by Marianne Salza
On Sept. 6, 1620, religious separatists departed from England in search of spiritual freedom. Exactly 102 passengers and 30 crew members embarked on a 66-day journey to the New World aboard the Mayflower. The Pilgrims’ arrival in Plymouth has become a symbol of democracy in America’s history.
In commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s landing, American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) revealed a grand replica of the Mayflower to honor the Pilgrim’s courage, and an artistic installation in recognition of the Wampanoag people, the Native Americans who greeted the settlers. The April 17 ceremony at the NEHGS headquarters in Boston’s Back Bay is the first of a series of events in the United States that celebrates the founding of Plymouth Colony.
“After an arduous two-month-long journey and a cataclysmic first winter, they fulfilled their pilgrimage that forever changed the history of the world,” declared D. Brenton Simons, president and CEO of American Ancestors and NEHGS. “They formed the Mayflower Compact, a document inspirational to our democracy.”
The 10-foot-long model of the square-rigged 17th Century vessel was christened the “Boston Mayflower” by a Mayflower descendent, Nancy Maulsby, chair of the Board of Trustees for American Ancestors and NEHGS. The Boston Mayflower – which is now anchored in the non-profit organization’s front courtyard on Newbury Street – was constructed of eastern white pine by marine artist Terry Geaghan, owner of the Shipmasters’ Gallery in Bath and Woolwich, Maine.
Adjacent to the Boston Mayflower sits a tribute to the Wampanoag culture created by tribal member Steven Peters, creative director of SmokeSygnals, a Native American-owned marketing and communications consultancy located in Mashpee. The exhibit represents a young Patuxet mother and her infant and depicts the Wampanoag tradition of sharing family narratives through the weaving of beaded wampum belts, which were left unfinished for the continuation of future generations’ stories.
The overall celebration is part of a four-nation commemoration hosted by the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the Wampanoag people.
“On behalf of Her Majesty, the Queen, I am proud to be part of this celebration,” expressed Harriet Cross, Her Majesty’s Consul General to New England. “One of the things I love about New England is your ability to cherish history and the land.”
A new exhibition, “Origins and Legacy of the Mayflower,” was opened in the first-floor gallery of American Ancestors and explores the Mayflower’s migration and the Wampanoag culture. Visitors can tie nautical knots like the Mayflower crew, learn about wampum belts, and create a family tree.
“This is our first public event of our 175th year and I am especially pleased this occasion helps to fulfill our mission of educating people everywhere about this 400th anniversary milestone,” expressed Simons, who hopes that this exhibition will better acquaint Bostonians and visitors with tribal history and Pilgrim heritage.
More than 30 million individuals around the world are believed to be descendants of the 26 Pilgrim families who were aboard the Mayflower. American Ancestors and NEHGS is offering their expertise in researching and documenting that lineage.
Founded in 1845, American Ancestors by New England Historic Genealogical Society is America’s oldest genealogical organization and has the largest collection of original historical materials and resources in the country. With more than 28 million items and more than seven centuries worth of documents, NEHGS is dedicated to the study of family history. Researchers are specialized in early American, Irish, English, Scottish, Italian, Atlantic and French Canadian, African American, Native American, Chinese, and Jewish genealogy.
“Origins and Legacy of the Mayflower” exhibit, the “Boston Mayflower,” and the Wampanoag art installation will be on display through December 2020 at New England Historic Genealogical Society’s American Ancestors headquarters at 99-101 Newbury St., Tuesdays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; Wednesdays, 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; and Thursdays-Saturdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.