By Chaitram Aklu
Most people know that Thanksgiving, celebrated on Nov. 22 this year, is associated with the Pilgrims who landed in Massachusetts after leaving England to escape religious persecution nearly 400 years ago.
The 102 men, women and children, were headed to Jamestown Virginia, but their trip was shortened when their vessel, the Mayflower was damaged just off the tip of Cape Cod, now seen on the map as Provincetown. That was Nov. 21, 1620.
A month later on December 21, they sailed west across Cape Cod Bay to the site they named Plymouth, where they began to eke out a settlement. Within a year nearly half of them perished because of illness, the harsh weather, and starvation. The settlement they established became the seat of Plymouth colony in 1633 and part of Massachusetts Bay colony in 1691.
They celebrated their anniversary with an ordinary feast. But in 1623, they experienced a punishing, prolonged drought which fortunately ended before their annual feast and that year they began calling the feast Thanksgiving.
So how did the story of Plymouth Rock begin? Did the Pilgrims actually land on a rock? After all the Pilgrims did not leave any writings or record that they landed on a rock. Plymouth Rock, which may easily qualify as the tiniest national monument in the United States, is an erratic composed of granite and deposited in the area by a glacier about 20,000 years ago.
The first reference to the pilgrims landing on a rock is found more than one hundred years later in 1771, according to the National Museum of American History which has two pieces of the said rock in its collection.
In 1775, it was decided to move the Rock to a more suitable place, but in attempting to move it from its foundation, a large portion was split off. Still the pieces were dragged by 20 oxen to a spot in Town Square. In 1834 the Rock was again moved. Another moving still was undertaken in 1880. In the spring of 1921 it was moved again, for the last time, to a site at the water’s edge, the present-day equivalent for its position when the Pilgrims first stepped upon it. In this final setting, the Rock (the pieces cemented together again) may be seen by visitors, as a symbol of the Pilgrims’ “stepping stone to liberty.”
So why is the rock so small? The original Rock weighed an estimated 20,000 pounds. The ‘trauma’ it experienced explains this. As it was moved through the town of Plymouth many pieces were taken, bought and sold as souvenirs. About one third of the top portion remains and although tourists and souvenir collectors have chipped pieces off for years, the monument has been protected since 1880. Since 1920 it is enclosed in an impressive portico shaped like a Roman temple on the water’s edge in the center of town at the foot of Cole’s Hill. It can’t be missed.
A final note: A piece of Plymouth Rock weighing some forty pounds is displayed on a pedestal in Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn, New York when two churches, Plymouth Church and the Church of the Pilgrims merged.