By John Seelye
Long celebrated as a symbol of the country's origins, Plymouth Rock no longer receives much national attention. In fact, historians now generally agree that the Pilgrims' storied landing on the Rock never actually took place--the tradition having emerged more than a century after the arrival of the Mayflower.
In Memory's Nation, however, John Seelye is not interested in the factual truth of the landing. He argues that what truly gives Plymouth Rock its significance is more than two centuries of oratorical, literary, and artistic celebrations of the Pilgrims' arrival. Seelye traces how different political, religious, and social groups used the image of the Rock on behalf of their own specific causes and ideologies. Drawing on a wealth of speeches, paintings, and popular illustrations, he shows how Plymouth Rock changed in meaning over the years, beginning as a symbol of freedom evoked in patriotic sermons at the start of the Revolution and eventually becoming an icon of exclusion during the 1920s.