...as originally told by John Faunce (my 9G grandfather) who arrived in Plymouth in 1623 on "The Anne". The story was documented in George F. Willison's "Saints and Strangers: Being the Lives of the Pilgrim Fathers & Their Families, with Their Friends & Foes; & an Account of Their Posthumous Wanderings in Limbo, Their Final Resurrection & Rise to Glory, & the Strange Pilgrimages of Plymouth Rock" published in 1945, excerpts which follow:
On the American horizon today Plymouth Rock looms like a Gibraltar. In our eyes it has become the symbol of a great faith and a greater hope, a mighty bulwark of freedom and democracy. No landmark on our shores has been more celebrated in song and story.
Yet this has not long been so.
For a century and a half after the landing of the Pilgrims the rock lay unmarked, almost unnoticed. Until 1769, on the eve of Independence, it was just another gray granite boulder, one more troublesome bit of glacial debris littering a white arc of beach, impeding development of a busy water front and cursed by many as an obstacle to progress. For another century it was dragged, a broken and mutilated fragment, up and down the streets of Plymouth - first, to Town Square, to make a revolutionary holiday; then to Pilgrim Hall, as a museum piece, an altar of filial piety. Restored at length to the beach and enshrined below a box of bones, presumably Pilgrims', embedded in the domed ceiling of an elaborate Victorian stone canopy, the rock enjoyed a half century of comparative quiet and repose before it was snatched up again, in our day, and dumped where it has since remained, at tidewater, sheltered and quite overshadowed by a lustrous Grecian temple of Quincy granite. Here, much like a bear in a pit and not a great deal larger, it lies enclosed within a stout iron paling - dreaming perhaps of other days when it was not gathering moss, and peanuts and odd bits of lunch tossed at it by casual sightseers, and not being apostrophized by every hungry aspirant to public office.
The town of Plymouth of the 18th century was notable in no way, lying quite outside the main currents of the day, its heroic origin all but forgotten and of interest to few, Plymouth was just another sleepy country town in 1769 when a handful of young men, all from its better families, decided to organize a gentleman's club to elevate the social tone of the town.
Eager to honor the Forefathers, feeling the first stirrings of that filial piety which has chiefly distinguishes so many of their descendants, the young gentlemen of the Old Colony Club looked about for some suitable occasion to celebrate. But what? There was an old tradition in the Alden family that the first landing at Plymouth had been made on a rock, with young John as the hero of the story. Unfortunately for the tradition, a reading of Mourt's Relation revealed that John Alden was not on that first exploring expedition but miles away on the Mayflower, off the tip of the Cape, tending the Pilgrims' precious barrels of beer. As handed down in another family, the story had a heroine, Mary (Chilton) Winslow, who gathered up her skirts and hopped from the shallop to the rock. But there had been no women, of course, on the Third Discovery or any of the early explorations.
It was all very vague and confusing, and the Old Colony Club was quite at a loss, for there was no mention of a rock in Bradford, Winslow, or any contemporary. And there were those among the seafaring men of the town who declared that if the shallop was steered for the rock and beached there on that cold blustery December day, instead of being headed into the sheltered mouth of Town Brook opening so invitingly only a few hundred yards away, then those in command of the shallop should themselves have been beached for all time.
Just when the members of the club were most discouraged, Deacon Ephraim Spooner came forward with a curiously interesting story. Many years before, in 1741, he happened to be on the beach one day, he said, and though only a boy of six, he would never forget how Ruling Elder Thomas Faunce, an "aged and godly" man in his ninety-fifth year, had been brought there in his wheelchair from his home at Eel River several miles to the south. To a handful of people gathered on the beach Faunce related how, as a boy, he had been told by his father, who had heard it in turn from some who had come of the "Thievish Harbour" expedition, that the Pilgrims had made their first landing at Plymouth on a rock - and, shaking with palsy, he pointed out THE rock.
Then, with tears coursing down his face, the old man bade it a last farewell, for he and everyone had reason to fear that it was about to be destroyed. It stood in the way of several local enterprisers who had just been granted "Libertie to Whorfe downe into the sea." If dynamite had been known at the time, the boulder undoubtedly would have been blown to pieces.
As it was, after several futile attempts at removal, the wharf was built over and around the rock, which stood so high that it came up through the planking, leaving its top exposed, and for years heavy carts and barrows bumped over it, chipping it and grinding it down.
Delighted with Deacon Spooner's story, the Old Colony Club prepared to celebrate the historic landing...
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