As I revisit Plymouth this week to soak up the history of the town’s role our country’s history, one important stop is Pilgrim Hall. Today Plymouth is a thriving community of around 60,000 people. In 1620 the population had been reduced from 102 Mayflower passengers to the fifty-one who lived through the first grueling winter. These English survivors established their new Plimoth Plantation on the site of an abandoned Patuxet village. A pandemic had swept through the area only a couple of years earlier. The entire population either died or left to escape the scourge. Walking around Plymouth today is equivalent to walking through a directory of who’s who from the Mayflower passenger list. Streets and buildings bear the names of the passengers who settled here in 1620.
In 1820, at the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the English settlers, history lovers formed the Pilgrim Society to preserve Plymouth’s unique history. Four years later they opened the doors to Pilgrim Hall, a museum dedicated to preserving this chapter of our country’s history. Pilgrim Hall is the oldest continuously operating museum in the country. The mission of Pilgrim Society and the Pilgrim Hall Museum is to achieve worldwide awareness of the significance of the Pilgrim story.
Preserving and Teaching Our History
The museum houses a variety of artifacts and displays that educate visitors about the history of both the Native people and the English settlers, focusing on the diversity of America’s multi-cultural beginnings. A variety of Virtual Displays are available to enjoy from the comfort of home. I was particularly drawn to one about Spoons, Salts and Saucers
Peggy M. Baker, Director Emerita of the Pilgrim Society and Pilgrim Hall Museum wrote an article for the website about English author J. S. Buckingham. He toured the United States in the 1830s and wrote about his visit to Plymouth in 1838 when he attended a Forefathers day event at the new Pilgrim Hall. He described it in his book America: Historical, statistic, and Descriptive. He described the event thus: “Tickets of admission were three dollars each, including refreshments, and the hours of dancing were limited from seven in the evening till three I the morning.”
Historical Perspective 200 Years Ago
His description of the ball would seem to dispute the Pilgrim’s reputation as being killjoys when it came to entertainment. Or at least the founders of the Pilgrim Society and Pilgrim Hall didn’t oppose to a little frivolity and fun now and then.
Buckingham further described the dress of those attending as being a great variety of tastes with gentlemen dancing in frock-coats. “Some had drab, and others had black and white plaid trousers, such as were fashionable for morning wear in England a few years ago. One gentleman danced in yellow morocco slippers.”
Of the women he wrote, “Some of the younger ladies were among the most beautiful that we had yet seen in America; three or four were exquisitely lovely, and, as specimens of feminine beauty, hardly to be surpassed, I think, in any country in the globe.”
Historical Art Work
Several very large paintings of historical events around the museum also captured Buckingham’s attention. He wrote, “The great attraction of Pilgrim Hall is the noble picture presented to it by the artist, Colonel Sargent, of Boston. When he (Sargent) found no buyers for the art work, the artist very liberally presented it to the Pilgrim society, for the adornment of their Hall; and never was private munificence more appropriately bestowed.”
Sargent’s painting, “The Landing of the Pilgrims,” admired by Buckingham in 1838, still hangs in the Main Hall of Pilgrim Hall Museum today.
One need not travel to Plymouth to benefit from the vast variety of history preserved at Pilgrim Hall. Their website is a wealth of information. Additionally, the museum offers a series of virtual events, including lectures and virtual tours. For more information visit https://www.pilgrimhall.org/museum_events.htm
Read more about the early encounters between the Pilgrim settlers and the Pokanokets in my historical novel Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures. Available now in paperback Ebook and audio.
Bookshop.org (Supporting local Indie Bookshops)
Autographed copies available from BlueWillowBookShop.com/book/