The Plymouth Colony Archive Project
at the University of Virginia

About this Project

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The Plymouth Colony Archive Project is designed to provide a general audience with historical analyses and original source documents concerning the Colony's existence in the period of 1620-1691. This internet project was initiated in 1998 by Patricia Scott Deetz, James Deetz and Christopher Fennell. This site is designed to make available historical constructions on various topics of the Colony's social history, and to provide interactive access to the underlying primary sources, so you can undertake your own analysis and interpretations.

We use the phrase "historical construction" here to mean the process of researching and creating an historical account -- what many people refer to simply as "writing about history." Creating such views of a past time, place and people is not a straight-forward affair. Such efforts often entail what Jim Deetz called a "value-influenced construction of past reality." As Prof. Deetz emphasized in an article addressed to his colleagues, the values influencing such constructions are many and varied. Some of those values are shared widely by members of society, while others are restricted to special interest groups. Some values and related historical constructions consist of idiosyncratic expressions of one author's views, and yet they can become accepted uncritically by broad audiences (History and Archaeological Theory, in American Antiquity, Vol. 53, at p. 16, 1988).

We encourage you to evaluate the analysis papers presented here with skepticism, and also to read with a critical eye the original records and evidence to obtain your own insights. We have endeavored to scrutinize the perspectives and biases of the authors of historical studies and also of the authors of the original documents on which so many histories are written. In addition, studies of the record of material culture created through architectural forms, town planning and the objects of daily life provide valuable counterpoints to the carefully composed written records of the colonists.


This site provides easy access to transcriptions of primary sources, including wills, estate probate inventories, Colony laws, detailed Court records concerning individual colonists and their disputes, and seventeenth-century texts, such as Mourt's Relation. In addition, we present biographical profiles of colonists based on the primary records, and analyses of the Colony’s legal structure, early settlement, domestic relations, charges of sexual misconduct, criminal records, coroners' inquests, and the interactions of indentured servants and masters, among many other topics. We also present archaeological and documentary analysis of house plans, seventeenth-century framing traditions, cartography, and the material culture of the Colony.

A number of research papers and articles presented here were authored by Patricia Scott Deetz and James Deetz. Many other analysis papers and biographical profiles were written by students who participated in the Deetzes' seminars on Plymouth Colony at the University of Virginia. Over the course of five years of seminars and research, 101 students analyzed the evidence of the life ways of 395 individuals who were members of the Colony. Others analyzed topical themes, extracting relevant evidence from original source documents created by the colonists. Those seminar members were trained in the methods of conducting historical ethnographic research, in reading historical documents in context and with a critical eye, and in turn they have provided transcriptions and analysis of original documentary evidence of the social history of the Colony.

The Deetzes published their overview interpretations of the Colony's history, based on this five-year research project, in The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love & Death in Plymouth Colony (W.H. Freeman Publishers, 2000), and we provide excerpts from that book on this web site. In addition, we are continuing to compile and edit the results of the seminar research projects and to make those underlying analyses and original documents available here. We plan on significantly expanding our collection of wills and estate inventories, and also hope to expand our transcriptions of court records concerning the affairs and disputes of the colonists over time.

We also present studies focusing on broader regional and temporal scales, including Jim Deetz and Edwin Dethlefsen's analysis of changes over time in Anglo-American gravestone styles in New England. Two articles provide detailed discussions of the Parting Ways site, dating from the 1790s onward, and archaeological evidence found there of mortuary practices and architectural forms consistent with elements of African-American heritage. In addition, we present a number of tributes concerning the works of Prof. Deetz (1930-2000) in historical archaeology.


We have designed this site so you can easily use the original sources and analysis papers either by browsing through them by topic, or by conducting full-text searches of the hundreds of hypertext documents we have compiled and presented to date. To maximize the accessibility of our materials to a broad audience, we have used hypertext and hypermedia formats that avoid extensive frames, Java script, applets, or other mark-up codes that are inaccessible to readers who use special browser programs, or which are inaccessible to the many users of simpler forms of browser programs, including web television and the rapidly growing number of hand-held devices. All of the hundreds of graphics and illustrations we use are also coded so that they are compatible with such programs.

Your Participation

We welcome any and all suggestions, comments and critiques you may have as to the current contents of this site or for additional materials you would like to see presented here in the future. Please contact us by email at the address listed below.

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Tributes to Jim DeetzUseful Links

Project Home PageAwards and Accolades

© 2002-2019 Copyright and All Rights Reserved by
Patricia Scott Deetz and Christopher Fennell

Please email any comments
or questions to the editors