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Ready or not, 2020 is coming to Plymouth

The Official Website of the
Plymouth 400
Commemoration

 
By Frank Mand fmand@wickedlocal.com 
Posted Jul 3, 2018 at 10:00 AM
As residents of the town and arguably the country that was founded by those 102 brave men, women and children, Plymoutheans have a personal interest in the origins of their story and a curiosity as to how the two commemorations (in the U.K. and the U.S.) compare.
First of two parts on the development of the Plymouth 400 anniversary.
One year, 185 days, 13 hours.
Navigate to the Plymouth 400 website (https://plymouth400inc.org) and that’s one of the first things you will see: a clock ticking down to 2020.
In little more than a year the commemoration officially begins.
The same clock is ticking down in the United Kingdom, where the official cmmemoration events known as “Mayflower 400” are focused in Plymouth U.K. but spread across a dozen English communities, plus Leiden in the Netherlands.
The 400th is coming, ready or not.
The Old Colony recently spoke with staff, volunteers and others involved in the commemoration on both sides of the Atlantic.
As residents of the town and arguably the country that was founded by those 102 brave men, women and children, Plymoutheans have a personal interest in the origins of their story and a curiosity as to how the two commemorations (in the U.K. and the U.S.) compare.
Not surprisingly, there are clear differences and obvious similarities.
With recorded English history stretching back over 2,000 years – well before the Pilgrim story – there is the sense in England that history is not a date to commemorate any single occasion but, rather, an ongoing celebration that its residents participate in, or ignore, as the mood strikes them.
Then there are Englishmen like Richard Brackenbury, a full-time solicitor and part-time tour guide, who is always in the mood for history.
“One of the delights for me is traveling anywhere in England and seeing reminders of our history often in the midst of the 21st century,” Brackenbury said.
“Of course, parish churches, cathedrals, castles and stately homes are obvious examples, but it’s often the old building tucked away in the middle of a modern city or even an odd stone circle in moorland that starts the mind going.
“This is nothing to do with looking back but more a sense of having deep roots in our country. But that said, the tourist industry, of course, latches on to anniversaries for marketing purposes. 2020 is an obvious example, and in 2015 we had 800 years since Magna Carta, and so on. But those anniversaries serve as a reminder of what a fascinating hinterland we have.”
Contrast that with the U.S., where a 400th anniversary is a rarity that both amplifies its importance and requires that the first step is educating the public as to its value.
“Unlike the English and Native Americans, our history doesn’t go much further back than 400 years,” Plymouth 400′s Executive Director Michele Pecoraro said. “The 17th century was the beginning of this story, so, yes, we find ourselves doing a lot of educating, wherever we are, about the Pilgrim story.”
And then, she can’t help herself, Pecoraro offers a little preview of the lessons she offers.
“We often point to the Revolutionary War as America’s beginning, but without Plymouth and the Pilgrims we may never have gotten that far,” she said.
If you believe Plymouth is the place where America started then you should be excited about the 400th anniversary of its founding, shouldn’t you?
In theory, yes. In reality Pecoraro says convincing modern Plymoutheans that they should be excited about this anniversary isn’t always easy.
In England it’s almost second nature.
In the U.K. many of the events, activities and historic sites are being managed and promoted by individual, oftentimes all-volunteer (and enthusiastic) organizations within each community.
In Retford, U.K., for example, volunteers have created their own Mayflower museum with little or no help from Mayflower 400 or their local council.
In Harwich (they pronounce it “Herridge”), where Mayflower Master Christopher Jones was born and lived and where the Mayflower is thought likely to have been built, a pub owner, a hotelier and the all-volunteer Harwich Society were the main proponents of the commemoration.
Dartmouth, U.K.’s, participation in the commemoration is also being driven by a volunteer organization, which, although the town’s connection to 1620 is limited to an overnight stay by the Mayflower for repairs, is planning theatrical presentations, building a scale model Mayflower, organizing a parade of ships and much more for 2020.
“Dartmouth is a little different from the other locations in the UK as it is very small, and neither the Town Council nor the local authority have the funds to pay for all of our projects and/or staff to run them,” Peter Conisbee, Dartmouth 400′s project director said. “So, bluntly, if we want our commemoration projects to take place, we have to find a way of doing them ourselves.”
These volunteer organizations are working in communities that are on Mayflower 400′s official “Pilgrim Trail,” but apart from the shared “Illumination” event (which Plymouth, Massachusetts, also participates in) they are often operating independently.
Brackenbury says that while the average Englishman may not be aware or interested in the Pilgrim story, there is an established network of individuals and organizations dedicated to preserving English history.
“Volunteering is massive in the U.K.” Brackenbury said. “Of course, it exists in virtually every walk of life, but the heritage sector would collapse without it.
“I have direct experience of a small church heritage (building preservation) charity which is typical of many thousands of small charities – probably running for years paying a small amount, if anything, for clerical support but otherwise run totally voluntarily.”
Is volunteering massive in the U.S.?
Surprisingly, the answer may be yes, at least when it comes to the 400 commemoration. Plymouth 400 Inc. can boast several hundred official volunteers.
And while those volunteers are, for the most part, asked to work on official activities and events created and managed by Plymouth 400, other groups and communities are preparing for the 400th in their own way.
If the Plymouth Herald, the newspaper in Plymouth, U.K., sent a reporter to tour the “Old Colony” (the name for the communities the Pilgrims founded in and around Plymouth, Massachusetts) to see how involved they were in the upcoming commemoration, they’d find a half dozen or more towns with their own 400 committees, gearing up for 2020.
“Dartmouth, Duxbury, Provincetown, Eastham, Yarmouth – and oh yes, Middleborough,” Pecoraro reels off, “they all have their own 400 committees. They’re not 501C3 nonprofits; many of them are part of local historical societies; but they are working on local events and commemorations.”
It’s not just Massachusetts, Pecoraro is proud to say. She’s been to Portsmouth, New Hampshire – which has historical connections to the Pilgrim story, and Rhode Island, which played a large role in that history.
And beyond the Old Colony, and after 2020, Plymouth 400 has worked to establish links to other communities that will celebrate their 400th anniversaries.
Weymouth, Quincy, Boston and other Massachusetts communities are looking to extend the celebration to their 400th anniversaries.
Add those communities to the English (and Dutch) towns that are part of Mayflower 400′s official celebrations and it begins to look, perhaps even to cynics, that there is something big going on here, something worthy of our attention.
But do the people with the money agree?
That’s another comparison that you can’t help but make, in Part 2.
Follow Frank Mand on Twitter @frankmandOCM.