Update: We’ve published Faith and Freedom: The National Monument to the Forefathers, a book describing this magnificent monument in more detail. Learn more.
A granite monument standing 81 feet tall honors the first English settlers to land in Plymouth, Mass.
The National Monument to the Forefathers stands in a state park on Allerton Street. If you look at the first picture in this post, the small people in the lower left will give you a good indication of the size of this massive and intricate monument.
The monument, the largest solid-granite monument in the United States, was dedicated in 1889 (30 years after its cornerstone was laid).
A dedication on the monument’s northeast face reads, “National Monument to the Forefathers. Erected by a grateful people in remembrance of their labors, sacrifices and sufferings for the cause of civil and religious liberty.”
The monument features several allegorical figures depicting virtues the Pilgrims, known in Plymouth as the Forefathers, brought with them when they arrived in Massachusetts in 1620.
The largest figure, Faith, is 36 feet tall and weighs 180 tons by itself. Faith, holding a Bible, stands atop a granite column facing toward Plymouth Harbor and England. (The osprey nest on Faith’s head is not part of the original design.)
The eight-sided column features four buttresses with seated 15-foot-tall allegorical figures. Moving counterclockwise from the monument’s front, the north face features a representation of Morality, a woman holding a tablet bearing the beginning of the Ten Commandments, “I am the Lord thy God.”
Niches in the base of Morality’s throne honor prophecy and evangelism.
The west face depicts Law, a man holding a book. Law is flanked by smaller figures depicting justice and mercy.
Education graces the south face with a woman pointing to a book in her lap. Representations of wisdom and youth flank Education’s throne.
The east face features a representation of Liberty, a seated warrior with a sword in his right arm and a broken chain in his left. He is flanked by depictions of peace and tyranny, symbolizing the defeat of tyranny and the resulting peace.
Along with the allegorical figures, the monument’s buttresses also feature bas-relief sculptures depicting scenes such as the Pilgrims departing England and landing on the shores of Plymouth and interacting with Native Americans.
The side of the monument’s face also bears panels listing the names of the Pilgrim settlers, and a quote from William Bradford, a governor of the colony.
The monument was designed primarily by Boston sculptor Hammatt Billings, who was also responsible for the Civil War monument in Concord, Mass. As large was the Forefathers monument stands, Billings’ original design called for it to be nearly twice as high at 150 feet (just under the Statue of Liberty’s height, including the pedestal, of 151 feet).
The monument’s height was reduced when funding became short during the Civil War.
The monument was commissioned by the Pilgrim Society, which maintained the monument and the small park surrounding it until the site was deeded to the commonwealth in 2001.
The Pilgrims are also honored with a monument in Provincetown, Mass., that was dedicated in 1910. The Pilgrims originally landed in Provincetown, but after five weeks, decided the far end of Cape Cod would be better suited for T-shirt shops and restaurants than for farming. The group then migrated west to the more-sheltered area that became Plymouth.