400 Years, Tracking the Pilgrims

First Landing

2020 is the 400th Anniversary of the Pilgrim’s arrival in Massachusetts. This was supposed to be a huge celebration year with lectures, re-enactments, etc. Things came to a screeching halt in March as the Coronavirus roared into the state and things were shut down. Activities did eventually resume, albeit via webinars or socially distanced get togethers with limited numbers of participants. In 1620, the destination of the Mayflower was actually the mouth of the Hudson River. Crossing the Atlantic, the Mayflower drifted to the north and the first land to be observed was the northern shore of Cape Cod. Turning south, the Mayflower encountered what would become the graveyard of many ships, the shoals of Pollack Rip just off the coast of what is now the town of Chatham. The journey to the Hudson River was abandoned and the Mayflower turned north. Rounding the tip of Cape Cod the Mayflower dropped anchor in Cape Cod Bay on November 11, 1620, off latter day Provincetown.

Barb and I attended a webinar last night about the Pilgrims first year in New England. Included in the talk was a map with a list of locations that the Pilgrims explored. Today we took advantage of a beautiful fall day to visit some of the sites. The images below are in Provincetown. In the image on the left the tall tower in the distance is the Pilgrim Monument. The Mayflower is believed to have anchored in the bay in the area just past the end of fence. The photo on the right is a small marker commemorating the arrival of the Pilgrims on November 11. The area is being renovated and we could not get closer to the monument.

Initial Shallot Excursions

The second stop on our tour of sites the Pilgrims explored was Corn Hill. Using a small skiff called a “shallot”, 16 men sailed from the Mayflower seeking likely places for food sources or inhabitants (Native Americans of the Payomet Tribe). Arriving at a stretch of beach with a high prominence behind it, the Pilgrims came ashore and began to explore. Climbing the hill they discovered several unoccupied dwellings (the Payomets were at hunting camps further south). The real find however were several bushels of ripe corn and seed corn. The Pilgrim’s food supply had gotten dangerously low, so they took the corn. They basically stole the Payomet’s food supply. Not being total spalpeens, the Pilgrims did leave a note promising to repay the “loan”. They also named the spot “Corn Hill”. The photo on the upper left below is Corn Hill today. The photo on the right is of Provincetown in the distance. The Pilgrims lit a bonfire signal so those on the Mayflower knew that all was well. The photo on the lower left is of a modern day pilgrim standing in front of the monument commemorating the campsite. The photo on the lower right is the monument.

On the First Thanksgiving, the feast being completed, the Pilgrim and Payomet menfolk were sipping brandy and smoking cigars. Payomet Chief Massasoit reluctantly brought up the subject of the corn debt with Pilgrim leader William Bradford (who would become the first Governor of Massachusetts). Bradford replied with the very first version of the reply that would pass down through the ages with some minor modifications: “Chief, the corn is in the mail”. I totally made up this last paragraph. The Pilgrims did repay the corn loan.

First Encounter

The last stop on our tour today was First Encounter Beach in Eastham. Making another excursion farther South along the Cape Cod Bay side of the Cape, the Pilgrims observed several Native Americans on the shore. As they approached the beach, the party on shore melted into the woods. A little uneasy, the Pilgrims established a rudimentary set of breastworks for protection before settling in for the night. The night would be anything but settling and restful as animal sounds and shuffling noises from the woods kept many of the Pilgrims awake. The noises were created by members of the Wampanoag Tribe preparing to confront the English settlers at first light. As dawn broke, the Pilgrim guards came scrambling back to the beach shouting “Indians! The woods are full of them”. The guards were no sooner behind their protective barrier when a shower of arrows zipped passed their heads. The Pilgrims replied with a hail of lead fired from their matchlock rifles. The noise and smoke sent the Wampanoags back into the forest. The Pilgrims broke camp quickly, piled into the shallot and sailed back to the Mayflower. The first encounter between Pilgrims and Wampanoags ended in a bloodless draw. It was not too long after this engagement that the shallot set out for one final time, heading west to their final destination in Plymouth.

The top photo below is First Encounter Beach looking north towards Provincetown. The 2nd photo is First Encounter Beach heading south to Orleans. The 3rd photo is monument commemorating the first encounter.

We are going to try and visit more sites dedicated to the Pilgrim’s Progress. I will update this story as we go along.

4 thoughts on “400 Years, Tracking the Pilgrims

  1. I looked this up and there is a hierarchy involved here. The “parent” tribe is the Algonquin, who were one of the main nations in the Northeast. The sub-tribe, Wampanoag, inhabited Cape Cod and spoke the Algonquin language. The Wampanoag were then recognized by the areas of Cape Cod they inhabited. The Payomet lived around the Pamet River, the Nauset lived around Eastham, there was a group identified as the Mashpee, another near modern day Hyannis called the Iyannough, etc. All were part of the Wampanoag.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s