Behind The Scenes, 10 January 2018: An international search for objects and images
by Jo Loosemore, Content Lead for ‘Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy’
When The Box opens one of the exhibitions on display will be ‘Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy’. Like so many other things that will be happening in Plymouth in 2020, it will mark the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower.
For Americans, the story of the Mayflower is familiar and important. It features pilgrims, fathers and the spirit of the nation. The English view is more about a ship that left our shores with people persecuted by the established church, its customs and King. Yet despite these different interpretations this is also a story of shared history, common geography and connection.
Although some of the historic buildings the Mayflower passengers would have seen in Plymouth are still here – the old Customs House, Merchant’s House and Prysten House for example – little evidence of the people themselves remains. How could it, in a place they left nearly 400 years ago?
Already there have been surprises. 17th century drawings and diaries record the experiences of the earliest English colonists in America. Maps and plans document the places where the pilgrims lived in Holland. Painted portraits present the religious personalities who sent them there.
A hoard of 17th century toys found in Leicestershire will help explore the lives of the children who travelled on board. Astrolabes and cross staffs are reminders of the skilled seafarers, who sailed them across the Atlantic.
A John Eliot Bible (the first complete Bible to be published in America and the first in the language of the Wampanoag people) will be shown alongside historic photographs from the Mashpee Government.
Thanks to a partnership with the Wampanoag Advisory Committee and advice from the National Museum of the American Indian, our exhibition will explore the real Native American story as well.
With the help of over 100 museums, libraries and archives in the UK, the Netherlands and the USA, the material culture of the Mayflower is being found.
As Nicola Moyle, Head of Arts and Heritage says: “2020 gives us the opportunity to re-examine our past and genuinely reflect on the English colonisation of America and its consequences. This is an important story and we want to tell it as well as we possibly can.”
We’ll be keeping you updated on our social media channels about further progress with this exhibition throughout 2018 and 2019.