington. Begin as you mean to go on, isn’t that the saying?

    • daseger

      It’s a very interesting theory. There might be something to it, but I think urban development is more important—Salem became a city while Plymouth did not.

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