The Mayflower arrived in Plymouth Harbor in 1620, and according to oral tradition, Plymouth Rock was the site where William Bradford and other Pilgrims first set foot on land. Even though this story may not be completely true, it is holds an interesting take on U.S. history.
There is actually no 17th century references to the Pilgrims landing on a rock. There is only two accounts of the 1620 arrival at Plymouth, neither place a significance on their first steps on land. The first time this story came about was 120 years later when James Thacher wrote in that a pier was about to be built over the rock, this is when Thomas Faunce came out with the story. He had a habit of taking his children and grandchildren to the rock and telling them the story as his father had told it to him. Which is, this rock had “received the footsteps of our fathers on their first arrival.” Though, this seemed to be a large time gap, Faunce's father arrived in Plymouth 1623 on the Anne. By about 1633, he was married and Thomas was born about 1647. His family were very close with the other pilgrims, and knew almost all of them. So, the legend began.
Throughout the 1700s people looked to rock as a symbol of independence. In the 1800s while trying to move the rock it accidently broke in half, the lower half remaining on the shore, while the top half was moved around to different museums. People loved, cared, and protected this rock. Though many of us still ask the question, is this really where the Pilgrims first stepped foot? Too many people today it is an important icon of the U.S. history, and whether or not the story is really true, the story itself gave way to make interesting history.
“What we can declare, however, is that this Rock – located on Plymouth's shore near the foot of “First Street” – marks the spot where something significant happened. We may never know if here the first footfall happened. We do know that here the first settlement began. And, after all, the importance of Plymouth is not that the Pilgrims landed here, it is that the Pilgrims stayed here. Here they built their homes, here they created their Colony, here New England began.” –Peggy Baker