The preparations for the Trans-Atlantic Mayflower 400 commemorations of the Mayflower sailing from Plymouth UK included the revamping of the Mayflower Museum in September 2015.
The Mayflower Museum is a central part of the education preparations and promotion of the commemorations in the UK, and it’s displays focus and centre on the Separatist Puritan half of the Mayflower passengers. This emphasis neglects the resulting genocide of Indigenous Americans, on the one hand, and the role of slavery in the development of New England, on the other.
While plans are in hand for a new history centre in Plymouth, which is reported to be planning to tell a much more rounded account of the Mayflower Story, until it is opened in 2020, the Mayflower Museum displays will continue to be promoted as the centre for ‘The Mayflower Story’.
The telling of the Mayflower Story has a long and controversial history, which is related elsewhere on this website. This story [often referred to as the tale of ‘The Founding Fathers’, ‘The Pilgrim Fathers’, or ‘Thankgiving’] is mixed up with sanitised accounts of English colonialism and USA history. The promotion of the current version of the Mayflower Story happening in the Mayflower Museum is a continuation of this tradition of neglect of genocide, slavery, and war.
The Mayflower Museum
“The Pilgrim Fathers set sail from Plymouth on the Mayflower on 6 September 1620, eventually landing and settling in present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Mayflower Museum explores the story of the Mayflower and the Pilgrim Fathers with information and hands-on displays, including dress-up and role play, a model of the Mayflower built by Devonport Dockyard apprentices in 1969 and a list of all the Pilgrims and their hometowns. Visit the museum and enjoy learning more about this important moment in Plymouth’s shared history with America.” The Mayflower Museum
The Mayflower Museum is positioned opposite the Mayflower Steps in Sutton Harbour, Plymouth UK, above the Plymouth tourist information centre. An account of the Mayflower Story and background to the 1620 journey is offered in a series of 23 picture and text information panels.
The story the panels ‘explore’:
- brief details of Plymouth and its trading and shipping heritage, including the Hawkins family, though no mention is made of the slave trade they pioneered
- the passengers (their names, their Puritan religion, where they came from, etc.)
- the stages of the journeys from Holland and England to the North American coast
- extracts from key historical texts such as the Mayflower Compact, the Diary of William Bradford, second Governor of the Plymouth Colony, the writings of ‘Pilgrim’ leaders Robert Cushman and Edward Winslow.
- the details of the Mayflower and Speedwell ships and their sea journeys in 1620
- their early encounters in what became Plymouth Massachusetts with Indigenous Americans, focusing on the local Sachem, Massasoit, and the two local English speaking Indigenous Americans, Squanto and Samoset.
- ‘Colonisation’ and land grabbing is mentioned only very briefly when referring to the region near the Mouth of the Hudson River allocated to the Mayflower passengers by the Virginia Colony, and then onlyin the following terms: “This land was the territory of the Native American Lenape Nation, who were unaware that their homeland had been granted to another people.”
- The consequences of colonization for the Indigenous Americans is only acknowledged in the following: “Many Native Americans do not celebrate Thanksgiving but rather observe the annual holiday as a National Day of Mourning, acknowledging the sacrifices of their ancestors as a result of colonisation.”