Memory's Nation: The Place of Plymouth Rock

Article excerpt

Memory's Nation: The Place of Plymouth Rock. John Seelye. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

Rocks and stones have always played a prominent role in civilizations-from "canvases" on which to scratch outlines of animals and people, to arranged piles dedicated to religious ends, to massive pyramids providing platforms for religious purposes, to "books" like the Roseta Stone which to provide comparative writing that would unlock the secret of Egypt's past. America, too, has had its own "Roseta Stone," in the form of Plymouth Rock, which although not graced with any writing or even any traces of footsteps, has been glorified into the most famous and most useful rock in America's history. But new countries with thin histories have to utilize every possible means to enrich their past.

Plymouth Rock, it is generally now agreed, or more properly the rocks at Plymouth shore, never played any part in the momentous event it is supposed to signify. Nobody thought of the political and commercial possibilities of such an artifact until a century after the arrival of the Mayflower. When it was finally "discovered" the Rock became a political tool in oratorical, literary, and artistic celebrations until the 1920s, after which its significance was and has continued to be limited to a local custom. …