Around Plymouth, there’s a lot of talk these days about the looming 400th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims, back in 1620. The town began more than four years ago organizing committees to plan a stellar 2020 celebration.
Thus far, the visible progress has been slow, partly because there’s so much work required behind the scenes to set up the agencies and processes that allow a governmental body to plan and execute such a party, and raise funds to help pay for it. All this also began about the time the economy tanked, which brought with it the realization that neither the state nor federal government would be able to cough up the same amount of money they’d provided in the past for similar celebrations. And while corporate funding will need to be part of the picture, since the recession major corporations have significantly cut back on their support for such causes.
Planning has also been stymied by the fact that many Plymoutheans just don’t seem interested. Some remain apparently unaware of the pending anniversary, and others have made it clear they’d prefer it received little or no attention at all (though the size of that group is hard to determine, because naysayers, in general, tend to be quite vocal, and many of these folks have opted to express their displeasure anonymously.)
But for me there’s a missing piece of the puzzle that poses a much larger threat to the success of the 400th celebration.
Most of those deeply involved in the planning seem to understand that this is truly a national event. They also get the international significance of the festivities. But when the attention circles back, closer to home, it remains rather Plymouthcentric. Oh, they’re reaching out to all the appropriate historical groups and agencies around the area, of course, but those people are already aware, enthused, onboard. The outreach has, at least thus far, failed to invite the whole of the old Plimoth Colony to not only participate in the party but share ownership of the celebration.
When the Pilgrims landed in the New World in 1620, there was no town of Plymouth, no state of Massachusetts, no USA. The early colony encompassed all of Southeastern Massachusetts and, through 1691, it officially included the entire area from Weymouth to Provincetown and west to Rhode Island. So, in a very real sense, this 400th anniversary is not just Plymouth’s celebration, rather it belongs to our entire corner of the world.
Each of our contemporary communities began as part of the Plymouth venture, with Scituate, Duxbury, Sandwich, Falmouth, Taunton and Marshfield as the first “children” of the Colony to incorporate as independent towns. But despite their growth and new-found independence, they all remained part of Plimoth Colony for more than 70 years, until a new charter was issued creating a larger governmental region, the Province of Massachusetts Bay, in 1692.
One of the most fascinating and inspiring parts of the years I spent editing different newspapers in our region came from studying the history and development of those towns, the roots of which all go back to the Pilgrim story, from the early settlement of Duxbury by Myles Standish to the establishment of Agawam and what we now refer to as Old Rochester, which over the decades became Wareham, Marion, Mattapoisett and modern-day Rochester.
Those who founded all these towns on the South Shore and South Coast had their roots in old Plimoth, making the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim landing an inherently regional milestone.
With 2020 now just seven years away and the economy still fragile and struggling, I’m not sure what the final celebration will (or should) entail. But whether it ends up as a massive, year-long, international festival or a homegrown weekend fair and parade, the party should not – must not – be limited to Plymouth. While the contemporary township may lay claim today to the land where the Pilgrims began this great venture, their story, this history belongs to all of the original Colony, all of our region and its residents, whether they are Mayflower descendants or arrived here just last week. It’s our history, our story, our legacy, our pride.
Admittedly, not everyone in Southeastern Massachusetts will jump up and volunteer to help organize the celebration. And not everyone who can lay claim to the Pilgrim story is interested in helping to fund it. But there is something we can all do right now to demonstrate our pride in our distinguished past, to show our neighbors and the world that we are part of the Pilgrim legacy.
Plymouth 400, the nonprofit established to lead the planning of and fundraising for the 2020 celebration, is on the brink of authorizing a commemorative license plate honoring 400 years of local history. While Mayflower descendants around the country and the world may proudly boast of their ties to our Forefathers, this very visible and lasting tribute to our pride in our own local history can only be shared by those living in Massachusetts. The new plate will bear the logo of the celebration – a silhouette of the Mayflower bearing the outline of a Native American waiting onshore.
The state program requires 1,500 paid applications for the new plate before production can begin. The fee is $40, and most of that will be returned to Plymouth 400 as a fundraiser for the festivities. Once the initial 1,500 goal is reached it will take about six months for the plates to be produced and distributed to your local Registry of Motor Vehicles. (Your check will not be cashed until the 1,500 target has been completed and the order is placed with the state. And you’ll be notified by the Registry when your plates are available for pickup.)
To order your 400 plates, simply go online to www.plymouthma400.org/get-licensed. If you do not have Internet access, just call 508-830-1620, ext. 112, for more info about how to reserve your commemorative license plate.
The eventual goal is to see the commemorative plate on at least 3,000 vehicles across the state within the next couple of years. And with the popularity of specialty plates, such as those honoring the Cape and Islands and right whales (there are about 18 different plates in circulation today), it amazes me that the response has not been quicker and more substantial. It’s a classy, unobtrusive and relatively inexpensive way to publicly demonstrate your pride in our local heritage and history and make a donation to the cause at the same time. Plus, it won’t be used up or wear out; it’s an emblem we can all still be sporting long after 2020 has come and gone, a tangible reminder of the Pilgrim story – a marvel of courage, strength, endurance and character that is still reflected across the footprint of the Old Colony, a proud history and legacy we all share.
Tamson W. Burgess is the editor of the Old Colony Memorial newspaper, serving Plymouth since 1822, and its website at wickedlocalplymouth.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the paper’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/OldColonyMemorial) or on Twitter (twitter.com/OldColony or twitter.com/TamBurgessOCM). To reserve your 400th anniversary license plate, go to www.plymouthma400.org/get-licensed.
Article By Tamson W. Burgess
Wicked Local Carver
Posted Mar 03, 2013 @ 10:00 AM