Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Pilgrim's Progress

So we've seen how the Americans stopped being English colonists and became an independent nation. We've also seen how the people of this new nation drifted apart into two distinct regions and fought battles amongst themselves, in particular over differing views on slavery. But now we're off to see where it all started - where did these Americans come from?

In the early 1600's a bunch of English people had grown unhappy with the way the Church Of England did things and ran off to Amsterdam to create a puritan colony. Eventually they were given permission to create a new colony in America, near the Hudson River, and so they left for the New World. It's probably a good thing that they did - what they would have made of the present-day Amsterdam is anyone's guess!

So they sailed from Holland, back to England, and after some kerfuffle with their original boat, boarded a ship called the The Mayflower. They set off from Plymouth, Devon in September 1620 and two months later landed in... Plymouth Massachusetts! What are the chances? Three and a half thousand miles and they land somewhere with the same name - I'm flabbergasted that more isn't made of that!

Except that they didn't... it isn't true. They actually arrived at Provincetown on Cape Cod. They hung around there for a few months before deciding they didn't like it, so they got back on the Mayflower and travelled across the bay to Plymouth. And in Plymouth, they're so proud that this is where the Pilgrim Fathers (as they later became known) arrived, that they have a fantastic monument to celebrate the fact. 

A rock. Not a particularly big rock. Not a particularly interesting rock. Not even a rock that's still in one piece, or even in its original location. But it's symbolic, and to jazz things up a bit they've built a mini Acropolis around it.

There are only so many angles from which you can admire a rock, so after five minutes of rock admiration we decided to admire the Mayflower itself. Well, not the actual Mayflower, that's no longer with us unfortunately, but in the 1950s a replica of the original Mayflower was built in Devon and then sailed across the Atlantic. They called it "Mayflower II, The Revenge"

You can wander around Mayflower II, which we did, and it's hard to imagine around 130 people existing in such a small space for two months at sea - they must have really wanted to be Americans.

The final stage of our "Pilgrimage" (see what I did there?) was to visit the "living museum" that is the Plimoth Plantation (the funny spelling is apparently the way that the founder of the colony, William Bradford, wrote it). It's a bit like walking in to a virtual reality adventure game - you walk around a recreated village populated with people playing the role of the original English residents, baking bread, chopping wood and generally being "old fashioned".

And if you talk to them they do their level best to remain in character, improvising as necessary. Justine bravely engaged one chap in conversation, asking what he thought of The New World compared to England. He immediately picked up on her accent and (to her horror) asked what part of Yorkshire she was from. Shocked by  the accusation that she was a Yorkshire lass she made some comment about the heat, "how did they feel wearing so many layers of clothing?". The puritan responded, quite reasonably, "How do you feel, wearing so little?". Ouch!

I just took photographs, and tried to look like I didn't know either of them!

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