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Cape Cod and the Pilgrims - Historic Landmarks

Updated on April 22, 2012
The Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown.
The Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown. | Source

The Pilgrim Monument is a 252-foot tower overlooking the harbor where the Mayflower first dropped anchor and the Pilgrims went ashore to take their first steps in the New World. The monument is not in Plymouth, Massachusetts, however, where most people might expect to find it. The Pilgrim Monument is actually located at the very tip of Cape Cod, in Provincetown.

In fact, the Pilgrims spent five weeks on the outer Cape before moving to Plymouth. During this time, many key events occurred, including the signing of the Mayflower Compact, the Pilgrim's first encounters with Native Americans, and the first birth in the New World.

This article will briefly recount these events, and point out where they occurred. These sites are all easy to find, and can be interesting and fun places for adults and families visiting Cape Cod who want to retrace the earliest footsteps of the Pilgrims.

The Pilgrim's Landing at Provincetown

On November 9, 1620, after more than two months at sea, the Pilgrims sighted land. They were north of their intended destination (the Hudson River), but weather conditions prevented them from sailing south. Instead they chose to drop anchor in the safety of what is now Provincetown Harbor.

The signing of the Mayflower Compact, in Provincetown Harbor.
The signing of the Mayflower Compact, in Provincetown Harbor. | Source

The Mayflower Compact

Before leaving the Mayflower, the Pilgrims wrote a document to establish some governing principles for their new settlement. This document, the Mayflower Compact, declared that the settlers would enact, by mutual consent, laws for the common good, by which all agreed to abide. It was the first example of a government based on the consent of the governed in the New World - but it would not be the last.

On November 11, 1620, a group of Pilgrims went ashore for the first time. They found the area to be a thin strip of mostly sand, surrounded on three sides by ocean, with no sources of fresh water. Fortunately they did find some trees which could be used for firewood.

Provincetown Harbor seen from the top of the Pilgrim Monument.
Provincetown Harbor seen from the top of the Pilgrim Monument. | Source

The Pilgrim Monument

The Pilgrim Monument is the tallest all-granite structure in the United States. The monument, which opened in 1910, towers over Provincetown, and can be seen for miles as you approach the town from Route 6.

Construction on the tower began in 1907, when President Theodore Roosevelt traveled to Provincetown to lay the structure's cornerstone. When the monument opened in 1910, President William Howard Taft was there for the dedication.

A series of steps and ramps leads to the top of the monument, where visitors get a spectacular view of Provincetown and the harbor where the Mayflower sat in 1620. At the foot of the Pilgrim Monument is the Provincetown Museum, which showcases the town's interesting history. The admission fee covers both the monument and the museum.

A plaque near Corn Hill Beach tells of the site's historic significance.
A plaque near Corn Hill Beach tells of the site's historic significance. | Source

First Birth

On November 20, 1620, the first Pilgrim child was born in the New World, aboard the Mayflower. The boy's name was Peregrine White. Peregrine means "traveler" or "pilgrim".

Corn Hill

On November 15th, an expedition set out to explore more of the surrounding area. On the first day, they saw a small group of indians, who immediately ran away. On the 16th they found their first fresh water, and, later, a cache of buried indian corn. The starving Pilgrims took as much of the corn as they could from the area, which they named Corn Hill.

Corn Hill is now the site of a beautiful public beach in the town of Truro. After spending a day swimming and sunbathing, visitors may choose to stay for the gorgeous sunset over the ocean.

Just off the beach's parking lot is a memorial plaque, which reads:

“Sixteen Pilgrims led by Myles Standish, William Bradford, Stephen Hopkins and Edward Tilley found precious Indian corn on this spot which they called Corn Hill. November 16, 1620 - ‘And sure it was God’s good providence that we found this corn for else we know not how we should have done.’”

The memorial plaque at First Encounter Beach, in Eastham.
The memorial plaque at First Encounter Beach, in Eastham. | Source
Sunset at First Encounter Beach
Sunset at First Encounter Beach | Source

First Encounter Beach

On December 6, a group of Pilgrims began the search for a better location on which to build a permanent settlement. They set up camp that evening on the shore of what is now Eastham. The following night they were awoken by the sounds of what they believed to be an indian attack. The Pilgrims fired a few gunshots, and the noises ceased.

On the morning of the 8th, the indians, members of the Nauset tribe, again attacked. It may have been, at least in part, in retaliation for the theft of their corn. According to some reports, the Pilgrims had unknowingly desecrated an indian burial site at Corn Hill.

The Pilgrims responded with gunfire, and the indians soon fled. No one on either side was hurt during the brief exchange. The Pilgrims referred to the event as First Encounter, and the site is now a public beach. A plaque nearby commemorates the event.

Did you know the Pilgrims didn't originally land in Plymouth?

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Pilgrims Land at Plymouth

As the expedition left Eastham to continue their search, their small boat was damaged during a storm. They had to come ashore at the nearest land they could find - an area which they soon discovered had abundant fresh water, good soil for planting, and an excellent harbor. The party returned to the Mayflower with the news, and by December 16, the Pilgrims had relocated to the area we now know as Plymouth.

Plymouth is just over 75 miles from Provincetown. Vacationers at either Plymouth or Cape Cod could easily make a day trip to the other location to complete their Pilgrim experience. See the map below for details:

show route and directions
A markerPilgrim Monument -
Pilgrim Monument, 1 High Pole Hill Rd, Provincetown, MA 02657, USA
get directions

The tallest all-granite structure in America commemorates the site of the Pilgrim's first arrival in the New World.

B markerCorn Hill -
Corn Hill, Truro, MA 02666, USA
get directions

Site where the Pilgrims discovered a cache of indian corn that saved them from starvation during their first winter.

C markerFirst Encounter Beach -
First Encounter Beach, Eastham, MA 02642, USA
get directions

Site of the Pilgrim's first encounter with members of the Nauset indian tribe.

D markerMayflower II -
Plymouth Rock - Mayflower II, Water St, Plymouth, MA 02360, USA
get directions

The Mayflower II, a faithful reproduction of the original Pilgrim ship, sits at Plymouth Harbor, next to Plymouth Rock.

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    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      A well-written and informative hub about events that have become muddled over time! A friend who's a member of the Mayflower Society recommended Nathaniel Philbrick's "Mayflower" when she was going through the application process. Fascinating book! I shudder to think what would've happened had the Indians been more aggressive in retaliating for the theft of the corn and desecration of scared ground. For that matter, I was always amazed any of the Mayflower passengers survived the first winter.

      I like to razz my friend about how my own English ancestors had the good sense to wait until 1634 and some semblance of civilization had been established in the Mass Bay area! They initially settled on Marblehead Neck - not THE most habitable place to set up housekeeping in the New World - then moved to Salem a few years later.

      Voted up and awesome! ;D

    • Doc Sonic profile image
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      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      It is pretty amazing, JamaGenee, that they survived that winter. Perhaps the Nausets were more fearful of the strange newcomers than they were angry.

      It's cool that you can trace your ancestry that far back! The area where your ancestors settled is very nice. The North Shore has a lot going for it.

      Thanks for the comments and the vote!

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      The general consensus is the Indians quickly determined the Mayflower passengers were in trouble and took pity on them. Later, though, after their new neighbors had settled in, some of the Indians regretted the earlier decision to be Good Samaritans.

      Actually, I can go back farther than my ancestors' arrival in Mass. I've been to the village church in the West Country of England the family attended, also to surrounding villages where they lived, and stayed at a B&B on a farm once owned by a nephew in the mid- to late-1600s.

    • profile image

      PWalker281 5 years ago

      Thanks for the history review and tour, Doc. I guess perspective is everything because whenever I hear the words, Plymouth Rock, I immediately think of Malcolm X's statement about it during one of his speeches, immortalized in Spike Lee's movie about him. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about, movie buff that you are.

      I really like how you combining a bit of history with your tours of Cape Cod. Voted up and (very) interesting.

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      PWalker281, learning about the history of a place has always been an important part of my vacations, so I thought other folks might also do the same thing. But, as you say, history is always filtered through one's own perspective (and the perspective of the person writing the history book). I do know the Malcolm X speech you refer to.

    • Teresa Coppens profile image

      Teresa Coppens 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      very interesting hub. I learned a lot I did not know. It is a spot I would love to visit with the boys!

    • Doc Sonic profile image
      Author

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Thanks Teresa. I think you and your boys would enjoy Cape Cod.

    • Jason Matthews profile image

      Jason Matthews 3 years ago from North Carolina

      I have never been to Cape Cod, but this hub has me thinking maybe I need to visit! Thanks for sharing a lot of great info and beautiful pictures. Voted up!

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