The Pilgrim Society originated in 1820 when a group
of Plymouth residents and others interested in the Pilgrims organized to oversee a
celebration of the bicentennial of the landing at Plymouth. In 1824 they engaged Alexander
Parris, later the architect of the Quincy Market in Boston, to design Pilgrim Hall as a
museum. Pilgrim Hall, built of granite in the Greek Revival Style, is the oldest museum in
continuous service in the United States.
The exhibits are the finest collection of Pilgrim possessions anywhere and an excellent
source for early American decorative arts. The "Great Chairs" of Governor Carver
and Elder Brewster are as important to collectors of furniture as to historians. Here also
are the chairs of Governor Bradford and Winslow; Myles Standish's sword and razor; the
cradle of Perigrine White, born on the Mayflower in Provincetown Harbor; some of the books
printed in Leyden by Elder Brewster; and a portrait of Edward Winslow, the only known
likeness of a Pilgrim. The remains of the Sparrow-Hawk, the only existing example of the
ships that explored and colonized New England, are also on exhibit. An important
collection of Native American artifacts from the area dates back as far as 8000 years. In
the Lower Hall decorative arts demonstrate the dynamic development of the colony in its
The Pilgrim Hall Library, open to the public on request, contains rare seventeenth and
eighteenth century volumes including several of the earliest Bibles printed in English.
There are also many documents and maps relating to later Plymouth history and a large
collection of works on Plymouth and New England history.
Three of the objects in this picture are the Fuller Cradle, Portrait of Governor Edward
Winslow and the Brewster Chair.
The PIERCE PATENT
When the Pilgrims left England in 1620, they had a patent which granted them permission
to settle in Virginia. When they landed at Cape Cod, they found themselves in territory
where this patent was no longer valid. The Mayflower Compact, signed on the Mayflower
in November of 1620, was an internal constitution which could serve until they
received another patent.
The Pierce Patent of 1621 replaced the 1620 Virginia Patent. John Pierce, one of the
Merchant Adventurers, secured it from the Council for New England in London. The patent
gave the Mayflower colonists permission to settle in New England. The patent
is the oldest extant state document in New England.
ARMS & ARMOR
The helmet and breastplate, (1600-1650) were made in England and descended in the
Thompson family. This is the type that would have come over on the Mayflower. The book Arms
& Armor of the Pilgrims is an excellent source of information on this subject.
The sword is 17th century, is attributed to William Brewster and is on loan to the
museum from the Massachusetts Historical Society.
The Standish Rapier(sword) was from Solingen, Germany circa 1600-1620. Myles
Standish obtained this sword while he was serving as a mercenary in the Low Countries.
Deep concave grooves, unsharpened edges and a pronounced point reinforce the flat ovoid
blade. The blade is rigid, intended for thrusting. It bears the makers name. The cup is
decorative, embellished with foliage and bearded faces like those found on bottles and
jugs made in the Rhine Valley. The length of the weapon is significant. 35 3/16 inches.
Six inches shorter than the standard, compensating for Standish's modest stature.
The Matchlock Musket is Italian, possibly from Brescia near Milan and is circa 1600.
This gun dates from the Pequot War era of 1637, shortly before Matchlock Muskets were
removed from the colonial arsenal.
The early settlers used the matchlock gun, a standard firearm in Europe since the 15th
century, although the piece was heavy, dangerous and inefficient. In 1645 the Plymouth
General Court allowed only Snaphances as town arms. The Matchlock continued, though, to be
used until 1677 when they became unacceptable for military use.
In 1626, this small vessel brought 25 passengers and their possessions from Europe to
America. Bound for Virginia, they landed at Cape Cod in distress after the hardships of a
stormy voyage of six weeks. The details of the shipwreck can be found in Bradford's Of
Plimouth Plantation. Guided to Plymouth by Cape Cod natives, two survivors told
their sad story to Governor Bradford, who immediately sent a shallop to rescue the
passengers and crew. The Pilgrims provided food and shelter for the castaways for nine
months, at which time two barks heading for Virginia gave them transport.
The Sparrow-Hawk is the only surviving remains of a 17th century trans-Atlantic vessel.
These original timbers exemplify the small, sturdy ships vital to the colonization of
America. Their size is evidence of the courage of those who undertook the journey to the
new World. The Sparrow-Hawk, about 36 tons and 40 feet in length, was typical of 17th
century vessels. The Mayflower, 180 tons was one of the largest. The Fortue which came in
1621 was only 50 tons.
After being wrecked in 1626, the Sparrow-Hawk was buried in sand and mud in a part of
Orleans later known as "Old Ship Harbor". The timbers were visible from time to
time until 1862, when they were uncovered in a great storm. The ancient hull was removed
and reassembled. After exhibitions in many cities, it was presented to the Pilgrim Society
in 1889 and has been on view in Pilgrim Hall since then.