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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Monument to the Forefathers in Plymouth, MA

Posted by Elaine Marie Cooper



My ears perked up when my husband beckoned me into the family room: “Hon, come watch the Kirk Cameron movie, ‘Monumental.’ He’s talking about the Pilgrims.”

What? I had heard about the movie but knew nothing about it except its title. Quickly drawn into watching this documentary about the beginnings of our country, I was especially surprised when Mr. Cameron visited a huge edifice. It was a monument to honor these enterprising heroes who traveled thousands of miles to obtain the freedom to worship God without having to bow to the king of England.

 I was stunned.

Even though I have visited Plymouth to see the landmarks like the Plimouth Plantation and the replica of the Mayflower, I knew nothing about this 81-foot tall monument set on the summit of a hill. And it turns out that I am not alone. Most visitors to Plymouth are surprised to find out about this amazing architectural creation. It used to be readily visible, yet tree growth over the years has all but obscured its presence. It now stands in the middle of a housing development. According to visitors that have actually seen it, viewing this granite monument is a breath-taking experience.



The National Monument to the Forefathers is the largest, freestanding granite monument in the world. But if its size is not impressive enough, the design itself is awe-inspiring and speaks to the faith-filled beginnings of this nation of America. In fact, the central figure of this statue is the 36-foot-tall woman named “Faith.” Her feet stand on Plymouth Rock and her finger points upward toward heaven.

Surrounding Faith are four figures: Education (with Wisdom on one side and Youth led by Experience on the other), Law (attended by Justice and Mercy), Morality (between a Prophet and an Evangelist holding the Ten Commandments in one hand and the scroll of Revelation in the other), and Liberty (with Peace flourishing and Tyranny overthrown). Just the description takes your breath away!

There are bas relief images surrounding the base of the monument depicting the Pilgrims’ history. They include images of the travelers leaving Delft Harbor in the Netherlands, the signing of the Mayflower Compact, the landing at Plymouth Rock, and the treaty with Massasoit, Sachem of the Wampanoags.

 This incredible memorial was birthed through the efforts of the Pilgrim Society in 1820—just 44 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Its purpose was to be a tribute to the “memory of the virtues, the enterprise, and the unparalleled sufferings of their ancestors.”

 The National Monument to the Forefathers was designed by artist and architect Hammatt Billings from Milton, MA. The creative Mr. Billings designed other monuments as well, some beautiful Victorian mansions, and even the illustration for the cover of the Old Farmer’s Almanac.



 The cornerstone for the Plymouth monument was laid in 1859. The $150,000 needed to fund the endeavor were provided by the Federal Government, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the State of Connecticut, and 11,000 individuals. One of those individuals was then President Abraham Lincoln. There is an archived copy of the receipt for his donation of ten dollars.

The construction for the project was put on hold soon after the laying of the cornerstone, due to the onset of the Civil War. Unfortunately, Billings, who died in 1874, never saw the final memorial since it was not completed until 1889.

 According to Paula Fisher, Director of Marketing and Group Services at the Plymouth County Convention and Visitors Bureau, there are believed to be about three million Mayflower descendants in America today (including Paula and myself). But whether descended by blood or by belief in the desire to worship freely, we can all celebrate the memory of the Pilgrims and the stance they took for religious liberty. The National Monument to the Forefathers is a stunning symbol of that declaration.

The next time I visit Plymouth, it will be at the top of my “must-see” list.

The 400th Anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims is right around the corner in 2020! It should be quite a celebration.


(Photos courtesy of Plymouth County Convention and Visitors Bureau)

19 comments:

  1. Wow, great post! I have never seen this either, Elaine. Great pics, too! My aunt is a Mayflower descendant. What a shame that this is all closed in now. Do you have a link to the Kirk Cameron video?

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    1. Hi Carrie! It was quite a find for me, especially because of my interest in Plymouth and the fact that, until this movie, I had never heard of this Monument to the Forefathers before! The movie "Monumental" is available on DVD and here is the trailer. I highly recommend the movie!
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIIqXiF-z6E

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  2. Makes me want to plan a New England trip in the fall and watch the Cameron movie!

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    1. HIGHLY recommend both, Anne! I was in NE last fall and the beauty of the foliage is incredible. I grew up in MA so I very much miss this time of year. And the Cameron movie is available on DVD. It is a real eye-opener. Thanks so much for commenting!

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  3. I was not aware of this either, so I appreciate the info. I'd like to visit the area sometime and will have to make sure we include this in our itinerary. Thanks for sharing! :)

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    1. You are very welcome, Karen. Massachusetts is so full of history and beauty. No wonder I decided to use it as the setting for my historical novels! :) Plymouth is amazing and a lovely seaport town. When my son and I went there we did the historic tour and also went whale watching. What a fun experience!

      Thanks so much for coming by!

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  4. I hate to sound cynical, but it makes one wonder if the monument has been kept in obscurity due to its religious overtones. It is so sad that so many folks want to downplay our Christian origins. Thanks for sharing about it.

    Our 400th celebration in 2007 at Jamestown was a very festive time, including the fun of an up close experience with the Queen and Prince Philip.

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    1. I'm doing a project on it for school and that's what I was thinking....

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  5. Janet, I have little doubt that what you say is true. So many have changed our history to suit modern morality. That doesn't cut it when you look at the facts. I remember one of my historian contacts in Massachusetts commenting that my historical novels were different than many because I included the colonials' religious beliefs. He was pleased that I included them because Christian beliefs were an integral part of who our ancestors were.

    The 2007 celebration in Jamestown sounds like it was amazing! The Queen herself and Prince Philip! How extraordinary. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Wow. What a find! Both the monument (NEVER even heard of it!) and the movie. I'm getting a copy now. I home school our fifth grader and this year we're studying The History of Us: How America Was Born. I want her to know about stuff like this, stuff that isn't included in the text books.

    Thank you so much for sharing your treasure!

    Becky

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    1. Hi Becky! I think you and your daughter will love this movie. It is a REAL eye-opener. There are many Christian historical fiction books as well that cover the American Colonial period with lots of pertinent and accurate details. I know that the writers here at Colonial American Christian Writers try to be very historically accurate with our works. You can check out my books or the novels of the other authors here at CQ. You will find a range of books from early colonial era to Federalist Period (and beyond).

      Thanks so much for commenting!

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  7. Thanks for sharing this post, Elaine. I have Monumental on my DVR and my huz and I plan to watch it soon. He told me about it when it came out in select theaters, but we missed it as it was only in a few locations (far from us) in Maine. I, like you, never heard of the monument, despite visiting Plymouth countless times throughout my life. All the childhood field trips, too, should have included a stop to it as the history is so foundational to the Pilgrim's purpose. My favorite monument, before learning of this, has always been the bronze cast of Gov. Wm. Bradford (my huz Bradford's ancestor)with the engraving that quotes him on their God directive and privilege.

    Thanks again for posting on this!

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    1. Carla, when I called the Plymouth Visitors' Bureau and asked about the monument, the first thing Paula asked was, "Did you see the Kirk Cameron movie?" We should thank Mr. Cameron for bringing it to our attention, and for helping us to appreciate its beauty and its message.

      When you go, take lots of photos! Thanks for commenting!

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  8. Thank you for posting on this, Elaine. I hadn't heard of the monument, either. When you mentioned the encroaching housing development, it reminded me of my own research trip looking for the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) Memorial Cemetery in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. Last year I twice drove on the ridge overlooking the North Saskatchewan River where the map said the cemetery should have been, but only saw an empty lot, enclosed on 3 sides, with a fence at the back and houses beyond the fence. I couldn't believe houses would back right up to a cemetery, never mind a historic one.

    Over the winter, Google Earth proved I had been in the right place, so this spring I went back and this time noticed that the fence contained a sign - unreadable from the road. A flag hung limp on the pole - unusual on the prairies. I drove on the faint trail to the fence and as I neared, I recognized the NWMP crest with the buffalo head in the middle, and then I made out the words confirming I'd found the NWMP cemetery. But oh, what a feeling came over me, for other than a central monument and a few regular headstones, less than a dozen small white crosses dotted the cemetery which was the width of 3 city lots.

    I'll be blogging about the NWMP Memorial Cemetery soon, and if it's okay with you, Elaine, and the Colonial Quills blog, I think I'll link to this post. Perhaps raise the awareness of both places.

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  9. Thank you for this post, Elaine. I happened upon the program on TV featuring the monument and was so excited to hear the meaning of all the parts of the monument. I remember when my son's 7th grade class made a field trip to Colonial Williamsburg. I was a chaperon. After the trip, the class held a colonial American fair at their school with each child deciding what part they wanted to play -- cooper, wig maker, mantua seamstress, etc. My son wanted to be a minister. The teacher, believe it or not, at first balked and said he couldn't do that. When he made a compelling argument about the huge place religion had in the lives of the colonists, she reluctantly said okay. We made a white wig, and our pastor loaned my son a black robe. We also made the cover for a book that he carried that read, "Book of Common Prayer." Our children need to learn the part that religion played in forming our country. Thank goodness for people like Mr. Cameron.

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  10. Wonderful post, Elaine! Sorry I didn't see this sooner! Like you, I had no idea the monument existed! Thank you for sharing the pics and the info about the documentary. My 9th great-grandparents came over 15 yrs after the Mayflower and became founders of Southold, L.I. My first novel is about that journey and my hubby and I visited Plimoth Plantation and the Mayflower II as part of my research. Talk about exciting research! I'll need to go back, though, and find that monument!

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  11. The Pilgrim is relatively not new, but it is less known than the MayFlower replica and the Plymouth Rock. Still, I like the architectural background of this historical statue. It was said that Billings wanted the statue to be bigger and taller, like the Colossus of Rhodes. But, after his death, the size was reduced.

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  12. A good place to muse on oil painting in Western art history online, I find, is at this site at wahooart.com. There is a huge archive of digital images of artwork now housed in art museums around the world.
    The company makes canvas prints and hand-painted, oil painting reproductions to order, from your selection of images from this big archives.
    It's some resource for art lovers and historians. There are many images of works by famous artists of the past that I have never seen.
    From their home page at wahooart.com, you can browse by the hundreds of artists there, movements in art, art media, historical timeline and even by subject matter. There is much biographical information about the artists.
    I am always fascinated by the way the 19th century English landscape painter, William Turner, used layers of luminous oil paint to recreate his blazing landscapes. Clicking http://EN.WahooArt.com/@/WilliamTurner , I find his paintings indexed in a floating 3D gallery at the site.

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  13. I've lived in Plymouth all my life and it still is a sight to be seen.

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