History Book – The start of Plymouth Colony

NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD History Book.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: This week, what it takes to get from the ground up: the start of Plymouth colony, a Christmas Day heist, and the ceremonial completion of the first World Trade Center tower.

Senior correspondent Katie Gaultney has the WORLD History Book.

BRADFORD: In wilderness he did me guide, and in strange lands for me provide.

KATIE GAULTNEY, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: The poetry of separatist William Bradford, read here for PBS.

BRADFORD: In fears and wants, through weal and woe, a pilgrim, past I to and fro. 

It’s a reflection on God’s provision during the journey of the Mayflower and the efforts of the colonists that followed. Today marks 400 years since the Pilgrims came ashore at Plymouth, Massachusetts.

But it wasn’t a straight path to Plymouth. They spent 66 days at sea before docking at Provincetown Harbor in November. Skirmishes with the local Native American tribes prompted the weary Pilgrims to re-board the Mayflower in search of land to colonize. 

Kathleen Curtin, a historian at Plymouth Plantation, talked about the particular challenges of disembarking in the dead of winter. 

CLIP: They arrived here at Plymouth in December, so a really cold time of year, with a full brunt of winter ahead of them. The primary sources, the documents left by the English colonists, talk about men coming from Mayflower, wading through the water, and their clothes freezing on them like armor as they came to shore…

Interesting to note: It’s unclear if the Pilgrims actually landed on Plymouth Rock. In fact it was over 150 years later, in 1771, before anyone claimed the rock held some significance. There are no first hand written or verbal accounts that the stone was the landing spot. 


From the British Isles to the New World and back again—and from one stone to another. We turn to Great Britain and a Christmas Day caper in 1950… 


The theft of an ancient stone from Westminster Abbey by four Scottish students. 

MOVIE CLIP: What I’m about to tell you is of the utmost secrecy… I’m going to Westminster Abbey, and I’m going to bring back the Stone of Destiny.

In Scotland, it was called the Stone of Scone or, as you heard in that clip from the 2008 movie of the same name, the “Stone of Destiny.” 

The English called it the “Coronation Stone” since the oblong block of sandstone was used in the coronation ceremonies of monarchs for centuries. It was a symbol of Scottish pride, with a place of honor at Scone Palace near Perth, Scotland. But sometime in the 14th century, the English brought the stone to Westminster Abbey and fitted it into a chair, called King Edward’s Chair. It was last used in 1953 for the coronation of the current Queen Elizabeth. 

NEWSREEL: The queen, risen from prayer, is disrobed of her crimson robe. She goes to King Edward’s chair…

The relocation of the stone to England all those centuries ago didn’t sit well with many Scots. That’s why those four Scottish students decided to break into Westminster Abbey in the middle of the night, drag the stone out—breaking it in the process—and bring it back “home.” 

MOVIE CLIP: Ian!/I’ve got it, I’ve got it!/We did it, we did it! (SIRENS)

The thieves meant it as a protest against English rule, and a statement in favor of self-government in Scotland. Just four months after the heist, though, authorities found the stone in Scotland and returned it to Westminster. 

NEWSREEL: The Stone of Scone, which was wrenched from here on the night of Christmas Eve, has returned to the light of day. 

But in November 1996, the British royal family formally handed over the stone at Edinburgh Castle, where it remains among the crown jewels of Scotland. 

And what about those four Scottish students that pulled off the 1950 Yuletide hijinks? Fearing political backlash, the authorities decided not to prosecute. 

And we’ll top off this week’s History Book with, well, a topping out ceremony. Builders marked the ceremonial completion of the World Trade Center’s North Tower on December 23, 1970. 


In construction parlance, “topping out” means putting the last beam on top of a structure. Today, it’s more of a PR event, since most buildings still require plenty of finish-out after that last beam is secured. But the North Tower’s topping out was especially significant, making it the tallest building in the world at 1368 feet. Plus, it boasted advancements in skyscraper construction—and cleared plenty of engineering hurdles. A History Channel documentary explains one obstacle. 

CLIP: To reach bedrock, engineers would have to dig down more than 70 feet, and at the same time, not disturb the foundations of the surrounding buildings. 

AUDIO: [Construction site]

But, of course, they found novel techniques, shoring up a strong foundation that would support a building over a quarter of a mile tall. The completion of the North Tower was an important step in making the Rockefeller family and Port Authority’s dreams of revitalizing Lower Manhattan a reality. 

Today, among other structures at the original site of the Twin Towers stands One World Trade Center. Like the North Tower, the building rises to 1368 feet. Its antenna extends quite a bit higher though. As a nod to America’s founding in the year 1776, it rises to the symbolic height of 1776 feet. 

MUSIC: [America the Beautiful, The Smooth Jazz All Stars]

That’s this week’s History Book. I’m Katie Gaultney.

(Painting/Henry A. Bacon, public domain) The Landing of the Pilgrims (1877)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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