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It is perhaps well for us New Englanders, who are too apt to insist that the Mayflower Compact? was the beginning of constitutional government in this country, and too prone to forget that a legislative assembly met in Virginia a year before the sailing of the Mayflower, to have our cherished notions challenged or ignored. For, after all, the distinction that we in New England now so sharply draw between the Pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Colony is one of somewhat recent growth, is more or less local, and is still far from being universally recognized.
It is not a little singular that, in spite of the numerous volumes that have been written about the Pilgrims and the Puritans, it has hitherto occurred to no one to investigate the term Pilgrim Fathers. What is the history of this term? What is its origin? Is its application appropriate? What is its precise meaning? Why are the settlers who came before 1692 to what is now the State of Massachusetts differentiated as the Pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Colony? The present paper is an attempt to answer these questions.
HISTORY OF THE TERM Forefathers' Day was first celebrated at Plymouth in 1769 and in Boston in 1797 or 1798. Accounts in some detail will be given of the celebrations at Plymouth down to 1820 and of the early Boston celebrations. It will perhaps be thought that these accounts are unnecessarily long. Ordinarily, in illustrating the history of a term, it is necessary to quote only the sentence containing the term in
ago, followed in far larger numbers by their sterner kinsmen, the Puritans, shaped the destinies of this continent, and therefore profoundly affected the destiny of the whole world” (pp. 74–75).
1 The word "compact” was first applied to this document, as I am informed by Mr. George E. Bowman, in 1793 (1 Massachusetts Historical Collections, ü. 6 note). A few earlier terms may be given: "an Association and Agreement," 1622 (Mourt's Relation, in Arber's Story of the Pilgrim Fathers, p. 409); "a combination," 1630, Bradford (History of Plymouth Plantation, ed. Ford, i. 189), and 1636 (Plymouth Colony Records, xi. 6, 74); "a Solemn Contract," 1736 (T. Prince, Chronological History of New-England, i. 73; "the covenant," 1773 (C. Turner, Sermon, 1774, p. 21 note); "a solemn contract," 1793 (C. Robbins, Sermon, 1794, p. 33). The exaggerated language usually applied to the compact apparently originated with John Quincy Adams in 1802 (Oration, 1803, pp. 17-18, 20), before which time little attention was paid to it.
question and enough of the context to show clearly its exact meaning. The present case, however, is an unusual one in that passages which do not contain the term Pilgrim Fathers may yet be of value in showing exactly what those who did employ the term meant by it. There are other reasons, too, which make it desirable to quote in full many of the accounts. The half-century from 1769 to 1820 was a momentous one in our history. The writers about to be quoted witnessed the American Revolution, the adoption of the Federal Constitution, our strained relations with France at the close of the eighteenth century, the transfer of the national government from the Federalists to the Republicans or Democrats, the purchase of Louisiana, the abolition of slavery in some of the States and the prohibition of the importation of slaves into the country, the War of 1812 with England, and “the era of good feelings" which was ushered in by the inauguration of President Monroe. Moreover, it was a period when people took their politics very seriously, when party feeling was extremely bitter, and when antagonists applied to one another epithets that now, fortunately, are seldom encountered in political warfare. In addition, that period saw the introduction of an American episcopate, the spread of Unitarianism, and many departures from the customs and manners of “the fathers." The feelings engendered by these great political, religious, and social changes are reflected in the discourses delivered on Forefathers' Day and even more in the newspaper accounts of the celebrations.
PLYMOUTH CELEBRATIONS On January 13, 1769, twelve young men, — . having maturely weighed and seriously considered the many disadvantages and inconveniences that arise from intermixing with the company at the taverns in this town of Plymouth, and apprehending that a well regulated club will have a tendency to prevent the same, and to increase not only the pleasure and happiness of the respective members, but also
1 These historic words headed an editorial note in the Columbian Centinel of July 12, 1817, beginning: “During the late Presidential Jubilee many persons have met at festive boards, in pleasant converse, whom party politics had long severed. We recur with pleasure to all the circumstances which attended the demonstrations of good feelings” (p. 2/3).
will conduce to their edification and instruction, do hereby incorporate ourselves into a society by the name of the Old Colony Club.
On Wednesday, December 20, 1769, it was —
Voted, That Friday next be kept by this Club in commemoration of the first landing of our worthy ancestors in this place.? That the Club dine together at M' Howland's, and that a number of gentlemen be invited to spend the evening with us at the Old Colony Hall. Accordingly on December 225 the celebration took place:
1 2 Proceedings Massachusetts Historical Society, iii. 389. The Records of the Old Colony Club are printed in this volume, pp. 381-444. References in this paper to these Records are to that volume.
2 The Mayflower passengers who landed at Provincetown on November 11-21 landed from the Mayflower itself. The popular notion that those who landed at Plymouth on December 11-21 also landed from the Mayflower is a mistake. There were three expeditions — or “discoveries," as the term then was — from the Mayflower. The first, consisting of Standish and sixteen men, was a land expedition and lasted from November 15–25 to November 17-27. The second, consisting of thirty-four men, was in the shallop, and lasted from November 27December 7 to November 30-December 10. The third, consisting of seventeen men (of whom John Alden was not one), also in the shallop, started on December 6–16; reached Clark's Island on Friday, December 8–18; landed at Plymouth on Monday, December 11-21; and returned on December 12–22 to the Mayflower, which reached Plymouth on Saturday, December 16–26. (Narrative and Critical History of America, iii. 270-272 and note.) Hence those traditions are without foundation which state that the first person to land on Plymouth Rock was either Mary Chilton or John Alden. The landing from the Mayflower, it may be added, was not completed until about March 21-31, 1621: see Mourt's Relation, ed. Dexter, p. 90.
3 Thomas Southworth Howland. 4 Records, p. 400.
5 The legal change in England and the American colonies from Old Style to New Style took place in September, 1752, there then being a difference of eleven days. The members of the Old Colony Club, all of whom were young men, were probably not aware of the fact that in the seventeenth century the difference was ten days, not eleven. Hence the error in the date of celebrating Forefathers' Day. In a sermon delivered in Boston December 22, 1820, the Rev. James Sabine said: “The reader must bear in mind, that all the dates and events, in relation to our Fathers, are Old Style, an allowance of eleven days therefore must be made; as, for instance, the Fathers landed the 11th. December, which in New Style, is the 22d" (The Fathers of New England, 1821, p. 31). The error was apparently first pointed out in 1832 by Dr. James Thacher in his History of the Town of Plymouth (pp. 15 note, 25 note). In his Discourse (p. 53) delivered at Plymouth December 22, 1832, the Rey. Convers Francis also called attention to the error, Old Colony Day. Friday, December 22. The Old Colony Club, agreeable to a vote passed the 20th instant, met in commemoration of the landing of their worthy ancestors in this place. On the morning of said day, after discharging a cannon, was hoisted upon the Hall an elegant silk flag with the following inscription, “Old Colony 1620.” At eleven o'clock A.M. the members of the Club appeared at the Hall, and from thence proceeded to the house of M' Howland, innholder (which is erected upon the spot where the first licensed House in the Old Colony formerly stood). At half after two a decent repast was served up, which consisted of the following dishes; namely, —
citing Thacher. On December 15, 1849, the Pilgrim Society appointed a committee "to consider the expediency of celebrating in future the Landing of the Pilgrims, on the twentyfirst day of December, instead of the twentysecond;" in 1850 the committee made its Report (see p. 390, below, for full title); and on May 27, 1850, the Pilgrim Society “ Voted, That this Society will hereafter regard the twentyfirst day of December, as the true anniversary of the Landing of the Pilgrims” (Report, p. 2; New England Historical and Genealogical Register, iv. 350). In a discourse delivered at Dedham December 21, 1851, the Rev. Alvan Lamson (The Memory of John Robinson, 1852, pp. 4–5, 39-40) noted the old error, citing Thacher.
The practice of the Pilgrim Society has been somewhat erratic. In October, 1862, the New England Historical and Genealogical Register remarked: “We believe, however, that the force of habit has proved stronger than the love of truth, and that the Pilgrim Society has rescinded its vote (of May 27, 1850), and again celebrates the 22d of December" (xvi. 347–348). In July, 1871, the same journal said: “The Pilgrim Society have lately again given their sanction to the celebration of the true day, the last anniversary ... having been commemorated by them on the 21st of December, 1870" (xxv. 302–303 note). But on May 29, 1882, the Pilgrim Society voted: “While we recognize the historical fact that the passengers on the shallop of the Mayflower landed on Plymouth Rock on the 11th of December, 1620, and that the twenty-first of the new style corresponds to the day of landing, yet in view of the fact that the twenty-second has been hallowed by an observance during a period of over one hundred years, and consecrated by the words of Winslow, Webster, Everett, Adams, Seward and many other great orators of our land, it is hereby resolved that hereafter the twenty-second of December be observed by the Pilgrim Society as the anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims" (Register, XXXVI. 327). This vote led the Register to remark: “This action is surprising. It seems that the anniversary henceforth to be celebrated at Plymouth is not that of the landing of the Pilgrims, but of the orations of their eloquent eulogists." A singular error occurs in the vote of the Pilgrim Society: Seward's oration in 1855 was delivered on December 21st, not the 22d. By 1895, however, the Pilgrim Society had returned to its vote of May 27, 1850, and December 21st is now the anniversary day.
1. A large baked Indian whortleberry pudding.
9. A course of cranberry tarts, and cheese made in the Old Colony; dressed in the plainest manner (all appearances of luxury and extravagance being avoided, in imitation of our worthy ancestors whose memory we shall ever respect).
At four o'clock P.M., the members of our Club, headed by the steward carrying a folio volume of the laws of the Old Colony, hand in hand marched in procession to the Hall. Upon the appearance of the procession in front of the Hall a number of descendants from the first settlers in the Old Colony drew up in a regular file and discharged a volley of small arms, succeeded by three cheers, which were returned by the Club, and the gentlemen generously treated. After this appeared at the Private Grammar School opposite the Hall a number of young gentlemen, pupils of M: Wadsworth, who to express their joy upon this occasion, and their respect for the memory of their ancestors, in the most agreeable manner joined in singing a song 4 very applicable to the day. At sun setting a cannon was discharged and the flag struck.
In the evening the Hall was illuminated, and the following gentlemen (being previously invited) joined the Club; ...
i Succotash as made at Plymouth is a soup. For the following recipe I am indebted to Miss Catherine E. Russell: ..
Boil two fowls in a large kettle of water. At the same time boil in another kettle one-half pound of lean pork and two quarts of common white beans, until like soup. When the fowls are boiled, skim off the fat and add a small piece of corned beef, one-half of a turnip sliced and cut small, and five or six potatoes sliced thin. When cooked tender, take out the fowls and keep them in the oven with the pork. The soup of beans and pork should be added to the water the fowls and beef were boiled in. Add salt and pepper. Four quarts of hulled corn having been boiled soft are added to the soup. Before serving, add the meat of one fowl. The second fowl should be served separately, as also the corned beef and pork.
2 Folio editions of the Plymouth Colony Laws were printed in 1672 and 1685. 3 Peleg Wadsworth (H. C. 1769) taught a private school in Plymouth.
4 This was apparently John Dickinson's famous Liberty Song, written in 1768. “The song was recently discovered among the papers of the late Benjamin M. Watson, Esq. of this town, with a memo. appended, stating it to have been sung at the first public celebration of the anniversary, by the 0. C. Club, Dec. 22d, 1769" (W. S. Russell, Airs of the Pilgrims, appended to his Guide to Plymouth, 1846, p. 14).