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Living Museum Interprets Plymouth Colony Story

At Plimoth Plantation, it's 1627 every day

By Kari Kynard Ridge on November 25, 2014

Copy of Malka|Copy of Pilgrims preparing pumpkins
Plimoth Plantation

Visitors to Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts can experience a taste of what life was like for both natives and pilgrims when British settlers established a small farming and maritime community nearby during the 17th century.

Colonial Plymouth comes vividly to life through each of the living museum’s five major sites. Now, every day at Plimoth Plantation is much as it was in 1627, when the native Wampanoag tribe lived along the coast, and the 160 pilgrims who settled at Plymouth Colony had built a few modest timber-framed homes and tended gardens and livestock. This smaller recreation represents the original settlement that existed in the nearby town of Plymouth. Costumed role-players portray some of the actual residents of Plymouth Colony who are eager to share their unique viewpoints and life histories.

“Intensive research combined with a great deal of passion creates an immersive experience that goes beyond a traditional museum venue,†says Richard Pickering, deputy director of Plimoth Plantation. “Plimoth Plantation is committed to inspiring fun and education through powerful and creative means, adhering to the museum’s philosophy, “You can’t change history … but it can change you.”

Telling the Stories of Pilgrims and Native Nations

A self-guided tour of Plimoth Plantation leads to five unique sites spread across three venues.

In the English Village, visitors can learn about the colony’s difficult beginnings by visiting a role-playing pilgrim family cooking over a fire with ingredients available in the 1600s.

Staff at the Wampanoag Homesite are not role players. They are members of Native Nations who wear clothing of the 1600s and can speak on the modern perspective about Wampanoag history and culture, while conducting activities such as boat-building using fire to hollow out trees.

The Craft Center features working artisans and offers a unique glimpse into the historic crafts and technologies that allow the museum to recreate the look and feel of the 17th century. The Craft Center recently added the Plimoth Bread Company, a wood-fired bakery exhibit that produces bread available for purchase. The Nye Barn features rare and heritage breeds of livestock.

Visitors can step aboard the Mayflower II, a full-scale reproduction of the ship that brought the British colonists to Plymouth in 1620. The Henry Hornblower II Visitor’s Center houses exhibits, a café, and shops selling native art and jewelry, books and locally made items, and hosts the Plymouth Winter Farmers Market. A newer addition to the museum is the Plimoth Grist Mill, which uses water power to grind organic corn into cornmeal.

“Each of these locations help tell our story,†says Sarah Macdonald, Plimoth Plantation manager of media relations.

Celebrating Thanksgiving Like It’s 1621

The plantation receives about 350,000 visitors between from March through November each year, with 10,000 of these attending during the Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving. Several pre-arranged dining options are offered throughout the year, and the America’s Thanksgiving Dinners are very popular.

At these holiday meals, domestic turkey – 4,000 pounds of it each year – stands in for the passenger pigeon and wild turkey served on the 1621 menu, and the other dishes are based on period recipes, says Kathleen Wall, a Colonial Foodways culinarian at Plimoth. These modern Thanksgiving celebrations, held in facilities with heat and electricity, are based on writings about that original dinner, a three-day event that brought together the pilgrims, who were grateful for their first harvest, with 90 native residents.

“We set up long tables in a room with a big fireplace, and there are people in costume and it feels very authentic,†Wall says. “It’s easy to think you are having dinner in a different time.”

“You can’t change history… but it can change you.”

Richard Pickering
Deputy Director of Plimoth Plantation
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