Plymouth History Festival 2020 – Mayflower Weekend Highlights

After three weeks of historical exploration, we finished off this year’s festival with an extravaganza of Mayflower content.

In collaboration with the team at #Mayflower400, as part of the international commemoration that is taking place, we examined the ship’s journey itself as well as the social and cultural impacts that it and the journeys that followed had, both on this side of the water and on the Native American population.

Over on Facebook, Jo Loosemore and Dr Kathryn Gray, Associate Professor (Reader) in Early American Literature at the University of Plymouth, spoke live about many aspects of the Mayflower story. The video is still available to watch.

Here on the blog we also looked at this story through a variety of means: pottery, beadwork, photography and, finally, a storytelling session.

And with that, the festival was done. Thank you so much for joining us in this extraordinary year. We’ll be leaving this site up, so feel free to pop back and scroll through whenever you like.

Plymouth History Festival 2020 – Week Three Summary

The third and final week of the Festival began with VisitEngland‘s virtual English Tourism Week, giving us a great chance to show off Plymouth’s historical holiday destinations.

We then moved on to war and conflict – geographically, economically and socially shaping Plymouth throughout its history. From photos taken during the blitz to a personal account of a Polish refugee, we were given a unique insight into how the city’s inhabitants were affected in both World Wars.

Over the course of the week we saw some fascinating profiles of local houses, churches and landmarks like the Breakwater and Royal William Yard. We were also treated to profiles of the city’s sporting heroes and institutions.

Action from Plymouth Argyle v Luton Town, 1952. Image courtesy of The Box, Plymouth © Mirrorpics

Finally we stepped out a little further into Devon to examine Dartmoor, and its importance to Plymouth via Drakes Leat. With the festival almost over, we had some fun with the weekly quiz in preparation for the big Mayflower weekend to follow.

Plymouth History Festival 2020 – Week Two Summary

In the second week of the Festival we examined the many methods people have used to travel from Plymouth to neighbouring Cornwall, and then kept a water-based focus to look at the city’s lighthouses.

31/0/2016 Pic Guy Channing Smeatons Tower, Plymouth Hoe

From Smeaton’s tower what better area to examine than Plymouth Hoe and all its wonderful assets, including a sneaky virtual tour behind the closed doors of the National Marine Biological Library.

The Arts filled the rest of the week, with a look at Plymouth’s great tradition of entertainment like theatre, cinema and music followed by two days (and two pages of content here!) dedicated to the city’s artists, and the art that Plymouth has inspired.

What did you enjoy most during this part of the festival? Or what have you discovered since it finished? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter!

Plymouth History Festival 2020 – Week One Summary

Thank you so much to everyone who was involved in this year’s unique Plymouth History Festival. The team were delighted to receive your comments, queries and contributions throughout the month of May, and we’ll be leaving this site up as a go-to resource for local history for months to come.

If you have any feedback you’d like us to include in our evaluation of this year’s festival we’d love to hear it – just pop us an email before Sunday 28th June or comment on this post. In the meantime, here’s a reminder of the first week of the Festival in case you missed any of the topics featured between 8 and 15 May 2020.

Week One

The festival started on VE Day, and we were lucky enough to work with Plymouth City Council to share their digital alternatives for the planned commemorations on Plymouth Hoe, as well as offering our own VE Day content.

This led into Pirate’s Weekend, another collaboration with a longstanding local celebration. In the days that followed we celebrated the anniversary of the launch of the Beagle with articles about Charles Darwin, and spent Florence Nightingale’s birthday examining figures and policies that have contributed to Plymouth’s health (or sometimes lack thereof!) throughout history. Examining the NHS struck a particular note considering the challenges that the City was and is still facing in Covid 19.

Other topics in Week 1 included Plymouth’s links with Antarctica (including the adventures of Scott and Shackleton) and several important profiles relating to the city’s LGBT+ history. A few Week 1 highlights were picked by the team to show off the wide range of contributors who helped us to make this year’s Festival so special.

Squanto’s Story

Katy Cawkwell

The story of Tisquantum, generally known as Squanto, is one of the most fascinating elements of the Mayflower narrative.

Taken as a slave by an earlier European expedition to America, Squanto managed to return to his homeland and played a pivotal role in helping the Mayflower’s passengers communicate with the Wampanoag Native American community.

Storyteller Katy Cawkwell has worked with local academics to develop her performance of Squanto’s story.

Enjoy this video of the performance made especially for Mayflower 400 as part of this year’s History Festival.

Native Americans in Plymouth

The Box

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Plymouth is often seen as a place of departure, yet it’s also a port of arrival. Native Americans have been coming to the city for over four hundred years. Some have arrived through captivity, others by choice, several to work and a few to stay. Theirs is a hidden history. 

Thanks to a partnership with ‘Beyond the Spectacle’ at the Universities of Kent and East Anglia, The Box has been able to research the presence of Native Americans in Plymouth. The stories reveal diplomats, politicians, princesses, wrestlers and entertainers. All are individuals with personal histories and motivations. They have come from several tribal nations, over many centuries. Their arrivals highlight a challenging and changing relationship with Plymouth though time.

The Elizabethan fort probably held three, possibly five, Abenaki men in the early 1600s. They had been captured by the Torquay seafarer George Weymouth. His voyage of 1605 had been supported by the fort’s first governor, Ferdinando Gorges, who became increasingly influential in England’s attempts to create colonies in Native America.

1595 letter about the fort (1-359-25)
Elizabeth I’s reign brought Native Americans from Roanoke to England 
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I by Crispijn van Queborn after Isaac Oliver, engraving, around 1625, Cottonian Collection, COP34.13

The Jamestown colony brought Pocahontas to Plymouth on 12 June 1616. She is a woman of many names and many stories. She arrived here – with her English husband and their son – and perhaps as many as 12 Powhatan relatives and associates. Their trip was intended to raise money and profile for the English colonial endeavour in Virginia. While it succeeded in both, it would cost Pocahontas her life. She died in England in 1617.

The Abenaki men and Pocahontas were in Plymouth during James I’s reign.
Portrait of King James I by Willem de Passe, engraving, around 1630, Cottonian Collection, COP34.4 

In the intervening years, Cherokee, Sioux and Comanche people have come to Plymouth. Their presence has been recorded by local newspapers, always reporting their appearance and activities, but rarely their names or words. This new research is beginning to record more of those Native Americans who crossed the Atlantic and arrived in Plymouth. 

HMS Epreuve brought a diplomatic delegation of Cherokee to the city in 1762. Atawayi (‘Wood Pigeon’), Kunagadoga (‘Standing Turkey’) and Utsidhi (‘Man Killer’) were described by their official guide –

‘They are well-made Men, near six feet high, dressed in their own Country Fashion, with only a shirt, trousers, and mantle around them; their faces are painted of a Copper Colour, and their heads adorned with Shells, Feathers, Earrings and other trifling Ornaments.’  

The diplomats became celebrities. Utsidhi, or Ostenaco, was painted by the Plymouth artist of the age, Joshua Reynolds. 

By the 20th century, English perspectives of Native Americans were becoming shaped by stories of the Wild West and the landscape separating white settlers from indigenous peoples. Buffalo Bill brought his theatrical recreations of life and death on the American Plains to Plymouth. His shows played in Central Park in 1903 and 1904. They featured large numbers of Lakota people, but their names do not appear in the publicity for the show here. But in 1910, Little Ribs, who was passing through Plymouth as part of a Sioux group of its way to the Brussels Exposition, explained –

What those Belgians want are real Indians – those right off the short grass, with white scalps dangling at their belts. We have to give them something of this kind, though we don’t like it. 100 years ago, this kind of an Indian roamed the prairies, but now he exists only in stories and in the play. We are in the play.’ 
Little Ribs, as reported in the Irish News and Belfast Morning News, 2 April 1910

In 1970, when Plymouth marked the 350th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower, another group of Native Americans, many Comanche, were welcomed to the city. Like their predecessors, they were cultural ambassadors and entertainers. Their signatures are recorded in a visitors’ book and include three generations of the same family. Academics at ‘Beyond the Spectacle’ have helped add biographies to many of their names.

1970 Mayflower brochure cover (AR.2009.354)

2020 and the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s departure has changed the city’s relationship with Native Americans. It will see meaningful partnerships co-creating projects that will leave a legacy here. Settlement and This Land will bring indigenous people from across America to Plymouth. Ramona Peters’ ceramic pot commission at The Box will enable us to acknowledge our continuing connection to the Wampanoag Nation. Sarah Sense’s commission for the National Marine Aquarium will use Chitimacha and Choctaw artistic practice to record the names of those Native Americans who came before.

For too long, this has been hidden history. Now it can, and will, be revealed.       

This information will soon be part of a digital trail co-developed with ‘Beyond The Spectacle’ and hosted by It will also be the subject of guided tours by The Box as soon as programming can be resumed.       

Wampum: Stories from the Shells of Native America

The Box

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Three years ago, The Box began a creative collaboration with the Wampanoag Nation. They are the People of the First Light, who have lived in the American eastern woodlands for 12,000 years. Their history and culture is long and rich. The ‘Wampum: Stories from the Shells of Native America’ exhibition will present it to everyone. 

Told by Wampanoag voices throughout, the exhibition explores Wampanoag life in America today, cultural history and the impact of the colonial past, as well creative aspirations for the future.

It’s part of what makes us who we are and I think it’s important for people to know that we are still here and we live in a contemporary way, but we still treasure these parts of our tradition.
Paula Peters, Mashpee Wampanoag Nation

Paula Peters at the British Museum, Nov 2017 

Wampum is sacred and symbolic. It carries the history, the culture and the name of the Wampanoag people. Made from the purple and white shells of the whelk and quahog, wampum beads embody the Wampanoag connection to the sea and to life itself. Wampum belts are tapestries of art and tribal history. 

Wampum beads, and making the new wampum belt, 2020 c/o SmokeSygnals

The exhibition will centre on a newly crafted wampum belt created by Wampanoag artisans today and shown alongside historic wampum material from the British Museum. Together, they show the culture of the Native Americans who met the passengers of the Mayflower and ensured their survival.

The design of the belt was informed by our community – people in Aquinnah and people in Mashpee, and people of the various Wampanoag bands. We were informed by their clan symbols, and our knowledge of our history and our knowledge of our creation story. That’s why there is a white pine in the centre of the belt. It’s believed by our traditional leaders that that is where we have come from.
Paula Peters, Mashpee Wampanoag Nation

Danielle Hill with the new wampum belt, 2020 c/o SmokeSygnals

Understandably, the Wampanoag people have a difficult relationship with Mayflower history and its legacy. Before the ship’s arrival in 1620, they had already been subject to attack from European diseases and capture by English adventurers. While co-existing with the new arrivals for some time, the relationship then became one of conflict and colonisation. In 1676, following the bloodiest war on American soil, the most treasured wampum of the Wampanoag people – Metacom’s belt – was given to the English victors and it’s thought, was sent to England. ‘Wampum: Stories from the Shells of Native America’ is part of the quest to find it.

We don’t know where it is. We don’t know who has it. But we feel very strongly it is part of our story – it is a document of our history and it is something as important to us as the crown jewels would be to the Queen of England.’
Paula Peters, Mashpee Wampanoag Nation

‘Wampum: Stories and Shells from Native America’ is a local, national and international project. Created on both sides of the Atlantic, the exhibition connects the USA and the UK, Wampanoag artists and English audiences, the past and the present. It also looks to the future and to a new relationship across an ocean. This is an important course to chart 400 years after the arrival of the Mayflower in Native America. 

‘Wampum: Stories from the Shells of Native America’ is presented by The Box, Plymouth in partnership with SmokeSygnals, Massachusetts, and supported by Arts Council England as part of the Mayflower 400 commemoration. 

Wampanoag Pottery Commission

The Box

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As well as the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower, 2020 also sees Plymouth’s first artistic collaboration with the Wampanoag people thanks to a new commission from The Box. 

‘This is significant and symbolic for the city. It connects us to the Native Americans, whose ancestors met the passengers of the Mayflower 400 years ago, and ensured their survival. Working with the Wampanoag people today helps us to understand the past and the present.’ 
Nicola Moyle, Head of Heritage, Art and Film for The Box

The Box has been working with Wampanoag cultural advisors for three years, and this collaboration has helped make the commission possible. 

Ramona Peters, who specialises in traditional ceramics, has created a new artwork for 2020. Her new piece – a ceramic cooking pot – is based on historic Wampanoag designs. 

‘My work allows me the honor of reviving my ancestors’ art through time. This pot is a representation of a 1600s Wampanoag cooking pot like the ones used inside family dwellings called wetu. There were often no windows or light except for the fire. The white inlay clay is meant to help locate the pot in the darkened interior.’
Ramona Peters, artist

Ramona, also known as Nosapocket, is a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Nation. As a potter working today, she helps to sustains traditional Wampanoag clay craft from the 1600s. 

The piece will be displayed as part of the ‘Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy’ exhibition at The Box when it opens. The cooking pot will then become part of the city’s permanent collections and a legacy of the modern collaboration between Plymouth and the Wampanoag Nation. 

The Box is grateful to Ramona Peters, the Wampanoag cultural agency Smoke Sygnals and the Friends of Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery for their support with the commission.  

The Wampanoag people are known as the ‘People of the First Light’. There are two Wampanoag Nations in Massachusetts – Mashpee and Aquinnah. Together they have a population of just over 5,000 people. 

The ‘Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy’ exhibition at The Box will explore early English attempts to colonise America, recognise conflict and coexistence with Native America, address the political and religious context for the sailing of the Mayflower in 1620, detail the lives of its passengers, and consider the cultural, demographic and personal legacies of the story.  

Mayflower 400 Podcasts

The Box

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If you enjoyed yesterday’s Live Q&A with Dr Kathryn Gray and Jo Loosemore, you might be interested to know they’ve recorded a series of podcasts as part of the development of The Box‘s ‘Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy’ exhibition.

Each podcast explores an important object or document linked to the Mayflower story in depth, revealing new information and insights along the way as well as some occasional surprises.

The podcasts are all free to listen to. You can head over to the full playlist on Soundcloud or link to some of them individually below. Happy listening!

Listen at (19 minutes)
Listen at (25 minutes)
Listen at (11 minutes)
Listen at (13 minutes)
Listen at (21 minutes)
Listen at (18 minutes)
Listen at (17 minutes)
Listen at (19 minutes)

My Mayflower and Mayflower II

Welcome to the last day of this year’s History Festival, and our second day exploring the Mayflower story and its links with Plymouth.

We have lots of interesting things to share with you throughout the day, including podcasts recorded by Dr Kathryn Gray and Jo Loosemore – the stars of yesterday’s live Q&A – and insights into the huge amount of work Plymouth has been doing in collaboration with the Wampanoag in Massachusetts. We’ll round off the day, and this year’s festival, with a special video performance by storyteller, Katy Cawkwell.

To start the day, we wanted to highlight the recently launched My Mayflower series, which is sharing stories through the eyes of those linked to the ship’s legacy.

The first video brings to life the people connected to the Mayflower II – including those involved in building the ship after World War II, those who sailed it across the Atlantic and those recently involved in its restoration.

Mayflower II was built by skilled shipwrights in Brixham from 1955-1557 and given to the USA as a gift from England for its support during World War II.

25 feet wide and 106 feet long, with four masts and six sails, it sailed from Plymouth, UK on 20 April 1957 in a recreation of the original 1620 voyage. It arrived in Massachusetts, USA on 22 June.

This unused postcard from the city’s social history collections was issued when Mayflower II began her voyage from the UK to the USA.

It features a black and white image of a well-known painting called ‘The Departure of the Pilgrim Fathers 1620’. The original painting is colour and shows some of the passengers boarding the Mayflower for their voyage to America. It was created by Bernard Gribble (1872-1962), a prolific marine artist and illustrator who was once said to have painted ‘almost every historic event that took place on water’.

The city’s archive collections also contain a series of drawings of the Mayflower II – here’s a small selection.

Find out more about the Mayflower II’s incredible restoration project here.

Watch the brilliant My Mayflower video about the Mayflower II below and enjoy the rest of the day!