British Mayflower Exhibit Centers on Native American History

23 September 2020

Much has been written about the 102 Europeans who crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the Mayflower ship in 1620. Much less has been written about the Wampanoag Native American community that the Europeans met on the other side.

Four centuries later, a new exhibition has begun in the place where the ship left Europe. The exhibition aims to bring attention to the mostly ignored history of the Wampanoag people.

In the year 1620, the Mayflower left the port of Plymouth in southern England and arrived 10 weeks later in what is now the American state of Massachusetts. The story of the religious separatists and colonists has been well documented over the centuries. But it leaves out the experiences of the Wampanoag Nation that was already living there.

The exhibition marks the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower journey.

The newly renovated Mayflower II, a replica of the original ship that sailed from England in 1620, sails back to its berth in Plymouth, Massachusetts, U.S., August 10, 2020.
The newly renovated Mayflower II, a replica of the original ship that sailed from England in 1620, sails back to its berth in Plymouth, Massachusetts, U.S., August 10, 2020.

Steven Peters is a citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. He was involved in putting together the exhibit in Britain. He told VOA the arrival of the Mayflower has historically been told from a European perspective.

"We think that once everyone has a chance to listen to all perspectives...they can then come to an understanding of what this history was and what those impacts were on the native communities..." Peters said.

The arrival of the Mayflower is commonly connected with the American holiday of Thanksgiving.

On the subject of Thanksgiving, the exhibition's website states that a large, successful harvest led to a three-day celebration for the colonists. However, it says there is no documentation of "when, if or how the Wampanoag People may have joined this event."

Many Native Americans today call Thanksgiving the National Day of Mourning to remember the killing of their ancestors and taking of their land.

Peters said working on projects related to the history of his people is part of a difficult journey.

"Often the history and the stories that that we're retelling are tragic and there's a lot of death and sickness. And so, it's emotional for us," he said.

Jo Loosemore of Britain is a co-curator of the exhibition. She said she hopes it brings new information to light.

A lot of information exists about the journey across the Atlantic Ocean, the religious perspective and the separatists' movement. But for most British people, she said, the story only begins in 1620.

"What the Wampanoag people have enabled us to see is that the Mayflower certainly wasn't the first ship to cross the Atlantic with traders or settlers or colonists," Loosemore said.

And for the Wampanoag, the story does not begin in the year 1620, she added. "You're talking a 12,000-year civilization and society, a history and a culture."

An estimated 30 million Americans have an ancestral connection to the Mayflower.

In the 1600s, there were as many as 40,000 Wampanoag in the 67 villages that made up their nation. Today, about 4,000 to 5,000 Wampanoag remain in the present-day states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

I'm Alice Bryant.

Marthe van der Wolf wrote this story for VOA News. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

Words in This Story

exhibition - n. an event at which objects (such as works of art) are put out in a public space for people to look at

journey - n. an act of traveling from one place to another

curator - n. the person in charge of the things in a museum, zoo or something else

perspective - n. a way of thinking about and understanding something (such as a particular issue or life in general)