With preparations under way to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims landing, Provincetown wants everyone to remember: We were first.
While the town of Plymouth gets most of the attention, it’s important to note that the Pilgrims first touched American soil at the tip of Cape Cod, in Provincetown.
It was also onboard the ship, during their five-and-a-half week stay, that they signed the Mayflower Compact on November 11, 1620. Religious leaders William Brewster and William Bradford, among others, wrote the Mayflower Compact, a guide to living in the new colony.
Dr. K. David Weidner, director of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum and head of the 2020 celebrations in the town, expects about four times more visitors that year as usual.
Plymouth, too, is expecting huge 2020 crowds — somewhere between 3 million and 6 million domestic and international visitors.
But there is no rivalry between the two towns, Weidner insists. He often collaborates with Plymouth officials on educational projects.
Weidner is preaching about the Pilgrims in Provincetown all the way in Bassetlaw, England, where the some of the Pilgrims originated, and is building a Provincetown-inclusive curriculum about the Pilgrims’ experience in the US in a collaboration with primary schools in the area.
The Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown is designed after the Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy. Its tower reaches a height of 252 feet and is the tallest all-granite structure in the United States.
“Mayflower descendants wanted to memorialize the Pilgrims landing in Provincetown and their signing of the guiding document,” Weidner said, “which was a precursor frankly to our US Constitution.”
The Provincetown monument was of such importance, sitting president Theodore Roosevelt was on hand to lay the cornerstone in the groundbreaking in 1907.
“People climb the monument to witness the beautiful harbor in the distance,” Weidner said.
The Mayflower’s destination wasn’t Massachusetts at all — it was the Hudson River in what was then part of the Virginia Colony. But during its two-month Atlantic crossing, the Mayflower was blown off its course and arrived at what is now Provincetown on Nov. 11, 1620.
The Pilgrim’s stint at the tip of the Cape included stealing corn from the Wampanoags at Corn Hill and meeting the Native Americans at what is now known as First Encounter Beach, in Eastham.
“They were looking to make a settlement,” Weidner said, which is why the Pilgrims eventually left. The Provincetown landscape was too sandy for their crops. After less than six weeks, the Pilgrims raised their anchors and made for the closest fertile land, which was Plymouth.
Weidner is expecting community support around the celebrations, saying “that is what Provincetown is about, tolerance and respect.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the hight of the Pilgrim Monument tower.