Welcome to the Society of Mayflower Descendants in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania web page. One of fifty-two societies in the U.S. and Canada, the Pennsylvania Society consists of descendants of the Pilgrims, the 102 English passengers who came to New England from Holland aboard the ship Mayflower in 1620.
To perpetuate the memory of our Pilgrim ancestors, and to preserve their records, history and all facts relating to them, their ancestors and their posterity. Our State Society attempts to accomplish this through its education programs and civic activities funded by our investments. Through our Education Committee, we bring classroom visits to approximately 15,000 elementary school children through out the state in partnership with the 1627 Plimoth Plantation living museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts. We also purchase and donate the latest Pilgrim oriented video and teachers’ kits to the audio/visual libraries of each of the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s twenty-nine Intermediate Units. Teachers’ kits are also presented to each school receiving the classroom visits. Copies of the Five Generations Project genealogical publications published by our General Society in Plymouth, both new or revised, are purchased as they are published and donated to major libraries and some genealogical and historical societies in the state.
Although its governing Board of Assistants has been based historically in the Greater Philadelphia area, the Society has two Colonies. The Susquehanna Colony is located in Central Pennsylvania in the greater Harrisburg area and the Western Colony is located in Western Pennsylvania in the greater Pittsburgh area. Members are invited to participate in the State and Colony levels or merely through our award-winning quarterly newsletter, The Pennsylvania Mayflower.
Each season of the year the Society holds a social event in the Greater Philadelphia area. In the autumn we commemorate the First Thanksgiving of 1621 at an historic church followed by a turkey dinner with all the trimmings at a nearby restaurant. In January we hold our Annual Meeting at one of the clubs. A Spring "Tea" is held at one of the historic homes in May. The summer picnic is held in August, often at the home of one of our members. Our two Colonies which are located in the Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh areas (the latter having absorbed the former Erie Colony) also schedule dinner meetings accompanied by educational programs for their members.
A Brief History of the SMDPA
The Society of Mayflower Descendants in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (SMDPA) was organized in 1896 by two Philadelphians, Francis Olcott Allen and Edward Clinton Lee, who were members of the New York Society. The charter was issued on 14 October 1896. The Founders were: Francis Olcott Allen, Mary Watson Brandreth Borup (Mrs. Henry Dana Borup), Charles A. Brinley, Florence Earle Coates (Mrs. Edward Hormor Coates), Martha Morton Hartpence (Mrs. Alanson Hartpence), Anne Law Hubbell, Chauncie Emily Reynolds Keller (Mrs. William Edwin Keller), Frank Willing Leach, Josiah Granville Leach, Edward Clinton Lee, Katherine Elizabeth Searle McCartney (Mrs. William H. McCartney), Helen Murray Reynolds Miller (Mrs. Burr Churchill Miller), Ellen Douglas Burroughs Morris (Mrs. Effingham Buckley Morris), Emma Tower Reilly (Mrs. Thomas Alexander Reilly), Grace Goodwin Fuller Reynolds (Mrs. Benjamin Reynolds), Elizabeth Reynolds Ricketts (Mrs. Robert Bruce Ricketts), Jean Holberton Ricketts, James Mauran Rhodes, Charlemagne Tower, Jr.and Charles Harrod Vinton, M.D.
From its inception, the SMDPA was constitutionally committed to education, its first object was to "perpetuate the memory of our Pilgrim Fathers, and to preserve their records, history and all facts pertaining to them, their ancestors and their posterity." An early step towards this end was the purchase in 1897 of a facsimile edition of Plymouth Colony’s second governor, William Bradford’s, history Of Plymouth Plantation. The original manuscript, missing for some years, had resurfaced in the library of the Bishop of London in Fulham Palace, London, and been returned to the Governor of Massachusetts that Spring.
Over the years the Society’s philanthropy has included the donation of a piece of marble to the Provincetown, MA, Pilgrim Monument (1907); funds for the Pilgrim Memorial Fund (1920); funds toward the preservation of Gov. William Bradford’s home in Austerfield, Yorkshire, England (1939); contributions during World War II to the Red Cross, United Service Organization (USO), Stage Door Canteen, American Merchant Marine Library Association, and Outpost and Lighthouse of the USO in Ketchikan, Alaska; rededication of the Augustus Saint-Gaudens Pilgrim statue in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park (1998); and its fare share toward the endowment fund for the maintenance of the General Society’s "Mayflower House" in Plymouth.
It has been a major disseminator of copies of the Mayflower Compact to schools in Pennsylvania and, during the 1950 National Boy Scout Jamboree in Valley Forge Park, it saw that each of the 47,000 Scouts from around the world took home a copy. It has also distributed pamphlets about the Pilgrims and, in 1990 during Gov. William Brewster’s leadership, it commissioned and published the booklet Pilgrims: Then and Now by the Rev. Gary L. Marks which has been given to each new member since then and to a number of schools, libraries, etc. throughout the state. It has also sponsored American History Awards for top high school history students. More recently, it has distributed Pilgrim-oriented videos to the audio/visual libraries of each of the twenty-nine PA Department of Education Intermediate Units.
The state Society helps perpetuate the history of our Mayflower ancestors by donating copies of the hard bound General Society Five Generation Project Publications to fifteen libraries throughout Pennsylvania. Each volume as released is added to each library's collection. The donations also aid applicants in completing their lineage papers.
Our most successful means of getting the truth about our Mayflower ancestors to the public has been through our funding of classroom visits by Plimoth Plantation museum instructors in early 17th century persona and dress to approximately 15,000 elementary school children in the greater Erie, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh areas over a six year period.
Since 1933, our major commemorative event of the year is the Society’s Thanksgiving religious service. Originally held each year at Gloria Dei (Old Swede's) Church in Philadelphia, since 1978 the service has been held at various churches of various faiths in the greater Philadelphia area. The service includes remembrance of our ancestors with the reading of the Mayflower Compact, the reading of the names of those members who departed this life during the past year, and the presentation by members’ children in Pilgrim costume of the first fruits of the field. The sermon is tailored to the occasion as are the hymns. Canned and nonperishable food is presented for donation to needy families. The service is followed by a Thanksgiving dinner at a nearby restaurant or club.
The Spring Tea, first held in 1946, and the Summer Picnic are two of the major social events. The former is usually held at one of the historic homes in the area while the latter is planned for families and children and is often held on the grounds of one of the members. In 1996 when the state Society celebrated its centennial, the Spring Tea and Summer Picnic were shelved for the year and all concentration was placed on the big celebration. Henry Hudson’s Half Moon substituted for the Mayflower, Governor and Goodwife Bradford attended representing the Plymouth Colony, and dinner was served on a cruise ship on the Delaware River.
Over the years membership has grown from the original twenty-three in 1896 to approximately 760. There have been more than 2500 regular and life members to date.
The Pennsylvania Society has chartered three Colonies to help bring its activities to the thirty percent of its members who reside outside of the greater Philadelphia area. The Western Colony was chartered in 1944 in the greater Pittsburgh area where the next larger number of members resided. The Northwestern Colony followed in the Erie area in 1973 and the Susquehanna Colony is the most recent in the greater Harrisburg area, chartered in 1990. Unfortunately the Northwestern Colony had to be merged with the Western Colony in 2007 when the former became unviable. Colony activities are largely funded through the State Society’s annual dues.
The above history is based on "History of the Pennsylvania Society" by John M. Hunt, Jr., PhD, that appeared in the SMDPA's 100th Anniversary - 1996 - Constitution - Brief History - Register of Members.