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400 Years in the Making


Four hundred years ago, a group of English citizens boarded the Mayflower and made for the New World. The group was made up of Separatists, the true Pilgrims seeking religious freedoms, and those looking to make a new life away from England. On board, the Separatists began calling the group Saints and Strangers, the Separatists being the Saints and the other passengers the Strangers. While many people today associate the Mayflower with Plymouth, Plymouth Rock and the first Thanksgiving, the Saints and Strangers landed in Provincetown in November before making their way to the famed Plymouth in December. It was in Provincetown Harbor that those aboard the Mayflower signed the Mayflower Compact, a set of rules and laws for self-governance for those aboard the ship. Before stepping off the ship, the Compact was drafted by the Pilgrims who knew that in order to survive in this harsh new reality, they would need as many law abiding, hard working people as possible. The Compact outlined laws to create a successful, harmonious community that could survive and thrive through any hardships. 

To commemorate the 400 year anniversary of the Mayflower landing, the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum (PMPM) is overseeing the Provincetown 400 event to mark the landing in Provincetown Harbor and the signing of the Mayflower Compact. The commemoration kicks off Friday, April 24 in Plymouth with the opening ceremony, which will see the introduction of the Plymouth 400 Legacy Time Capsule. The day will also include music, interpretive readings, visual narratives and of course, an abundance of historical content. “Our mission is rooted in education, reflecting on what the monument and museum stand for, so we’re hoping this is an opportunity to set the record straight and inform the community and visitors about the five and a half weeks the Pilgrims spent here,” says Courtney Hurst, Board President of the PMPM.

The Mayflower II

The month of September will have the most commemorative events, starting with the arrival of the Mayflower II. The ship will be docked from Thursday September 10th to Monday, September 14th. Aboard the ship, actors will reenact the signing of the Mayflower Compact, allowing the public to witness this moment in history. For a little something more, attend the Mayflower Compact Reenactment Ceremony on September 13th. This fundraiser brings participants onto the Mayflower II to witness exactly what it was like on board the original Mayflower 400 years ago. A commemorative wreath will then be lowered into Provincetown Harbor. On September 14th, after a sunrise toast, the Mayflower II will depart towards her final destination in Plymouth. If historical reenactments aren’t your thing, make sure to check out the Provincetown 400 Gala on September 12th for a night of cocktails, dinner and music. 

2020 will also see the unveiling of the new, permanent Wampanoag Tribe exhibit in the Provincetown Museum. Hurst says the exhibit has been years in the making after working in close collaboration with the Wampanoag Tribe to ensure everything is as accurate and representative of the tribe as possible. This marks the first installation of a permanent exhibit  at the museum in decades. “We’re so happy that we’ve had the opportunity to work so closely with the tribe to make sure we’re getting it right,” says Hurst, “The work we’ve been doing with the tribe leading up to 2020 has been mostly education based and we’ll be turning that education over to the community with forums and round tables.” The exhibit will be toward the back of the museum, which formerly housed paintings and murals inaccurately depicting the first meeting between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Tribe. The ribbon-cutting event will also feature a round table discussion about how and why the museum decided to update the exhibit the way they did. 

As some of the first colonists in the New World, the Strangers and Saints created a lasting impression and legacy not just in Massachusetts, but across the country. Since 1897, the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (GSMD) has been committed to researching lineal descendants of those aboard the Mayflower and teaching the public about those passengers. The GSMD currently stands at over 30,000 members and will host an estimated 1,500 registrants during its special triennial Congress. To commemorate the 400th anniversary, the GSMD will host a luncheon on the Pilgrim Monument grounds after the Mayflower Compact Reenactment ceremony.   

Each year, the Pilgrim Monument is lit up for five and a half weeks around the holidays. The common misconception is that the lights are for the holiday season, when in fact, it is lit to mark the number of weeks the Mayflower was docked in Provincetown. The lighting usually takes place around Thanksgiving, but this year will take place on Wednesday, November 11th to mark the day the Pilgrims landed in Provincetown Harbor.

Tourism is expected to boom around the time of the commemorations, with Smithsonian Magazine including  the 400 Commemoration as one of twelve anniversary events not to miss. Hurst says of her goals for the events, “We’re hoping this commemoration is the perfect stage to highlight what Provincetown is about. The Mayflower Pilgrims were the first Pilgrims to come to our shores 400 years ago, seeking tolerance and acceptance and inclusion, and they found it here. Many pilgrims for the next 400 years have arrived in Provincetown seeking those same ideals; the artists, the Portuguese fishermen, the LGBTQ community. These people have come to Provincetown and found that acceptance and tolerance.”  

For more information on the 400th Anniversary, visit!

Check out our Best Of Outer Cape for even more to do in Provincetown!

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