I here offer some photographs of one of my favorite places in the world. A place with a lengthy history and a stunning view. The best spot, in my opinion, from which to view Plymouth Bay.
I post these images not because they are great photographs. I took them with my crummy cell phone camera, so I wouldn’t try to pass them off as works of art. But I thought it would be interesting to take photos of a quintessential New England landmark across four seasons. You get a good sense of the character of each season. I think it’s interesting the way in which a place transforms over the course of the year.
Burial Hill was one of several features that led the Pilgrims to choose Plymouth as the site of their settlement. A high hill not far from the water’s edge made a convenient location for a fort that could ward off attacks from both land and sea. As Governor William Bradford wrote, “in one field is a great hill, on which wee poynt to make a platform and plant our ordnance, which will command all round about. From thence we may see into the Bay, and farre into the Sea, and we may see thence Cape Cod.” You can indeed see Provincetown from Burial Hill on a very clear day.
In 1621, the Pilgrims built their fort, a wooden boxy thing topped by a gun platform where they eventually mounted six cannons. Inside was a large room used for church services. The fort stood well off to the right of the view shown here, at the highest point of the hill.
Isaac DeRasieres, leader of a diplomatic delegation sent from New Netherlands to Plymouth Colony in 1627, described the manner in which the Pilgrims climbed the hill each Sabbath for worship. “They assemble,” he said, “by beat of drum, each with his musket or firelock in front of the captain’s door. They have their cloaks on, and place themselves in order, three abreast, and are led by a sergeant without beat of drum. Behind comes the governor in a long robe. Beside him, on the right hand, comes the preacher, with his cloak on; on the left hand the captain, with his side-arms and his cloak on, and with a small cane in his hand. And so they march in good order, and each sets his arms down near him. Thus they are constantly on their guard, night and day.”
I am sure I’m not the only one who has tried to imagine that procession of Pilgrims marching up this ground. Many times I’ve stood by the sign that marks the fort site and tried to picture the primitive building. Another feature I often try to picture atop Burial Hill is the palisade that once encircled the village. A wooden wall, half a mile in length, it was built in the winter of 1622 in reaction to threats the colonists had received from the Narragansett tribe. Standing atop the hill, I often try to picture the wooden walls along the hillside. One wall probably ran directly in front of where these pictures were taken.
The oldest gravestone here is that of Edward Gray, a wealthy merchant, dated 1681. There were probably burials here long before that, but they were either unmarked or the stones are long gone. It is believed many of the earliest settlers are buried here, including Governor Bradford. Also among the stones is a monument marking the mass grave of 72 men who perished in Plymouth Harbor in 1778 in the wreck of the privateer General Arnold. An epic story if there ever was one and probably a future blog post.
I come to Burial Hill often to enjoy the view, commune a bit with history, and to read the curious epitaphs on the stones. There are so many mournful passages and dark reminders of mortality…it can be difficult to find an uplifting inscription. One that I like is on the grave of Mr. William Keen (1756-1825) who seems to have lived a full, happy life:
This modest stone, what few vain marbles can,
May truly say, Here lies an honest man.
Calmly he looked on either life, and here
Saw nothing to regret, or there to fear.
From Nature’s temperate feast rose satisfied,
Thank’d Heav’n that he had lived and that he died.
A moral worthy of considering as the seasons go by, year after year.