Rock On! By Jamie Kirkpatrick


We stopped in Plymouth on our way to Cape Cod last week. It’s a lovely summer town, famous, of course, for the rock on the beach that was the Pilgrim’s first toehold in the New World. I could tell it was THE rock because it was right across the street from the Mayflower Grocery Store, the Pillory Pub, Bradford’s Package Store, and Ye Olde John Alden Gift Shoppe.

The Mayflower had 102 souls on board when it finally landed in New England. Among them were about 40 Puritans, descendants of Brownist English Dissenters who didn’t care much for the pomp and circumstance of the Church of England. (The remaining sixty-plus Mayflower passengers were tradesmen or indentured servants.) The Pilgrims (they called themselves “Saints”) and their not-quite-so-religious friends (“Strangers) were the second group of pesky illegal immigrants to settle in the New World. (The first were the English settlers who established the Jamestown colony in Virginia in 1607.) They were Separatists who left England to form independent congregations that adhered to stricter, more divine requirements. When things didn’t go all that well for them in their first refuge at Leiden in Holland, they naturally decided to try their luck over here in the New World. Since no one had built a wall in 1620, when the Mayflower finally arrived in Plymouth harbor after more than two months at sea, the new immigrants made themselves right at home and began to make life difficult for the good people who were already lived nearby and had steady jobs, plenty of corn, and spoke perfect Native American. Apparently, that’s what immigrants do.

Despite not having visas, green cards, drivers’ licenses, or any other form of documentation for that matter, some of our Pilgrim Fathers and Mothers turned out pretty well. John Alden, the Mayflower’s cooper (not a Puritan), finally spoke for himself and married fellow passenger Priscilla Mullins, much to the chagrin of his roommate, the bumbling Captain Miles Standish who also had his eye on Miss Mullins. (She was, after all, the only single woman of marriageable age on the Mayflower.) William Brewster, the only Pilgrim with a university education, served as the new colony’s first religious leader. He fathered several children and gave them wonderful names like Patience, Fear, Love, and (my favorite) Wrestling. William Bradford became the second Governor of the new Plymouth Colony after the colony’s first Governor (James Carver) dropped dead working in the fields after only a few months on the job. Bradford is best known for the rich historic detail of his journal, his contributions to the Mayflower Compact which attempted to create a “civil body politic” in the new colony (we’re still working on that), and for forming a military alliance with Massasoit, sachem of the Pokanoket Indians. Needless to say, that treaty didn’t go down very well with the Pokanoket’s two main rivals, the Narraganset and Massachusetts Indians who were understandably suspicious of the new immigrants who wore funny hats with buckles, spoke a strange language, didn’t know much about farming, and carried those noisy blunderbusses.

The great irony in all this is that the Mayflower and its passengers and crew composed of “Saints” and “Strangers” never intended to land on Plymouth Rock. The ship was originally bound for Virginia but gales forced it off course and eventually into what is today Provincetown harbor at the tip of Cape Cod and from there on to that rock on the beach across from the grocery store, pub, package store, and gift shoppe; the very one Henry Wadsworth Longfellow labeled “the cornerstone of a nation.” I guess you could say that although the Pilgrims did manage to evade Homeland Security, they were actually lost. Sad!

Oh well; despite a rough first winter or two, things turned out pretty well for the Pilgrims and the other passengers aboard the Mayflower. Plymouth today is a happening place. As for the Pokanoket, Narraganset, and Massachusetts Indians: uh, not so much.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is



Letters to Editor

  1. Michael Brunner says:

    Steve, you left out Thanksgiving . Oh right, you’re on a diet. Now you can visit Plymouth for a better reason than celebrating Thanksgiving and that is participating in “The National Day of Mourning” protest held every 4th Thursday in November. This will be the 47th year. It is for the real locals, but your support would be appreciated. Another God-fearing hate group tried to wipe the natives out, but thankfully they didn’t succeed. They did manage to steal their land, kill millions and assault their culture.

Write a Letter to the Editor on this Article

We encourage readers to offer their point of view on this article by submitting the following form. Editing is sometimes necessary and is done at the discretion of the editorial staff.