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Impact of Mytho-History on Culture

The cultural forces that contributed to the mis-identification of the late seventeenth century site are even more important to an anthropological understanding of the site than the original function of the trading house at Manamet or the late seventeenth century household. In the middle of the nineteenth century, an unidentified archaeological site was identified as an early seventeenth century site. This was the result of a trend during the late nineteenth through the early twentieth century that saw the creation of a new language of myths and legends associated with the settlers at Plymouth. The archaeological site in Bourne became a new element in the dialogue that was being created between the early seventeenth century past and the twentieth century present. A Cultural Narrative was created which focused on the positive aspects and values that were attributed to the "Pilgrims". This section of the report examines how the legend of Aptucxet was created and how it functioned within the larger narrative of the Pilgrims and within the culture of Bourne, Massachusetts c. 1920.

The study of cultural narratives by anthropologists and folklorists, divides these narratives into three types: Myths; Legends, and Tales. Myths are "traditional narratives in which people explain the nature of the world and their place in it,.. myth deals with the ultimate questions of human existence." (Haviland 1990:387). Myths in the strict academic sense serve to complement, supplement and reinforce the religious ideology of a people. The more popular usage of the term myth is typified by the dictionary definition "a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief or natural phenomenon; an ill-founded belief held uncritically especially by an interested group." (Webster's 1977:762). The popular definition encompasses the narratives of myth and legend as defined by Haviland. In this work, the definition for myth will be the traditional anthropological one.

Whereas myth deals with the religious world and natural phenomena, legends are "semi-historical narratives coming from the past that recount the deeds of heroes, movement of peoples, and the establishment of local customs" (Haviland 1990:389). Legends serve the function of entertaining, instructing, inspiring and bolstering the pride of a family, tribe or nation by using a mixture of realism and the supernatural or extraordinary. Often historical figures are given attributes, values and ideals that place them above the real of ordinary people. As a result these historical personae loose their humanity and acquire a mythological status that serves to make their actions beyond the realm of human scrutiny.

Tales, on the other hand, are entertaining narratives which are recognized as fictional and whose sole purpose is entertainment (Haviland 1990:391). These stories are not based on historical personages or events the way legends do, and do not enter the realm of religion the ways myths do. While the distinction between myths and legends tends to be blurred by popular society, for the most part, people realize that tales are fictional, and they will not form any part of the following discussion.

The narrative of the Pilgrims and of the Aptucxet Trading Post does not belong to the category of tales. Neither narrative was created for the pure entertainment value of it. At the same time, neither enters into the realm of spirituality into which myths delve. While elements of the narratives contain references to religion and the Pilgrim narrative stresses the search for religious freedom, they were not created to explain humankind's reason for being. The cultural narrative form under which both stories fall under is the device of legends. The characters and events in the narratives are historical but their ideals and actions have been culturally modified to serve the culture that created them.


Legends are created by specific cultures during specific periods of their history to serve the needs of that culture. The Structural-Functionalist approach pioneered by A.R. Radcliffe-Brown investigates precisely this use of legends. Structural-functionalism legend analysis has as its goal the discovery and examination of the role played by myths and legends in a certain culture. Legends serve a given function within a particular culture as a means of perpetuating the systems of that culture. The actual history of a people or nation is often seen as being an inadequate means of justifying policies or situation occurring concurrently in that society. As a way of compensating for the history's lack of justification, the actual history is enlarged and construed to fit to the culture's needs.

History does not always tell people in a culture what they want to hear about themselves, or it tells them what they would prefer not to hear. By changing the history into a legend they are able to manipulate, add, and modify the history into a form that suits their needs. The legend makers project "their culture's hopes and expectations onto the record of the past, they seize upon and even exaggerate some past events while ignoring or giving scant attention to others." (Haviland 1990:389).

The past has always formed an important ingredient in history regarding the way a person, group, or nation identifies itself. Even in the face of facts that dispute the legends that surround sites and personae, the stories are slow to change. Much of this has to do with a way of "demonstrating the sense of continuity or allegiance to the past." which has been spoken of by Michael Kammen in his work Mystic Chords of Memory (Kammen 1991:33). Bronislaw Malinowski said "Myth is a story about the past which has the function of justifying the present and thereby contributing to social stability." (Kammen 1991:14). Claude Levi-Strauss supports this by stating that "Myths may be activated or reactivated in order to legitimize a version of history that is useful or attractive. He conceded that this kind of mystic history, purged and socially purposeful, may be mobilized to bolster traditional order on the basis of a distant past." (Kammen 1991: 14).

There are three categories of representation of what is remembered about the past. "First, those memories, legends, and traditions that are truly venerable we tend, at the very least, to tolerate as socially and spiritually useful- as time-sanctioned myths. Second, those memories, legends, and traditions whose origins are sufficiently recent to be accessible and therefore exposed as self-serving rationalizations that sustain the political or economic superiority of one group or value system of another. And third, those memories and traditions so new in origin that the banality of their invocation is manifest we dismiss as mere nostalgia, as the exploitation of heritage, or as the utilization of utterly contrived myths." (Kammen 1990:4). A study of the Pilgrim Legend and the Aptucxet Legend must conclude which of Kammen's types the it fits into. By using the methods described below, it is hoped that a legend that began as Kammens first type became his second type and finally can be understood as his third type. It is hoped that the Pilgrim legend which was perpetuated as veritable historical fact in the Victorian era can be shown to be a relatively recent product of its time and the cultural needs imposed on the history at the time. After the Pilgrim Legend has been understood, then the research will be in a better position to determine the causes and reasons for the Aptucxet Legend.


There are almost as many ways of studying legends as there are legends themselves. Various researchers have discovered what they felt was the most valid way to uncover different avenues of investigation into the creation and perpetuation of legends. The present study is built upon the prior research of Radcliffe-Brown or the Structural Functionalist school; Levi-Strauss of the Structuralist school; and Malinowski of the Functionalist school. None of the research strategies of any of these researchers was found to completely explain what had happened to the legend of the English colonists at Plymouth.

Any version of the Legend of the Plymouth settlers contains the same basic series of chronological events. The colonists are suffering religious persecution in England. They flee to Holland. They travel on the Mayflower to the New World. They survive a hard first winter. They encounter the natives of the area. The natives and the colonists join together for a feast. From this series of events one can see how the legend follows the basic guide lines of and legend or historical folktale. The hero, or in this case heroes, are faced with a problem and a journey to find the solution to their problem must be undertaken. Along this journey, various trials and hardships are encountered which must be overcome using the talents of the heroes. After the journey is complete success is ensured which is a cause for celebration.

The Pilgrim Legend, on an deeper level, records the trials and sacrifices which the Pilgrim Heroes endured to set the groundwork for the nation we have today. The values that were believed to be inherent to the success of the Pilgrims and that should form an example to be emulated by people today are some of the most enduring elements of the legend.

The timing of the rise of the Pilgrim Legend around the time of the American Revolution and again after the Civil War appears appropriate when viewed with the popular images of the impact these events as pertaining to freedom and independence. The most popularly cited cause for the American Revolution is freedom from England and unfair taxes. The most popularly cited cause for the Civil War is the obtaining of freedom for the slaves. While it can and has been argued that neither of these causes is the "real" reason for those wars, they remain the popular causes. The post civil war period saw the nation almost torn apart and the Pilgrims and their legends became a way to unify the nation and support the views of the dominant North. The idea of economic as well as personal freedom correlates well with the immigrant experience and the promise that with hard work they too can have the American dream of financial security and land ownership.

Mythologys Impact on Society

The general framework for the creation of myths and the use of history to support the present society in America is as follows. From the 1760s to 1776 the past was very important in separation people from England. After 1777 to 1850 it was not as important, progress into the future took precedent. From 1850 to 1930 the past became very important in defining what America was. It can be seen that the excavations at Aptucxet fall within the final period when the past became a focus and the interpretation flourished in that period.

What people were doing during this period was finding valued and ideals in the stories of the Pilgrim Fathers which the found important to stress in their period. The young American nation had no old traditions ".. no long-standing national traditions, no historical memory, no familiar antiquities on which to build a sense of nationalism." (Commanger 1975:183). The history that was there did not compare in scope nor in intensity to that which Victorian England was founded on. History must be created and antiquities must be found on which to build the validity of the strength of the nation. The colonists were no longer humans, they were above the base dealings and emotions of the common person.

Aptucxet Legend

The Aptucxet Legend differs from the Pilgrim Legend in the fact that it stresses the founding of the economic basis of the United States over the democratic foundation. It also does not rely as heavily on the virtues of the colonists, but the qualities described above recur in the Aptucxet Legend.

The period between the 1850s and 1926 represents one that exhibited a plethora of enlargement legends in the form of hero worshipping and the creation of mytho-history. Both were created out of the Victorian mindset that sought to justify America's history in the eyes of the people of England. While the site that was believed to be the Aptucxet Trading Post has turned out to, in fact, date to circa 1675, the very fact that this relatively minor site in terms of Plymouths trade network remained or reappeared, in the mytho-history of Massachusetts is revealing. It shows that there are aspects of its role evident in the history of the town of Bourne and in conjunction with the larger more significant legends that were being created at the same time concerning the Pilgrims.

Anne Yentsch in her 1993 work on the relationships between material culture and American Ideology stated that "Material culture, the core of archaeology, is thus an active agent through which a people's mytho-history is held and told to succeeding generations." (Yentsch 1993:5). Included within the category of oral history would be houses and sites that were believed to be ones connected with the mytho-history of the town or country. In Yentsch's words: "... oral tradition indisputably embodies folk history. If legends about old houses are an expression of American mythology, then encoded within them is ethnographic information on social values and folk ideas about kinship, community identity, society, history, culture, and nature....'form a moral system and a cosmology as well as a history,' embodying a set of folk beliefs expressing social ideas and values and situating people within society."( Yentsch 1993:5).

What these oral traditions have done to the history of the first European settlers at Plymouth is to give people, objects and sites values which they were not intended or did not have in the early seventeenth century. A new emphasis based on the beliefs and values of the nineteenth and early twentieth century world created the mytho-history of them.

Archaeological sites that were believed to be associated with the Pilgrims is not limited to Aptucxet. The first archaeological site, following Batchelder's 1852 work at Aptucxet, associated with the Pilgrims was James Hall's 1856 investigation of his ancestor Myles Standish's homesite in Duxbury, Massachusetts (Deetz 1977:97). This site appears to have been correctly identified through the oral history of the town that identified the depression in a field as being the cellarhole of Standish's home. Current research and reanalysis at Plimoth Plantation has identified two other sites which had been identified as having been lived in by early colonists but have proven to have been misidentified.

The Bradford site (Colonial site number 6 excavated by the Plantation: C-06) was originally believed by the descendants of William Bradford, to have been his homesite in Kingston. The reanalysis of the artifacts shows that in fact it was the homesite of William Bradford the third and William Bradford the fourth. So in fact, the identification of the site as being that of William Bradford was correct, just the wrong one. The Bartlett site in Plymouth, Massachusetts (C-04) was originally identified as being the home of Mayflower passenger Robert Bartlett, and a monument was placed at the site in 1910 by the Society of Bartlett Descendants. This site was reanalyzed and found to have been the homesite of Robert Bartlett's grandson Robert. Again the identification of the site was essentially correct, it was Robert Bartlett's homesite, just not the correct Robert Bartlett. It is apparent that in the middle nineteenth to at least the first quarter of the twentieth century there was a great desire by people to located the sites on which the Pilgrims trod and slept. The power of oral history can be studied by looking at these sites. Centuries had passed since anyone had lived at these sites, yet the collective memory of the town identified the sites accurately as having been the homesites of early families. The cellar depressions were the mnemonic devices to remind the town's people of there past. Aptucxet served a similar purpose.

In light of the Victorian Era's creation of Historical heroes, Aptucxet can be seen from an enlightened viewpoint. The site was first identified in 1852 because of the new interest people had in their past and in the town of Bourne's new interest in their past. Later in 1927 a few years after the 300 anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims, 300 years after the house at Manamet was built, a new excavation was conducted at the site. As a result of the excavation and reconstruction, the "Aptucxet Trading Post" became a new focus of interest for early American enthusiasts and especially for Bourne. This small town on Cape Cod as reason to be proud, it was just as important as Plymouth. The town was also closely connected to Plymouth by the fact that Bourne had the foundation of American Commerce while Plymouth was the Foundation of American Democracy. The correct age of the artifacts was not really important, everyone agreed the were old. The architectural style of the house was not important, it was very similar to a number of other old houses, although it is now known those houses dated to the late seventeenth century.

Whereas the main Pilgrim Legend was created and perpetuated most probably with the purpose of social cohesion to the dominant culture for the mass of immigrants to the United States, the Aptucxet Legend reflects many of the same concepts as the Pilgrim Legend but is more locally oriented. Lombard wanted anyone who was interested to know the importance of the site, but for the most part its importance remained on a local level.

Lombard's Bourne 1850-1930

The economic history of the town of Bourne greatly contributed to the creation of the Aptucxet legend. The increasing interest with the Pilgrim's and the creation of the legends surrounding them coincides in Bourne with a period of economic decline. Beginning in the late nineteenth century and continuing through the period of Lombard's excavation, Bourne lost established large businesses and was affected by the depression of 1873. By looking at the culture of the town during Lombards period of involvement with Bourne, a significant part of the rationale behind the creation of the Aptucxet legend can come to light. It was probably more than just coincidental that during a period of economic depression and decline, the town looked back to it earliest European historical event to discover and embrace the "Foundation of American Commerce".

The town of Bourne proper did not exist until 1883. Before that date, it was considered the western village of the town of Sandwich and it shared in the growth of the town. The economic base of Cape Cod as a whole and of Sandwich in particular blossomed in the early to mid nineteenth century. The growth of Sandwich began with the founding of the Sandwich Glass Company in 1825 (Lovell 1984:279). The economy in the next 25 years was further bolstered by the whaling industry, the arrival of the railroad in 1835, the flourishing of brick kilns and the establishment and growth of mills.

The peak of this economic growth was in the 1850s when the population reached 4479 persons with most of them working in the glass production, mills and maritime industries (Lovell 1984:319). The population began to decline in the 1860s foreshadowing the stagnation of the economy of the town. By 1870 the population had decreased to 3694 persons (Lovell 1984:319). Between 1860 and 1920 the Cape's population decreased by 26% (Brown 1995:204).

While the population of the town as a whole was beginning to decline, that of the western village declined slightly from 1870-1883, but it appears that this portion of Sandwich was more isolated from the general population trend affecting Sandwich and Cape Cod in general. The western village maintained its own share of town industry and economic growth. The Keith Car Company which began in 1847 by making tools, axles and ironware expanded its operations throughout the century and eventually focused its production on Pullman cars for the expanding railroad (Lovell 1984:394). Coupled with the growth of the Keith Company was the expansion of the railroad on Cape Cod and specifically its expansion to Woods Hole. The line traveled through the western village and contributed to the tourist trade beginning in the late nineteenth century (Lovell 1984:370).

As a result of the growth in the western village, they sought to incorporate themselves into a separate town. The first attempt at separating from Sandwich was in 1873. This was a result of the rise in the value of the land in the western village where 51% of Sandwich's land valuation lay and the fact that there was a great deal of new construction in the western portion (Lovell 1984:371). While the first attempt at secession was not successful, the second attempt in 1883 was. The town of Bourne was incorporated in 1883 and at this time it included eight schools, six post offices, seven telephones, four churches, two foundries, one railroad car plant, fifteen grocery stores, five blacksmith shops, one lumber yard, one axe factory and eight cemeteries (Lovell 1984:375).

While 1883 represented a year of government freedom for the citizen's of Bourne, economically it was early in the slide of the economy. Although Bourne was its own town, it still was economically tied to its mother town Sandwich and Sandwich's financial future was in doubt.

Probably the main industry in Sandwich was glass making, but by the 1870s this business was becoming increasingly unprofitable. This was the trend on all of the east coast as the markets favored the glass producers in the Mid-west (Lovell 1984:381). The depression of 1874 with its financial panic and associated business depression as well as the power of the unions in creating strikes among workers marked the end of the Sandwich Glass Factory. The factory which at its height employed 520 workers, placed a for sale sign outside of its main factory on October 16, 1888 (Lovell 1984:385). Out of work glass makers tried to form their own company, the Cooperative Glass Co. which had limited success until it too went under in 1911. The failure of the Sandwich Glass Factory was also paralleled by the Cape Cod Glass Works of Sandwich, which closed its doors in 1892 (Lovell 1984:388-389).

The railroad business peaked in the 1890s when Eben Keith was expanding his car works, but at the turn of the century Bourne, as well as Cape Cod faced an uncertain future. The population of Sandwich as a whole continued to decline until 1930 when it stabilized and grew (Lovell 1984:515). Bourne's population, while never as large as Sandwich's grew throughout the century especially after 1920 (Lovell 1984:515).

The economic base of Sandwich in the early years of the twentieth century was somewhat uncertain. Manufacturing, the marine industries and farming all experienced substantial losses. Industries continued to close down in town, many of which were reopened by new owners just to be closed down again. Industry always appeared to town planners to have the potential to save the town. The great boom times for Sandwich had been during the Sandwich Glass Company years, and it would appear that many saw the potential for a return to the glory years by encouraging new industry. The potential was never realized and industry never again played a major role in town economics.

The job loss affecting Sandwich was part of a larger trend towards centralization of the people and the work in the north. Local factories, mills and workshops in small towns were gradually put out of business as people moved to the main industrial cities in the northeast (Brown 1995:137). Along with the loss of jobs, some people felt a deeper loss. They saw the rise of centralized industry as threatening their moral existence as well as their financial. Many saw the decline of local industry being coupled with a loss of their most cherished values of hard work, family and community ties (Brown 1995:138). Many of the values they felt that they were loosing were the same ones which they saw the Pilgrim Fathers as exemplifying. People held the values that appear in the Pilgrim legend, freedom (both economic and physical), courage, and family in high esteem at this time and the decline of the rural industry was a direct assault on these values that built the nation.

By the late nineteenth century, southern New England had become a region of large industrial cities. These cities, such as Boston, were populated by immigrants and their children at an alarming rate. Sixty eight percent of the population of Boston in 1890 was first or second generation immigrants (Brown 1995:139). Cape Cod was experiencing the influx of Portuguese immigrants as well. The main industries of the Cape, the cranberry bogs, fishing and small industry were in decline but as local people began to move to the cities where the major industries were located, immigrants began to take over the few remaining industries which remained on the Cape. The Portuguese, by 1920 made up 10% of the entire population on the Cape (Brown 1995:209).

By the last quarter of the nineteenth century a new sentimentalism for "Old New England" drew journalists and historians whose reports drew the tourists to an area where there was a "mythic New England". This was one that was the antithesis of the culture they knew. Urban inhabitants knew and unsettling gritty culture filled with immigrants whom many felt did not belong here. New England was "rural, pre-industrial and ethnically pure" (Brown 1995:9)

Soon after the arrivals of the first major influx of immigrants, ancestry and legendary history began to become a central focus of the upper anglo classes pursuits. By looking to the past, then their present position in the society could be seen as being hereditary and justified. The ruling class began tracing their ancestry back to the Pilgrim fathers as precedent to being in control in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. Colonial revival became the rage for the upper class. The artifacts of colonial life carried with them the values and morals of their originators. By reproducing and studying the language of symmetry, order, and harmony of the past, then the past and its artifacts could be molded and formed to fit the present needs of their rightful descendants. "To recapture the colonial was to recapture the class stability and harmony of a world without industrial conflict, the graciousness and dignity of artisocrats whose claims on authority had never been challenged." (Brown 1995:187).

At its best, the search for ancestors and places of historical significance became the spark which ignited many small rural towns to open themselves to tourism and save their economies. At its worst, ancestry could become a way of "..defending reactionary and racist political interests against challenges presented by immigrants.." (Brown 1995:190).

The savior of Sandwich and Bourne was the increase in tourism and summer residency in the early twentieth century. As early as 1903 summer residents paid seventy five percent of the towns taxes (Lovell 1984:435). Along with this influx of tourists went the need to house all of them. Many towns along the west coast of Cape Cod were able to accommodate the tourists. Bourne participated in the building boom from the area around the presumed location of Aptucxet to the southern end of the Cape Cod Canal. Sandwich on the other hand was not as affected by the building boom because of the previous population decline. Many of the new residents merely moved into vacant houses in the town (Lovell 1984:499).

The economic gain to the town was accompanied by a cultural loss felt by the year round inhabitants. The small town atmosphere of the town was lost for several months out of the year as the summer residents returned. The local history of the town began to be researched, polished up and put on display for the summer residents. By 1930 two historical businesses formed the core of the historical tourism aspect of Bourne and Sandwich's tourist industry. The Sandwich Historical Society began to make the Sandwich glass industry the main thrust of its new museum in 1925 (Lovell 1984: 450).

Cape Cod entered into the tourism market a great deal later than many other vacation destinations such as the White Mountains and Nantucket. It was not until the first quarter of the twentieth century that tourists began venturing to the Cape for vacation. By this time Cape Cod had entered into its sixth decade of economic depression and its population had decline to that of a century earlier (Brown 1995:209). Before 1920, Cape Cod was looked at, as a backwater inhabited by "unschooled savages with almost no contact with the outside world" (Brown 1995:11). This was much the same view people had of New Hampshire and Vermont before the tourist industry began there. But with the invention and marketing of the automobile, any class of people, not just the upper class, was able to vacation. So while the upper class might retire to the White Mountains or Europe, the middle class was willing to vacation closer to home.

Tourism on Cape Cod created whole new avenues for marketing. Many of the tourists who came were looking for the romance of the quaint rural/ Yankee culture, while the inhabitants of Cape Cod saw the business of scenery and history as pure capitalism (Brown 1995:04). "No area is passed over no matter how isolated or economically marginal. Indeed tourism now often appears to be the answer to all economic problems great and small, from declining farm profits to deindustrialization. In the face of economic uncertainty, disruption, or downright disaster, local governments turn to tourism for financial salvation." (Brown 1995:02). The tourist trade was the cure for the economic depression long suffered by Cape Cod. To fuel the tourist trade, the tourist would need something to see. Tourism began to shape towns and history on Cape Cod and actually assisted in the creation and perpetuation of legends.

Percival Hall Lombard, of course, was the instigator of the second historical aspect of the Sandwich and Bourne. The 1926 excavations, the formation of the Bourne Historical Society, the reconstruction of the structure and its use as a museum created a tourist attraction for the town of Bourne. It appears that there was continually an opposition between Sandwich and Bourne, a rivalry that appears to have begun after Bourne was incorporated. As the population of Sandwich declined that of Bourne remained steady or increased. Bourne prospered from the building boom of the late nineteenth to early twentieth century to house the tourists. Even in terms of history there appears to have been a rivalry. Sandwich had the industry that had made the town famous for the prosperity it had brought. The prosperity of Sandwich had created Bourne as a result of its nineteenth century growth. Bourne had the site of the "Foundation of American Commerce" and in their view if it were not for this little site, the Pilgrims would not have been able to pay off their debts and Sandwich and the entire United States never would have existed.

It is important to notice that both towns, during a time of economic decline for them they looked to their historic pasts to highlight economic and industrial successes. Sandwich emphasized the glass industry while Bourne emphasized the trading and presumed economic foundation for the country. It appears that in a time of economic depression, the inhabitants of the towns felt the need to satiate themselves with the knowledge that the present situation in the town did not matter because the economic glory they had experienced in the past has the potential to happen again. The glorification of the two businesses was a way to honor the past industries and their contributions to the present. The increased tourism gave the towns the opportunity to share their history and created, for the Aptucxet site at least, a need to fill in missing details and reasons for its importance with a legend. There was no need to create a history for the Sandwich glass industry. Histories had been written and the historical records were present for inspection.

This was not the case for the Aptucxet site. There were very few records concerning the little site's importance and what little was available did not speak of the glory which residents of Bourne felt was due to the site. As a result they enlarged the status of the site to fill out the history which was missing and gave the site legendary status by making it a cornerstone of America's industrial strength. A strength which was waning from the towns of Sandwich and Bourne, a strength which was present in the recent past but which had been lost through economic depression and misfortune. That strength never left the town in the eyes of the inhabitants, it lived on historically with the burgeoning tourism industry.