The Oldest Town in Massachusetts Is 156 Years Older Than America Itself

Written by Angie Menjivar
Updated: September 2, 2023
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Plymouth is part of Greater Boston, Massachusetts. It was founded in 1620 and stands among the oldest U.S. towns.

It’s known as “American’s Hometown,” and today, you can visit unique attractions that recreate the environment it once was. This town is located near the capital of the state and holds a vital piece of American history. It’s the site where settlers first encountered English-speaking Native Americans who had already been to Europe and back. Discover the oldest town in Massachusetts!

The Oldest Town in Massachusetts

The town of Plymouth is located in Greater Boston, Massachusetts. Settlers established it in 1620. It is one of the oldest towns in the United States and Separatists, which were English settlers, founded it. They arrived on the Mayflower. They were seeking to own new land and establish their religious freedom but there weren’t enough of them, so they welcomed non-separatists on their journey as well. During the first few months, it was still winter. Many of the settlers went back and forth to the ship, trying to keep warm.

In March, about half of the settlers had fallen ill and died from either lack of food or disease. After the first five years, they were able to set peace treaties and engage in commerce with their neighboring Native American tribes. That is how they came to be the very first official British colonial settlement. But why did they choose to name the town Plymouth? Because the Mayflower had sailed from Plymouth, England. They honored the home they left, giving their new home the same name.  

Mayflower II replica

The settlers who founded Plymouth were English Separatists and established the town after their arrival on the Mayflower.

©Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock.com

The first dwellings in Plymouth were very small with walls made from logs and thatch. The homes were modest but provided protection and shelter from the elements and wild animals. Thanks to a Native American named Squanto who spoke English, the British were able to establish an alliance with the Wampanoag tribe. The tribes needed help fending off rebel tribes. Squanto taught the pilgrims survival skills, such as fishing and farming techniques in the new lands.                                                                 

To establish order and governance, there was a document drafted on the Mayflower, known as the Mayflower Compact, before they disembarked. It signaled the beginning of a democratic society. The English settlers flourished in the following years by planting corn, beans, and squash. The first harvest by the pilgrims and the Native Americans was celebrated in the fall of 1621. This celebration later became known as Thanksgiving after Abraham Lincoln declared it a holiday.

Wildlife You’ll Find in Plymouth, MA

In Plymouth, wildlife includes white-tailed deer, raccoons, chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits in wooded areas. You can also find smaller animals like rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks throughout the town. There are a few black bears, coyotes, skunks, and foxes. In the ocean just east of the town, you might spot fin whales en route to their next destination. There are also humpback whales, harbor seals, and gray seals. These are usually seen on rocky shores. If you are able to do some fishing, you are likely to catch Atlantic cod, flounder, bluefish, and striped bass.

Things to Do in Plymouth, MA

The primary attraction in Plymouth is Plymouth Rock — it’s a glacial boulder with the date “1620” imprinted on it. It’s a historical landmark that serves as a symbol of when the pilgrims arrived. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, visitors can learn more about the story behind the rock, the meanings it represents, and more during a 10-minute guided program. It’s a suitable outing for families with children who are 10 or older.

The famous Plymouth Rock, where the Mayflower supposedly landed in the New World.

The famous Plymouth Rock, where the Mayflower supposedly landed in the New World.

©Suchan/Shutterstock.com

You can also visit the Plymouth Patuxet Museum! This is an incredible environment that welcomes you into the 17th century. It recreates the village that the pilgrims and the Wampanoag shared and provides you with insight into how they lived back in the day. You can shop handmade pottery made by the museum’s own artisans, partake in immersive and interactive field trips, and enjoy programs and workshops. There’s even a highly sought-after group overnight program that includes historically inspired food, after-dark stories, and fun activities.

To take a look at a reproduction of the Mayflower, you can head out to Mayflower II at the state pier. It’s open through the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Currently, it’s celebrating the 400th anniversary of when the pilgrims arrived on the shores of New England. If you plan to visit Plymouth, don’t forget to check out the town’s events calendar, which lists all available events each month. There’s everything from historical explorations to live music and even wood carving workshops!

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Wangkun Jia/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Angie Menjivar is a writer at A-Z-Animals primarily covering pets, wildlife, and the human spirit. She has 14 years of experience, holds a Bachelor's degree in psychology, and continues her studies into human behavior, working as a copywriter in the mental health space. She resides in North Carolina, where she's fallen in love with thunderstorms and uses them as an excuse to get extra cuddles from her three cats.

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