Cole's Hill is the site of the burial ground of some of the original Pilgrims who perished during the first winter of the Plymouth Colony (1620–21). It is a small tract of land in Plymouth, Massachusetts located at the waterfront and situated across the street from the famed “Plymouth Rock,” a massive stone bearing the inscription “1620.” The Hill is the site of the initial burial ground of the first Plymouth colonists. Cole’s Hill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.
Cole’s Hill in Plymouth,
Massachusetts is now part of Pilgrim Memorial State Park. The hill is only about 30 feet high but very
steep. It sits close to the waterfront,
overlooking the historic Plymouth Rock and Plymouth Harbor. The burial grounds
are just over 100 yards north of the first street where the Pilgrims built
their primitive houses. It is named after James Cole, one of the early settlers. Cole constructed his home and tavern near the
spot in the 1630s. In 1917, his
descendants erected a stone tablet on the steps leading up Cole’s Hill in his
memory. It reads: “In memory of James
Cole / Born London England 1600 / Died Plymouth Mass 1692 / First settler of
Coles Hill 1633 / A soldier in Pequot Indian War 1637 / This tablet erected by
his descendants 1917.
About half of the first group of
Plymouth settlers perished during the initial, harsh winter of 1620-1621. Men, women and children were dying from
starvation and illness each day. Bodies
were hastily buried on the hill. The
graves were made flat with the rest of the earth at nighttime. Soil and seeds
covered the graves so that the Native Americans watching the new people would
not discover that their numbers were dwindling each day. The colonists feared that the native people
would attack them if they realized that their population was weakened. For many
years, there were no monuments to those souls who passed away in the early days
of the colony, whose bodies were laid to rest upon that hill.
There are several stories of
remains being unearthed. Skeletal remains
were washed down to the harbor when a severe rainstorm cut a gully through the
hill in 1735. Years later (1809), a human skull in a nearly perfect state of
preservation was discovered. Workmen building a trench in 1855 discovered bones
belonging to five different skeletons. Two
of them were side by side and one had a particularly “noble” forehead. The remains
belonged to a man and a woman. They were
presumed to be John Carver (the first governor of the Plymouth Colony) and his
wife, Katharine and were re-interred on Cole’s Hill. In 1883, a worker digging
holes for fence posts excavated a human skull.
He tossed it out from the dirt with his shovel and broke the bone. Some of the bones were taken to an anatomist
in Boston, who declared that the bones belonged to a young Caucasian male (and therefore,
not an earlier Native American who may have lived near the waterfront).
The sarcophagus marking the site
of the burial ground at Cole’s Hill is inscribed with the words “Of the one
hundred and four passengers these died in the Plymouth during the first year”
followed by the names of the victims of that first harsh winter, including
Governor John Carver and his wife, Katharine.