Each units explore one or more key themes:

  1. People of the Dawn Land

    Learners will understand the 17th-century North Atlantic as a bridge that connected Indigenous peoples of the Northeast and Europeans for more than a century before 1620. Known as People of the Dawn Land or People of the First Light, southern New England’s coastal Native peoples, from Pequot to Pokanoket to Massachusetts to Nauset Wampanoag still live on or near the fields, forests and waters where their ancestors settled more than 12,000 thousand years ago. The Pilgrims were not the first Europeans they encountered. By the early 16th century, European fishermen and adventurers began trading along New England’s shores.

  2. The Legend and Legacy of Mayflower

    Learners will understand the ways in which the events that occurred on Cape Cod and at Plymouth Harbor in the winter of 1620 changed the course of New England’s history and became the basis of the founding story of a new nation. Mayflower arrived at Cape Cod in November 1620 with 102 colonists. The ship’s male passengers signed an agreement on November 11 (a constitution now known as the Mayflower Compact) promising allegiance to their fledgling government and cooperation within their community. At the time of the American Revolution, there was need for symbolic support of United States independence, and the Pilgrims became leading protagonists in the story of the new nation.

  3. New Worlds for All: Families and Their Everyday Lives

    Learners will understand that throughout the Northeast, 17th-century families Native, English and European families lived through times of increasingly complex collaboration and conflict. Plymouth colonists enjoyed modest prosperity as farmers and fishermen, and dozens of Native communities throughout Wampanoag territory responded to cultural and economic change and its impact on their traditional lifeways.

  4. Communities in Collaboration and Conflict

    Learners will understand that Indigenous communities in the region existed in a distinct geopolitical network long before Europeans arrived, and Plymouth Colony formed within that matrix. These Native and colonial communities responded and reacted to one another in both peaceful and antagonistic ways in the dynamic tension of a new social order. Native communities along the southern New England coast interacted among themselves for thousands of years before the first Europeans arrived. The presence of colonists and traders motivated sachems to compete with one another for the most advantageous trade in fur and other natural materials. An alliance between Plymouth and eight surrounding Native communities more or less endured from 1621 through the outbreak of King Philip’s War in 1675. Eventually, however, it could not withstand population pressures and land use controversies. The presence of Dutch, French and other English traders and colonists further complicated diplomatic relations.

  5. Manitou and Providence: New England’s Dual Spiritual Realms

    Learners will contemplate the opportunities and limitations of freedom of conscience. The world in which the Pilgrims arrived already had belief systems, and although we think of the Pilgrims as the paragons of religious freedom, their community valued orthodoxy, and religious diversity was looked on with suspicion. The image of Pilgrims going to church is so ingrained in American consciousness that Indigenous wisdom traditions and the experience of dissenters from Puritan orthodoxy are often overlooked. Plymouth Colony was both a place of Christian Providence (the will of God) and Native Manitou (indwelling spirit being), and these vital spiritual concepts shaped community encounters. They influenced how the expansion of Reformed churches, the arrival of Quakers, and Christian missionaries’ work among the Natives affected life in the visible and invisible worlds.

  6. Plymouth and America’s Holiday

    Learners will explore Thanksgiving as the country’s protean holiday, a feast on which new meanings are layered and new participants added, depending on the national climate. Although harvest feasts were part of New England culture from its earliest days, documentary knowledge of the Pilgrims and Natives’ 1621 Harvest Feast was uncovered in the 1830s, and the event was identified as the First Thanksgiving because it resembled holiday celebrations throughout antebellum America. From that moment, Pilgrims, the Wampanoag, and Thanksgiving were linked, and sentimentally, they became the founders of America’s most popular holiday. Thanksgiving is the country’s celebration, a feast that always has room at the table for new Americans, new traditions, and new comment on the progress of the American experiment.

Along the way, you may also consider the following:

Risk occurs when there is the possibility that something of value will be lost, but there is perhaps greater potential that something will be gained. How can the decision to take a risk create the impetus for change?

Community, whether defined by geography, or by other characteristics such as ethnicity, cultural, political or religious affiliations, shifted as the demographics of the landscape changed. What does it mean to be part of a community?

The history of these communities tells a story of the transformation of the ecological and cultural landscape, from a place of small, loosely-allied Native sachemships to one increasingly populated by European communities in conflict with Indigenous communities and one another. How did these communities transform over time? How did transformation impact relationships within and between communities?