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Legacies: Collecting America's History at the Smithsonian, by Steven Lubar and Kathleen M. Kendrick
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Piece of Plymouth Rock, 1620Piece of Plymouth Rock, 1620

Plymouth Rock has been an important symbol—but one with varying meanings—since its "invention" in 1774 as part of an attempt to promote the Revolution's cause by associating it with the Pilgrims. In the 1820s Plymouth Rock became a symbol for New Englanders of that region's importance to the nation's history. In the 1850s abolitionists used the rock as a symbol of New England's opposition to slavery. In the late nineteenth century it was promoted as a symbol of the English roots of the American elite and their opposition to immigration. The rock, moved to a display in downtown Plymouth in 1774, was reinstalled on the shore under a protective canopy in 1880. In 1920 the Plymouth Antiquarian Society discovered a missing four-hundred-pound piece of the rock—being used as a doorstep. In 1983 the society offered a piece of its rock to the Smithsonian, and in 1984 officials traveled to Plymouth to accept the gift.

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