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Plymouth, Dec. 25, 1819. THE landing of our Forefathers, at Plymouth, was celebrated at
I that place by their descendants on the 22d, with filial gratitude and joy. The celebration was conducted by the Pilgrim Society, which has recently been established to commemorate this distinguished enterprise, and to perpetuate the respect, which is due to those illustrious men, who, surrounded by danger and exalted by religion, became the founders of an empire. . . . An eloquent and interesting address was delivered by FRANCIS C. GRAY Esq. of Boston, who delighted a crowded assembly by displaying the toils and sufferings, the ardent piety and triumphant perseverance of our venerable ancestors, connected with impressive inculcations of maxims, principles and practice corresponding to the illustrious model suggested by the occasion.' ...
It is usually stated that the first celebration under the auspices of the Pilgrim Society 2 was in 1820, when Daniel Webster delivered
i Columbian Centinel, December 29, 1819, p. 2/2.
? In 1832 Thacher said: "1820. — As the present year closes the second century since the pilgrim fathers first landed on our shores, a respectable number of inhabitants of this town, impelled by a sense of duty and pious gratitude to divine Providence, have instituted a society, which was by our legislature incorporated February 24th, by the name of Pilgrim Society” (p. 246). In 1847 a writer stated that “a society was formed, November 9, 1819, by the name of the ‘Old Colony Pilgrim Society,' and immediately went into operation. ... On February 24, 1820, the Society was incorporated and made a body politic, by the name of the 'Pilgrim Society.' . . . The ‘Landing of our Forefathers' was first celebrated by the Pilgrim Society December 22, 1820, that being the completion of the second century since the settlement of New England, or the landing of the Pilgrims” (New England Historical and Genealogical Register, i. 119).
The following is a correct statement of what occurred. The first entry in the records of the Pilgrim Society states that at a meeting of certain citizens of Plymouth at the house of Joshua Thomas on November 9, 1819, it was voted "To form a society for the above purpose (to commemorate the Landing of the Fathers in the Town of Plymouth).” The next entry is, “Voted, That the name of the society be the Old Colony Pilgrim Society.” A committee was then appointed to obtain an act of incorporation at the next session of the General Court, which began on January 12, 1820; and "An Act to incorporate the Pilgrim Society" was passed, and was approved by the Governor on January (not February) 24, 1820. The first section enacted “That John Watson, Joshua Thomas, Beza Hayward, William Davis, and Barnabas Hedge, . : . be, and they hereby are incorporated into a society, by the name of the Pilgrim Society," etc. The second section enacted "That the time and place, for holding the first meeting of said society, may be appointed by any three of the aforementioned persons, by giving their notice thereof, in the Columbian Centinel, printed in Boston," etc. (Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1822, pp. 309-310; Private and Special Statutes of the Commonwealth of
his famous oration; but the last extract shows that the celebration of 1819 was "conducted by” the Pilgrim Society, on which occasion Mr. Gray, the orator, gave a toast to "The Pilgrim Society — instituted in honor of the Forefathers, may it be durable as their fame.” On the same day, also, “an elegant standard, with appropriate emblems, the gift of some gentlemen of Plymouth, was presented to the Standish Guards, from the rock of our Forefathers, by JOHN WATSON, Esq.;” and “the usual sequel to the entertainments of this anniversary, a Ball, in the evening, gave a cheerful close to the exercises of the day.” 1 Massachusetts, 1823, v. 334). Accordingly, the following notice was inserted in the Columbian Centinel of May 10, 1820 (p. 3/1):
PILGRIM SOCIETY. M HE Subscribers being authorized by an act, entitled, an act "to incorporate
I the Pilgrim Society," to appoint the time and place for the holding the first meeting of said Society; hereby give notice, that a meeting of said Society will be held at the Court-House, in Plymouth, on THURSDAY, eighteenth day of May instant, ten of the clock, A.M. for the purpose of choosing such Officers as may be deemed expedient; of establishing such bye-laws, as may be necessary to regulate said Society, and of acting and doing all other matters and things, requisite to carry the objects of the association into effect.
BARNABAS HEDGE. Plymouth, May 5, 1820. No meeting of the Society was held between November 9, 1819, and May 18, 1820; and the records of the Society state that the latter meeting was “To organize the Society under the act of incorporation.” Hence it is impossible to say exactly when the committee appointed to obtain an act of incorporation concluded to alter the name from the Old Colony Pilgrim Society to the Pilgrim Society; but the passage quoted in the text shows that the change must have taken place before December 22, 1819. A notice, beginning as follows, was printed in the Columbian Centinel of June 21, 1820 (p. 2/3):
PILGRIM SOCIETY. The Anniversary of the Landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, in the month of December, 1620, has been publicly celebrated in that ancient town for a series of years. Considerations connected with that memorable event, have given rise to the “ Pilgrim Society." ...
The following officers of the Society were chosen the 29th May: ....
1 Mr. Watson's address and the reply of Ensign Randall are printed in the Columbian Centinel of December 29, 1819, p. 2.
Of the celebration in 1820 we read that “The ball in the evening was attended by more than 600, of all ages; and the costume of the Ladies was at once beautiful and uniform; uniting to real elegance the simplicity of their venerable foremothers;” and that among the toasts drunk were the following: 1
8. New England's Worthies — and the memory of their illustrious biographers — Belknap and Eliot.
9. The character of William Penn.
The memory of Lady ARABELLA JOHNSON, the Queen of the Pilgrims, and a Martyr in their cause.
The memory of Gov. WINTHROP; the friend and protector of the Plymouth Pilgrims.
The memory of Gov. ENDICOTT; worthy to be the Chief Magistrate of a Colony of Puritans.
Boston CeleBRATIONS The following letter was printed in the Boston Gazette of December 28, 1772 (p. 2/3):
Messi'ns EDES & Gill, I Was Yesterday informed that the Inhabitants of the ancient Town I of Plymouth celebrated the Anniversary of the Landing of their Ancestors in that Town, in a Manner which demonstrated their Sense of the invaluable Blessings of that Liberty for which their Fathers left their native Country; and also their Gratitude to the supreme Disposer of all Events, under whose Direction they steered to this new World, and by whose Assistance their arduous Undertaking was so happily accomplished — The whole Colony of Plymouth are under indispensable Obligations to be ever mindful of those Vertues which so eminently distinguished their illustrious Progenitors.—Nor can it be supposed that the respectable Town of Salem, the most ancient Settlement in what was called the Massachusetts Colony, can suffer the memorable Day to pass unnoticed, in which their ever honored Predecessors first reached
i Columbian Centinel, December 27, 1820, p. 2/5-6.
? Lady Arbella Johnson, daughter of Thomas Clinton (alias Fiennes), third Earl of Lincoln, and her husband Isaac Johnson came with Winthrop in 1630, the admiral (or most considerable ship) of his fleet having received her name. Both she and her husband died shortly after their arrival.
3 For a bibliography of the Plymouth discourses, see pp. 384-391, below.
the American Shore: And the most publick Demonstration of their Thankfulness to the great Governor of the Universe, as well as a firm and steady Resolution to do all in their power to transmit to their Posterity the noble Birthrights derived from those Ancestors—is what God and their Fellow Countrymen have the justest Right to expect from them.
PHILADELPHUS. ! Nahant Beach, Dec. 24, 1772.
This suggestion appears to have fallen on deaf ears. But in 1797 the Rev. Jeremy Belknap and others are said to have held a private celebration in honor not of the first settlers at Salem or at Boston but of those at Plymouth, though of this I have been unable to find a contemporary account. In 1798, however, a public celebration took place. Up to this time, as already pointed out, the Plymouth celebrations had always been dignified and free from partizan politics, but at once the Boston celebrations became a high Federalist carnival. In an interleaved copy of Thomas's Almanack for 1798, the Rev. John Eliot recorded: “Dec. 22. Dined Concert Hall. Feast of Shells.”1 In the Massachusetts Mercury of December 25 appeared this —
APOLOGY. IT It is with regret that we feel ourselves obliged to omit the details of the celebration of the most important day in our History — the arrival of our Forefathers. They are in Press and situated exactly in the place of the preceeding News — and was the only matter which could be withdrawn without a total derangement of our form. They shall appear on Friday (p. 2/4).
In the Columbian Centinel of December 26 was printed this announcement:
TO OUR READERS. Der We are necessitated to defer many articles intended and prepared for this day — Amongst others the particulars of “The Feast of the Sons of the Pilgrims” (p. 2/4).
i I am indebted to our associate Mr. Worthington C. Ford for suggesting that something might be found in Eliot's interleaved almanacs, but unfortunately there was nothing in them relating to the meeting said to have taken place in
The following account appeared in the Massachusetts Mercury of December 28:
“The Pilgrims of Leyden.” — May the Empire which has sprung from their labours be permanent as the rock of their landing.
John Robinson, of whom it was declared hard to judge whether he delighted most in having such a people, or they in having such a pastor.
Governor Carver — The leader of the illustrious band, and an early victim to the hardships of their enterprize.
Governor Bradford. — Who sought to avoid, not to obtain office; a man of fidelity and honor.
William Brewster, ruling elder — to whom his Bible and his arms were alike familiar.
Edward Winslow.— Who, "excellent in parts and wisdom," in all his diplomatic conduct, “cleared the country from blame and dishonor.”
Miles Standish. — The military commander of the Pilgrims, foremost in every hazardous enterprize, brave in combat, and forbearing in victory.
John Winthrop. — Father and Governor of Massachusetts, “who overcame others by overcoming himself,” and also had the honor of being callumniated by the Jacobins 1 of his time.
The swords of Endicott and Standish, by which the first Sedition Pole in NewEngland was demolished.
The goodly land, which God has given us. May we never surrender it to Salan.
The Liberty of our Forefathers, “a civil, moral, federal liberty," a liberty for that only which is just and good.?
i Those who sympathized with France were so called by the Federalists.
2 In 1645 Winthrop said: “For the other point concerning liberty, I observe a great mistake in the country about that. There is a twofold liberty, natural (I mean as our nature is now corrupt) and civil or federal” (Journal, 1908, i. 238).