30 March 2019
Reporter: Emile Bellott, Ellen Fan
On March 30, 25 members of BCBA went on an outing to experience the history of the first English immigrants in New England. We traveled south, to see and photograph the Plimoth Plantation, where these early English people lived, and to learn about their daily life, 400 years ago. Our visit started in the early afternoon of a perfect, warm spring day. The sunny sky, with a slight haze was favorable for daylight photography. The BCPA group met the organizer, Alan Tian, and other BCPA committee members, Wei Bo and Yun Xia, at the main entrance of the visitor center. Everyone brought their camera equipment. We were all full of enthusiasm for a day of friendship and photography activities.
The pilgrims, on the Mayflower were not the first English settlers. In fact they intended to join an earlier settlement, in Jamestown, Virginia. However, their ship, the Mayflower, sailed off-course. In November of 1620, the Mayflower came to land on Cape Cod. They explored several locations; and finally organized the Massachusetts Bay Colony at Plymouth.
There was no shelter on the land. The first winter of 1620-21 was spent on board the ship. The 102 passengers and 30 crew members became ill. By March, 1621, when they disembarked, about half the original group had died of disease.
The site of our outing, “Plimoth Plantation” was created in 1947 as a living history museum, through the philanthropy of Henry Hornblower II, a wealthy Boston stock broker. Plimoth Plantation is a reproduction of the 1624 village, illustrating the lifestyle of the English in the early years, after they arrived. There is also a native village of the Wampanoag Tribe; and a craft center, showing native American hand-crafts and examples of pottery and ceramics made at the time.
After watching a brief video introduction at the visitor center, we started our walk to the native and English villages. It was a short trek through the forest, to the native village area.The staff of the Plimoth Plantation were dressed in costumes of the era; and acted-out various aspects of daily life, and activities 400 years ago.
The native village showed the lifestyle of the Wampanoag people — a typical long-house; cooking, hunting, and living arrangements. A native man was creating a small canoe from a tree trunk, by burning out the core. One woman sat and created a bag, by weaving plant fibers. Another woman took us inside the long house. It had numerous animal skins – deer, fox, raccoon, bear – that the native people would have used for warmth and clothing.
She answered our many questions about her people. The native family units were formed around the mother’s clan. As many as 20 or more extended family members might live in a long house, made from wood and animal skins. There were just a few small holes the roof, to ventilate smoke from campfires. Otherwise, it was sufficient for winter weather and rain. The diet consisted of plants and meat, from hunting wild animals.
In the craft center, native artisans created beautiful intricate head-pieces from leather and porcupine quills. These were typical of the many native tribes in the northeast. In addition, native men would wear eagle feathers on their head, as a symbol of bravery and valor in battle. In another room, there were examples of ceramics and pottery made by the early English settlers, to provide basic functions, beyond the few supplies they brought from Europe.
The English village was constructed, based on a report by Emmanuel Altham – a visitor to Plymouth. He described the town in 1623:
“It is well situated upon a high hill close to the seaside… In this plantation are about twenty houses, four or five of which are very fair and pleasant; and the rest shall be made better. And this town makes a great street between the houses. At the upper end of the town there is a strong fort. The town is surrounded by a fence 8 feet high. In the fence are three large gates…. And lastly, the town is populated by a company of honest men”.
Today’s English settlement (Plimoth Plantation) consists of two rows of small houses and a central path. The houses are constructed of wood, with a primitive mud and clay inner wall and a thatch roof . The houses are small. They all consisted of a single room, with a fireplace at one end; a primitive feather bed; a small table, and a couple of chairs. There were few personal items to be seen; but the residents claimed that families of as many as 10 people could live in one small home. These houses were typical of life in the community a few years after the first establishment, when they had received additional supply from England and tools to work with.
The living history theme was supported by many staff members dressed in clothing of the era; and speaking with the prevalent English dialect of the time. They provided perfect models for our photography as they went about the daily tasks that they would have performed 400 years ago. When we engaged them in conversation, they acted completely in-character and spoke in present-tense, about activities and events of a bygone era.
These pilgrims were very religious. They came to the new world to seek greater independence from the Church of England. Life in the community was consistent with their faith. People in the houses told us about their food and daily activities. Others outside were digging up gardens for planting and taking care of sheep, goats and cattle. Some people were taking laundry off the fences; and bringing it inside. One man was performing maintenance on an ancient gun; another was making dice from lead pieces.
All of us were making pictures, of every person and every aspect of the village. In addition teacher Li Xiongwei showed an eager group how to make beautiful backlit silhouette photos. Teacher Cary was helping several people with exposure and camera settings.
The occasion was made even more lively, y the arrival of a bus load of Boston high school students who were part of a chorus group. The 20+ of them sang songs in excellent harmony; and posed for a group photo. This was our cue to line-up for our own group picture, using Cary’s camera, with a self-timer.
At about 5:00 pm, the park was closing. We all drove to the Old Grist Mill, to make photos of the swans, ducks and geese in the mill-pond. From there, it was a short walk to the harbor to make pictures of “Plymouth Rock” in the golden hour. Plymouth Rock is a symbolic memorial to the landing of these first European settlers in the Massachusetts bay colony.
After sunset we celebrated an excellent day of friendship and cameraderie with a great dinner at the Sun Dynasty Restaurant. The end of a perfect day