While in Boston the team went to the birthplace of America, Plymouth Rock, and explored the replica of the Mayflower. We then went to the early village settlements of the Pilgrims, including actors who perfectly assumed the character of early America. It was especially poignant for me because my ancestors can be traced all the way back to the Fuller family from Norfolk, England, who came over on the Mayflower on that tiny but providential ship.
It was freezing that day and as we stood next to the ocean in mid-October, I wondered how my ancestors could have come over on that boat and survived in a completely alien land alone. Fifty percent of the people on the Mayflower died, and yet they survived and thrived to create the foundations of a great new society. They lived simply with faith in God, and in themselves, and watched as their “civil body politic” began to flourish.
Every nation has its myths and heroes, and the myths of Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims are almost divine. Although we drove two hours to see it, Plymouth Rock was actually the least interesting part of the whole journey. It was not even a boulder, but a large rock lodged in the sand with the date 1620 chiseled into it. There was a Greek temple type of structure protecting it from the elements and on the cold windy beach, it was completely out of place.
While we were at the Mayflower, I started talking to the docent of the sites. Dr. Ahmed then asked him if he had any ancestors on the Mayflower, and he answered yes, “Dr. Sam Fuller.” I could not believe that I had just met one of my own cousins, very distant of course, but it was still an exciting moment. Paul’s family has lived in Plymouth ever since the Mayflower landed and we met many people throughout the town that day who were descendants of one or many of the original Pilgrims. Paul, my cousin, told me about the Fuller family tradition to bring children to be rocked in an original cradle from the Mayflower as a testament to their history and for good luck. We explored the Mayflower and talked with an actor who portrayed my ancestor, Samuel Fuller. We tried to imagine what it must have been like for them and to understand their pain, uncertainty, and courage. We then visited the little village where they settled and were baffled to see that families could live in such small quarters and harsh conditions. We also spoke to Bridgette Fuller, whom Dr. Ahmed kept jokingly referring to as “my great-grandmum,” about life in the colony. The town was small with the governor’s house and church at the top of the hill and about twenty tiny homes with yards for goats and gardens next to them and a large lane in the center. This was America’s first town as we know them today.
It was eye-opening to go to the other camp where the Native Americans had set up a period-style site. We spoke with one man who was from the Cherokee tribe, although the Wampanoag was the tribe who interacted with the Pilgrims. The man refused to be called a Native American however, and refused to recognize the institution of the United States f America as a power he subscribed to. He talked of the hardship of his people over the past four hundred years, the brutality, and manipulation of the colonists. He preferred to be called “indigenous” or part of the “native peoples.” It is something you know, but never think about, although we should.
As the Dr. Ahmed, the team, and I travel throughout the United States, I feel as though we are pilgrims setting off to discover the wilderness that has become “American” society today. It takes the same courage and faith, albeit in a different way, to discover the vastness and variety of America. I have faith in the ideals of the United States like freedom, liberty, justice, religious tolerance, and freedom of speech. But it takes a lot of courage to see the underbelly that exists in American history and in our society today and try to correct it. I feel though that a real American is like these pilgrims who sets out for a vision and a purpose. It is a lonely and dangerous journey, but in the end it will help us to come closer to the real vision of the pilgrims, the founding fathers, and the people of the United States.