Standing on a grassy hilltop overlooking Plymouth Harbor, the National Monument to the Forefathers is the fourth largest monument in the United States and the largest statue in the world made from a single block of solid granite—and yet, it’s a site that is easily overlooked.
The idea for a Pilgrim Monument, as it was first called, germinated in 1820, around the time of the bicentennial celebration of the landing of Brewster, Standish, Alden and company on the Plymouth shore. But the project took decades to complete. Planning began in 1850 and a cornerstone was laid in 1859. The original plan called for a monument that was 150 feet tall, but sculptor Hammatt Billings scaled that back to 81 feet, and when Billings died in 1874, his brother, Joseph, took over the job and led the team that completed the monument in October of 1888.
As was the style in the Victorian Era, the monument is dripping with symbolism. The main figure, Faith, looks toward Plymouth Harbor, where the Pilgrims came ashore, and also toward Plymouth, England from whence the Pilgrims came. One of Faith’s hands clutches a Bible and the other points skyward toward heaven. At her feet are four figures that personify the principles the Plymouth colony was based upon: Morality, Law, Education and Liberty. Each figure is supported by two more iconic statues.
Originally owned by the Pilgrim Society and now owned by the state of Massachusetts, the National Monument to the Forefathers, as it is now officially known, stands at the center of a 12-acre park in a quiet residential neighborhood, reminding visitors of the Pilgrims and how Victorian America wanted to remember them. Trees block views of the monument from most angles, but that just makes the experience of driving up Allerton Street to see the the colossal figure on the hill all the more breathtaking. Whale watchers who keep an eye on the shore during a return trip to Plymouth Harbor are usually surprised when they see Faith looming above the town and wonder how they missed her in the first place.