Research week in Plymouth

Research week in Plymouth

Research week in Plymouth

I was excited to publish “Inventing the Pilgrims in American Literature” for the May 2017 edition of the Mayflower Journal, the members-only journal for the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.  But I was even more excited when the director invited me to come to Plymouth for a week to conduct research in local archives and meet historians and others who work with Pilgrim and Plymouth history. I flew to Plymouth on May 19 and spent eight busy days trying to accomplish as much as I could. I finished up my week with a lunch talk with the Mayflower Society staff and then delivered a public lecture that evening.

I’m still trying to process all the information I gathered, and I made some important discoveries. I’ve made inquiries at three new archives and am now obsessively checking my email for responses.

But I’m also still trying to process the emotions that I experienced. It was truly invigorating to talk to people with shared interests and to exchange ideas. I’m fortunate to have a wonderful academic community here in Atlanta, but the Pilgrim/Puritan angle is not of as much interest locally.

Since I can’t move to Massachusetts right now, my primary goal for the summer is to focus my efforts on connecting through social media. I’ve always had good intentions to do so, but my Plymouth week showed me how vital those personal connections really are. So I’ve connected this blog to Facebook, and I’m committed to posting there regularly.

And to get me started, I’m posting some of my favorite pictures from the week.

I stayed at the Mayflower Society house, right up the road from the waterfront. I could see the portico covering Plymouth Rock from the front porch. When Austin stayed in Plymouth, she stayed at the hotel across the street from the house.  The accommodations were lovely, and it was an incredible opportunity to stay there!

On Saturday, May 20, pirates arrived in Plymouth. Based on an actual event described in William Bradford’s journal, this kicks off the season for the Mayflower Society.  The  New Plimmoth Gard were Pilgrims and pirates for the day, and I loved watching the families and children interacting with them. It’s so important for children to have opportunities like this; not only might it inspire them to learn more history, but it also emphasizes the value of doing so. I also enjoyed chatting with some of the reenactors, most of whom engage in detailed research themselves, later that night.


Saturday was the best weather for the entire week, and I was lucky enough to get a personal tour from Joyce Poremski, a Plymouth Antiquarian Society docent. The Society sponsors a cemetery tour focusing on Austin, which I’ve never been able to attend before. Burial Hill is just a fascinating place in general, as you can see from this photograph to the right. Throughout the entire trip, I was able to start making some connections with names and families that have given me more insight into Austin’s letters, even though I’ve had them for six years.

It’s hard to see in this photograph, but you can just barely make out Myles Standish’s memorial in Duxbury on the top of the hill. As it turns out, I discovered that Austin engaged in a very public debate in several newspapers about Standish’s grave, and ultimately, her opponent got to have the last word (more on that later). Towards the end of the week, Walt Powell, the director of the Mayflower Society, took me to Duxbury to see the grave and to visit the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society.

 I wasn’t expecting to visit Concord, but some research leads I uncovered earlier in the week made it clear that a trip could be very worthwhile, so Walt and I set off early one morning. Not only did my research in the Concord Free Public Library yield some exciting finds, but I also met Anne Boyd Rioux, who happened to be there researching for her forthcoming book on Little Women. The coincidence was serendipitous; I wrote a profile of Austin for Anne’s Bluestocking Bulletin back in February. Anne was working in the newly-discovered manuscripts of Little Women, so I was able to see those too.

The library’s materials on Austin, including some rare editions of her books she donated to the library, are on the table behind me.

But the highlight of the trip was being able to go inside Jane Goodwin Austin’s Concord home. I had verified the dates she lived there earlier in the day in the library archives, so we decided to drive by. We were disappointed when no one answered the doorbell, but as it turned out, the owner was in the backyard and very graciously agreed to give us a tour. Although you can’t see it in this picture, Austin had carved her name into the window.

I could go on, but this post is already too long! It was an inspirational and fruitful trip, and I feel very fortunate.


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