Plymouth Rock

Wikimedia Commons

How much do you really know about America’s most famous hunk of stone?

When it comes to the most famous rock in America, Plymouth Rock may just be the only one to outshine the likes of even Dwayne Johnson. We all grew up learning that this mythical Plymouth Rock was linked to the founding of the United States, but how much do most of us know about it? Is it actually a rock? If so, how did it manage to outshine every other rock in America?

If these are the questions that keep you up at night, then read on. Here we’ll dive into the history of the rock (yep, it is an actual rock) that captured the imagination of generations of Americans. We’ll even delve into exactly why and see what Plymouth Rock has been up to for the last couple of centuries. So get ready to be the smartest person in history class, or at least have a fun conversation starter.

Plymouth Rock’s rocky start

If there’s one thing that Plymouth Rock lives up to, it’s its name. It really is a ten-ton boulder that called Plymouth Harbor its home for many millenniums. That said, the famous rock is not without its issues. First of all, it was actually Cape Cod rather than Plymouth, where the Pilgrims first landed in 1620.

Most history books leave out this tiny detail because they only stuck around for about a month before sailing down to Plymouth because it was safer. The rock’s legacy gets even shakier when you realize that the Pilgrims left no records of landing any rock in particular.

 Flickr/Robert Linsdell

In fact, the rock didn’t enjoy any real significance until 121 years after it allegedly became the stepping stone to the new world. The year was 1741, and word got out that plans where underway to build a harbor over the boulder in question. This was cool with everyone except a 94-year-old church elder named Thomas Faunce.

Faunce’s own father had joined the party at Plymouth in 1623 and had always claimed that the early arrivers had assured him that the rock was the exact spot where they landed. Having heard the story from his dad a million times, Faunce made arrangements to bid the rock farewell.

From random stone to American icon

Though Faunce’s trip to see the rock one last time might not seem like much of a big deal, keep in mind that he was 94 years old at this point. But the elderly churchman didn’t let that stop him and arranged to make the 3-mile trip down to the harbor in a chair. Well, obviously, this piqued the curiosity of a few folks.

Ultimately, word of Faunce’s claim spread and national enthusiasm for the rock began to blossom. Cut to 1774 when America’s collective revolutionary spirit was at its peak. A group of colonists decided it was time for the rock to get some real respect and attempted to move it with a team of 20 oxen. They ended up having to settle for the top half of it because, well, the thing was huge, and it ultimately broke in two.

The rock didn’t enjoy any real significance until 121 years after it allegedly became the stepping stone to the new world

After years of being moved around, what was left of the top half was ultimately reunited with the bottom on the beach where it first started. Bits of it that had been chipped off can still be found in museums like the Smithsonian, but for the most part, it’s reclaimed its original home.

Ultimately, a little cage has been set up around the top of it, as most of it’s buried in the surrounding sand. There it still sits like the world’s most boring zoo animal. None the less, it still attracts visitors from around the globe who wish to gaze upon its granite essence.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:

September 3, 1777: The American flag is first raised I History 101

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Beyond the signature: John Hancock’s role in the American Revolution I History 101

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