Plymouth Rock is perhaps one of the most famous landmarks in America. It is supposedly the boulder on which the Pilgrims first stepped when they arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It is not known whether the Pilgrims actually stepped on this rock, and it doesn’t seem to have held any particular place of honor in the minds of Americans until the time of the American Revolution. Scholar Sue Ellen Thompson recounts:
“During the Revolutionary War, the residents of Plymouth took it as a good omen rather than a coincidence when the rock split in two while being pried from its bed for use as a pedestal for a liberty pole: Shortly after the colonies officially split from England. The two halves were eventually reunited under a protective canopy at the foot of Coles Hill, where it now sits. Although originally estimated to have measured 12 feet in diameter and to have weighed seven or eight tons, over the years the rock has been whittled down considerably by souvenir-hunters and the difficulties of moving it” (Sue Ellen Thompson, Holiday Symbols).
Whether or not the rock is authentic, it has come to represent the cherished American values of faith, hope and freedom. French author Alexis de Tocqueville wrote the following words in his famous work Democracy in America (1835 and 1840):
“This rock has become an object of veneration in the United States. I have seen bits of it carefully preserved in several towns of the Union. Does not this sufficiently show how all human power and greatness are entirely in the soul? Here is a stone which the feet of a few poor fugitives pressed for an instant, and this stone becomes famous; it is treasured by a great nation, a fragment is prized as a relic. But what has become of the doorsteps of a thousand palaces? Who troubles himself about them?”
Tocqueville was one of the first Europeans to recognize the significantce of American democracy and how religious freedom was an essential part of it.
It was indeed the religion of the pilgrims that led them to take tremendous risks to step into the New World:
“They cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least of making some way towards it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work” (William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647).
We cannot consider the significance of Plymouth Rock without remembering how so many of the pilgrims laid down their lives to be “stepping stones” toward the establishment of a great nation that would honor and glorify God.
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