William Bradford’s Grave – Bradford’s “On Plymouth Plantation” is probably the most famous and most detailed primary source we have of the Pilgrims’ early experience in the New World, but we don’t credit this guy just for being an interesting author. He was also the governor that held the new settlement together through some ridiculously tough times.
He’s buried in the town’s oldest cemetery, Burial Hill, which overlooks Cape Cod and the rest of the town of Plymouth. Fittingly, he’s got one of the largest headstones on the grounds, but even that doesn’t come close to showing the sort of appreciation he deserves. For goodness sake, the tallest gravestone we saw all trip was for the parents of Benjamin Franklin. And they didn’t do anything but give birth to the guy!
As for Bradford, it was never the plan for him to become governor of Plymouth, but when the man who was originally appointed died within the first year, Bradford was the logical guy to take over. This was a guy who, despite being devoutly religious, was able to put out some pretty violent orders to maintain the safety and stability of his colony. His wife died before she even got off the boat. Perhaps worst of all, at least to Bradford, what had started as a strictly religious colony became less and less so as more Anglican Englanders made the trip over.
The guy had guts, though, like a lot of these early settlers, and his job was the farthest thing from an easy one. You’ve got to wonder how things might’ve been different were he not there to hold it all together. Would we even have a Plimoth Plantation and Mayflower II to visit today? Maybe, but probably not. But possibly. Most likely. Or not…
The Adams Family Tomb – On the way back to the car, Amy and I plucked a decent-sized stone from the Plymouth shoreline to take home with us. Why would we do such a thing? To display Plymouth Rock prominently on our bookshelf. Okay, so it’s not THE Plymouth Rock, but it’s definitely a rock from Plymouth. We had fun doing it, okay?
On the way back towards Boston we made a stop at a church in Quincy, which is where John Adams, Abigail Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Catherine Adams all are buried. We were absolutely wiped out from a long on foot in the sun, but this was right on the way and seemed like something we should do. It ended up being the most solemn experience of the week.
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Walking up to United First Parish Church you’d never guess that it houses a family tomb that includes the bodies of two presidents. Inside it’s a beautiful old church, and there were a couple of older docents there giving tours. We had come towards the end of the day, so while the older woman was talking to a group in the actual church, we chatted up the kindly old gent who waited with us to get things started. After having asked about our reason for coming we told him we were teachers with voracious appetites for history and how almost the entire vacation was devoted to taking in as much of it as we could before going home.
He sort of looked at the other tour group in the church and finally said, “I’ll just take you down to the crypt.” So that’s what we did. The thing about our tour guide was that he took his job very seriously, and I’m positive that had a strong effect on how seriously Amy and I took the whole experience as well. He told us that every morning he’d come down to the tombs and thank to second and sixth president for the opportunity to do what he does. This guy was extremely solemn and patriotic fellow, so we did absolutely everything we could to be as respectful as possible.
The tomb is just a little room with four gigantic granite boxes that hold the caskets of the Adams. We found out that earlier that day some direct descendants of the family had been there to celebrate John Quincy’s birthday. President Obama had personally sent a wreath of flowers that was now sitting atop JQ’s tomb. We were, to say the least, pretty bummed we’d missed out on that, but just being in a room with two dead presidents was in itself emotionally overwhelming.
On the way out, the docent offered Amy a flower from the presidential wreath. He wanted us to share the experience with our students, and for Amy to show the flower to her students. It was an extremely benevolent gesture and we of course accepted. We’ve got no idea where to put this flower, but how do you turn down something like that?
When we stepped back and looked at the long list of graves we’d visited over the course of the week it was difficult not to label these particular ones as the most memorable. Few people had as much to do with shaping early America than John Adams, and his wife Abigail was one of the first real feminists. John Q. was no hack, either, so just being there, in a church no less, was about as solemn as a tourist attraction gets.
Brigham’s Restaurant – My family comes from Massachusetts. There are Brighams spread out all over the country, but probably the strongest concentration of them is out East, where the original Brigham set foot on American soil a long, long time ago. As a result there’s a really famous Brigham hospital in Boston, as well as almost a full page of other Brigham’s listed in the Boston phone book. Perhaps the most famous of all, though, is Brigham’s Ice Cream.
There was absolutely no way I was going home without tasting the stuff, so our last evening meal in Massachusetts took us like 30 minutes from our hotel to find the nearest Brigham’s. It’s sort of like a fancy Culver’s, with burgers and fried goods and, of course, ice cream for dessert. We ordered whatever and did the ice cream thing, which was good, but we definitely had more fun taking pictures of and with everything labeled “Brigham” in the entire building. The poor teenagers working the till must’ve thought we’d escaped from some sort of mental facility. We probably could’ve pulled the name thing and gotten some free stuff, but we didn’t want too many people asking for autographs and all that. The girl didn’t even blink when I busted out the Brigham credit card. So much for celebrity. And, as it would happen, so much for Boston. We’d be leaving in the morning, but not after a few more stops on the way home.