12 Church St, Plymouth, MA 02360, USA
Owned By: Town of Plymouth
Pilgrim Plymouth’s first official cemetery, established in 1622. Also the site of their first fort and meeting house. Located on a hill directly behind Plymouth’s commercial area, this is a fascinating place to walk and explore, plus the view of the waterfront below is really something! Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. To support the survival of the gravestones, please refrain from touching them.
After traveling from England by way of Leyden, Holland, the European settlers known as the Pilgrims chose to settle in the Plymouth Harbor area around December 21, 1620. They had surveyed the coast for three days, and ultimately chose this location because of its protected bay, as well as the fresh water provided by Town Brook. They built their first houses on Leyden Street, immediately adjacent to Cole’s Hill.
This land was inhabited by members of the Wampanoag tribe long before the Pilgrims arrived. The Wampanoag sachem, Massasoit, befriended the Pilgrims. Without his aid, they Pilgrims would not likely have survived their first year. 52 of the original 102 Pilgrims died in the winter of 1620-21. Many of them are believed to be buried on Cole’s Hill. However, this proved to be a less-than-ideal location for a burial ground.
The Pilgrims’ first official cemetery was established here in 1622, at 165 feet above sea level. Look for the main entrance next to First Parish Church in Plymouth (12 Church Street). It also accessible from a walkway off Summer Street, next to the John Carver Inn, beside the parking garage on South Russell Street, and via a staircase leading up from School Street.
Governor William Bradford is buried here, along with Mary Allerton, the last surviving Pilgrim, author Mercy Otis Warren, and Squanto (Tisquantum), a member of the Patuxet tribe who greatly aided the Pilgrims. There are more than 2,000 marked graves, dating from 1680 to 1957. (Prior to 1680, gravestones were typically made with wood, and thus have not endured through the centuries.)
The property features a network of paved footpaths, totaling about 1/3 mile, with stairs in the steeper sections. Extend your walk by following the paved pathway at the southern end of the property, down the hill beside the John Carver Inn. Cross Summer Street and follow Spring Lane into Town Brook Park, where you can access the 1.5-mile Town Brook Trail. It extends eastward past the Plimoth Grist Mill, through Brewster Gardens, and into Pilgrim Memorial State Park. It also extends westward past Holmes Playground, Billington Street Park, and along Town Brook to Town Brook Patuxet Preserve.
Habitats and Wildlife
This is a lovely spot with grassy areas and mature trees. Look for oak, maple, elm, hickory, black walnut, cedar, gingko, sumac. The property is within the watershed of Town Brook, which finds its source in the 269-acre freshwater pond known as the Billington Sea, and flows for 1.5 miles before emptying into Plymouth Harbor.
Town Brook is home to a herring run on the rebound! Every spring, thousands of alewife herring swim upstream, en route to their spawning grounds in the Billington Sea. In 2003, about 7,000 herring were counted here. In 2016, there were nearly 200,000! This is thanks largely to the 21st-century removal of four local dams that impeded fish passage.
Historic Site: No
Boat Launch: No
Size: 5.1 acres
Hours: Dawn to Dusk
Parking: Metered parking on Summer Street, School Street, South Russell Street, and in lots at various points around the Plymouth commercial area.
Trail Difficulty: Easy, Medium
Historical markers, lamp posts.
Dogs: Dogs must remain on leash. Scoop the poop!
Boat Ramp: No
ADA Access: No
Scenic Views: Yes
Waterbody/Watershed: Town Brook watershed