By Stacy B.C. Wood, Jr.
The Susquehanna Colony was the brain-child of two York County residents, Catherine "Kay" Briddell and Raymond "Ray" R. Bloom, who sought a way of providing Mayflower Society activities in the Central Pennsylvania area for those who found the meetings of the Society of Mayflower Descendants of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (SMDPA) in the Philadelphia area, and the Western Colony in the greater Pittsburgh area, beyond convenient reach.
Letters to the forty-four SMDPA members in the 17xxx ZIP code area that includes much of Central Pennsylvania between Maryland to the south, and New York State to the north, yielded a response that indicated a viable colony might be formed.
An organizational meeting was scheduled for October 13, 1990 at the Arches Restaurant in Harrisburg. SMDPA was represented by Governor William Brewster, Deputy Governor General and former Governor Barbara Brock Kidder, and Patricia Anne G. Hill, Western Colony Regent. In attendance, in addition to spouses/guests were only seven prospective members, four of whom were elected and installed as officers: Ray Bloom, Kay Briddell (Secretary), Catherine (Cathy) A. F. Hoffman of Newburg, Lt. Col. George E. Reed of Harrisburg (Regent), Ralph J. Staver, Jr. of Montoursville (Treasurer), Stacy B. C. Wood, Jr. (Ass't Regent) of Lancaster, and Harold A. Verwholt of Lancaster. These seven became the Colony "founders" and today only Cathy Hoffman, Harold Verhohlt, and Stacy Wood survive.
The first regular meeting was held on May 18, 1991. The Colony joined the State Society's ongoing funded program of awarding $100 U.S. Savings Bonds to top senior class history students in selected high schools. Miss Miggy Lynd, a senior at Dallastown Area high School in York County became the first in our Colony area, joining 19 others throughout the Commonwealth that year. The program featured a video tour of Plimoth Plantation. The second meeting of the Colony was its First Annual Pre-Thanksgiving Luncheon, which marked the 370th anniversary year of the Pilgrim's "First Thanksgiving." This was held in York at the Eagles Nest Restaurant with SMDPA immediate past Governor William Brewster as speaker. In the SMDPA newsletter it was reported that "Gov. Brewster reviewed the state Society's leadership in education and encouraged members to support aggressive efforts to tell accurately not only the historic Pilgrim story, but also its contemporary relevance. The colony responded with plans to place booklets in Harrisburg-area libraries, and proposals for distributing other educational material, and for starting a national network of speakers' bureaus."
The following year the Spring Luncheon was held at the Arches in Harrisburg with SMDPA Governor Constance F. Lagerman as speaker. This was followed by the Colony's first, and so far only, picnic. It was held at the beautiful "Windwood Farm," in Newburg, Cumberland County home of our then Program Chair, Catherine A. F. Hoffman and her husband Lawrence.
From this point on, with on exception, meetings of the membership were regularly held in the Spring and Fall, usually in late April or early May and November respectively. Through 2003, every SMDPA governor has attended at least one of our meetings.
We continued to receive the Savings Bonds for presentation, adding additional schools up until the SMDPA ended the program in 1998. At that time the number of awards had grown to approximately 30 high school seniors state-wide.
Elections are held every two years with immediate installation. Officers to date have been Regents/Colony Governors Lt. Col. George E. Reed, Stacy B. C. Wood, Jr., Catherine A. F. Hoffman, and David H. Hunt, Jr. Assistant Regents/Colony Governors have been Stacy B. C. Wood, Jr., Catherine A. F. Hoffman, David H. Hunt, Jr. and Alice E. Boucher. Secretaries have been Catherine R. B. Briddell, Margaret C. C. Bryan, and Joan C. Miller. There have been only two Treasurers: Ralph J. Staver, Jr. and Robert S. Fuller.
Over the past 15 years, meetings have normally included a featured speaker (often one of our own members), or a movie or video. Although they often were about our Pilgrim ancestors or projects of the State Society, they have also included subjects such as poetry, the Susquehannock Indians of Central PA, "American English" from the 1986 PBS Series The Story of English, a visit from "Rev. Peter Hobart (C 1604-1679)," and "Early American Dance."
In May 1993 Treasurer Ralph Staver died and was succeeded by Bob Fuller who continues in that position. Thus, with 13 years, he is the longest serving Colony Board member. He joined the Mayflower Society in 1976.
In November 1993 elections were held. Stacy Wood became Regent, Cathy Hofflman Assistant Regent, bob Fuller Treasurer and Kay Briddell Secretary.
In 1994 our Regent began regularly to attend the SMDPA Board of Assistants meetings held in Haverford in the ex officio office of Deputy SMDPA Governor. That year we became a leader in facilitating new educational programs. In May the Regent called the first meeting of the Colony Executive Committee. It was held at the home of Secretary Kay Briddell. On the agenda was how to best respond to then 2nd Ass't Gov. Fred Clement's earlier letter concerning the holding of an SMDPA Board or social event meeting in the Susquehanna Colony area. The intent was to make SMDPA events more inclusive to its state-wide membership. The outcome was the holding of the Colony's 1994 Pre-Thanksgiving luncheon in Lancaster. Six of the SMDPA Board and their spouses/guests attended along with seventeen of our Colony attendees. Franklin & Marshall College emeritus professor and former State Archaeologist and State Museum director/curator W. Fred Kinsey was the speaker. Almost simultaneously, an article by Regent Wood was published in the Lancaster, PA Sunday News in response to a previous article published by the paper denigrating the Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock.
The major item on the Executive Committee agenda that Spring, however, was to discuss how we could help increase the membership of the SMDPA. In addition to the obvious recruiting of our own children and grandchildren, we discussed an inquiry on our behalf made by Regent Wood to the Plimoth Plantation's Supervisor of Volunteer Services. It concerned the development of an annual two-week summer intern program there. It was hoped that such a program might engage the long-term interest of two or our own SMDPA youth in their Pilgrim ancestors and their Plymouth (17th century–present) heritage. Pilgrim Hall (which houses the few surviving Pilgrim artifacts), the General Society's 1754 "Mayflower House" and the 1809 Hedge House (which represents an early 19th century merchant's home), were to be included. Preliminary discussions between Regent Wood, SMDPA Ass't Gov. Clement and SMDPA Captain Lewis Reid had met with approval. An attempt was made to cover all possible ramifications of such a program. The idea was taken to the SMDPA Board and it was approved. Due to the death of the newly appointed executive director of the Plantation, an agreement was not reached until 1998. By then the program idea changed to become a 12-week summer program to be held in three departments within the Plantation. The Plantation was excitedly looking forward to running this program and maybe expanding it to other areas of the nation. Basically, SMDPA would have picked up all the expenses with the exception of travel there and back. It would include a $2500 stipend for each of the two selectees. We estimated that it would cost the SMDPA $500 for each applicant. However, when offered by special mailing to all our SMDPA members' youth for 1999, and then again for 2000, there were no takers! The program has been shelved.
In 1996, through our Regent serving as a member of the SMDPA Centennial Planning Committee, we suggested that Plimoth Plantation "museum instructors" in the persona of Governor William Bradford and his wife Alice be engaged to join the celebration. Once the Board members who attended the celebration had witnessed the instructor's extraordinary capabilities, it was easy to obtain Board approval for funding a week's visit by one such instructor to schools in the greater Philadelphia area the following year. In 1998 SMDPA expanded the visits to include five days in each of the three colony areas. In 1999 the number of instructors as doubled. This became a most popular program experienced by over 15,000 K-7 grade students until it had to be dropped due to investment growth/earnings problems that hit SMDPA in 2002. The program was costing about $21,000 per year.
In January 1996, Regent Wood was elected Ass't Governor of the SMDPA, the first member of the Colony to hold a voting office on the State Society's Board of Assistants. He was subsequently appointed Chair of its Finance Committee and member of its Education Committee.
In 1996 the Susquehanna Colony presented copies of three videos to the 7 PA Dept. of Education Intermediate Unit (IU) audio/visual libraries serving schools in the Colony's Zip Code 17xxx membership area. They were the GSMD sponsored The Mayflower Pilgrims, the Plimoth Plantation's Plimoth Plantation Video Tour and The Making of a Colony. The videos were well received and at the October 1997SMDPA Board of Assistants' meeting, the Board agreed to purchase and distribute the 3 videos to the remaining 22 IUs in the state. Subsequently the State Society took over this program, sending each IU a copy of the GSMD's teacher's guide "Coming to America" and at least 4 additional videos including the 2003 The Making of Mayflower II. These items are thus available to the 1.8 million Pennsylvania students in grades K-12. It is hoped that the program will continue, whether it be videos or DVDs.
Also in 1996, in conjunction with a visit of SMDPA Governor Frederick Clement, the Colony facilitated the donation by our State Society of a complete set of the General Society's Mayflower Families Through Five Generations books. Mary Lou Sowden, Ass't Director of the State Library of Pennsylvania, was a guest and accepted the donation. This brought the complete Five Generation series into a Central Pennsylvania library for the first time. Additional volumes are automatically forwarded to the Library as they are released. Since then another site in our Colony area, the York County Heritage Trust, has been added to the list or recipients.
At the annual Pre-Thanksgiving Luncheon held on November 9, 1996, Colony Secretary Catherine R. B. Briddell resigned from that office due to health reasons. Margaret C. C. Bryan (Mrs. William L.) of Chambersburg was appointed to fill Kay's remaining term. Alice Boucher made her first attendance at this meeting and came faithfully even though she was not elected to SMDPA membership until 1998. She has made a point of bringing area teachers to the meetings as her guests.
On September 9, 1998, the Colony's first Regent, Lt. Col. George Edward Reed, died. He had continued to maintain the Colony's membership roll, publish the Colony's newsletter and attend meetings until his death.
Twelve schools in the Colony area were visited by the pair of Plantation instructors in April 1999 in the persona of Capt. Myles Standish and George Soule. on April 5th, our most venerable member, Florence McClave Barton of Williamsport, died in her 101st year. She was never able to attend a Colony meeting.
In 1999, our Colony was represented for the first time at a Triennial Congress of the Mayflower Society by former Regent Wood accompanied by fellow delegate and son, Joseph Howland Wood.
In July 1999, our co-founder Catherine R. B. Briddell died. Her husband Charles had served as the Society's honorary chaplain until her death. The annual Pre-Thanksgiving meeting was held in her memory at the Arches Restaurant in Harrisburg. The entire incumbent board (Regent Hoffman, Ass't Regent Hunt, Secretary Bryan, and Treasurer Fuller) was reelected and installed for 2000-2001.
In January 2000, former Colony Regent and SMDPA Ass't Gov. Wood was reelected as Ass't Governor. On May 6th, the Annual Spring Luncheon was held at the historic US Army Carlisle Barracks in Carlisle. Unfortunately the scheduled speaker was unable to keep the his appointment. Eleven Colony Area schools have been visited the previous month by Plantation instructors in the personal of Capt. Myles Standish and Goodwife Elizabeth Hopkins. The Thanksgiving meeting was held at the Arches Restaurant. It was announced that the following Spring Plantation visits would include a school district in Turbotville, Northumberland County. This expanded the visits in our Colony area to include four counties. On Christmas Eve, 2000, Colony Secretary Margaret C. C. Bryan died in her 86th year.
At the SMDPA Annual meeting held in January 2001, former Regent Wood was elected Governor and started writing and publishing the JR PA Mayflower for the State Society's junior members. He was already a contributor to the Society's newsletter and Website, www.Sail1620.org. The annual Spring Meeting was held at the Allenberry Resort Inn in Boiling Springs for the first time. This was the first of may Colony meetings that continue, in 2005, to be held there. It was announced that the SMDPA Circulating Library had been reactivated with Governor Wood as Librarian. It was in this year that Alice Boucher took on the job of promoting and filling orders for the revised and newly illustrated edition of the State Society's Pilgrims Then and Now, a job that she continues to hold, bringing great success to the Society as a source of income for its educational programs. Joan Miller chaired the newly created Speaker's Bureau. During the summer, Elsie and Alden Wagner and other Colony members helped host the Annual SMDPA picnic that was held in Lancaster for the first time. The site was the beautiful gardens of "Conestoga House." Robert J. Heinsohn, who had been elected to membership the previous year, made his first appearance at that Thanksgiving meeting. Within a year he had written articles for both the State Society's PA Mayflower newsletters and The Junior PA Mayflower newsletters. He has been a regular contributor to both ever since as well as the SMDPA Website and the General Society's Mayflower Quarterly and was the featured speaker at the Colony's pre-Thanksgiving luncheon.
What member who attended the Spring meeting of 2002 could not recall the amusement when Plantation instructor Kristen Hoard in the personal of Priscilla Mullins Alden won the stuffed "talking turkey" raffle prize in the fund raiser for children's books for the SMDPA Circulating Library? Given the choice between the one dressed as a male, "John All-Done," and the one dressed as a female, "I miss John so much," she quipped as she made her choice. She eventually gave it to the Plantation where it became part of its permanent Thanksgiving exhibit. At this meeting, Alice Boucher discussed the making of 18"x24" copies of the SMDPA flag as a possible fundraiser. This project is still under consideration. This was the years of the 36th Triennial Congress. Our Colony was represented again by Joan Miller accompanied by husband Don (both marched in costume in the Progress at the opening ceremonies); Alice Boucher accompanied by granddaughter Lauren Bailes; Alden and Elsie Wagner, bob and Anne Heinsohn; and Stacy and Susanne Wood.
2003 saw, for the first time, two Susquehanna Colony members elected to the SMDPA Board of Assistants in a non-officer capacity. Brenda L. Miskelly (Mrs. Robert), who had moved to Strafford, Chester County, and Alice E. Boucher of Mechanicsburg. Brenda became chair of the Junior Membership Committee and Alice chair of the Education Committee. Both were outstanding in these positions. Brenda hosted a Pilgrim dinner at her home for the junior members. For one of her reports at a regular meeting, Alice received the first round of applause given by the Board to one of its members witnessed by former Regent Wood during his ten years on the Board. This was also the year that the last of the two original founders of our Colony, Raymond Roll Bloom, died. Although he never held any of the Colony's offices, he was a faithful attendee and served numerous times as chair of the nominating committee.
The SMDPA election of 2004 saw four more Susquehanna Colony members added to the SMDPA Board of Assistants: Elsie Jean Wagner as Secretary, her husband Alden F. Wagner as Assistant; Robert J. Heinsohn as Assistant, and Joan C. Miller also as Assistant. Elsie had first attended a Colony meeting in 1996 and was elected to SMDPA membership the following year. Joan was appointed chair of the SMDPA's education committee, and counting the immediate past Governor Wood, this resulted , at least initially, in seven Colony members occupying 23 of the seats.
Our 15th anniversary year started with the number of Colony members elected to serve on the SMDPA Board reduced to five: Stacy Wood, Robert J. Heinsohn, Joan C. Miller, Alice E. Boucher, and, new this year, David H. Hunt, Jr. The latter three, of course, are Colony Secretary, Ass't Colony Governor, and Colony governor. Once again, Colony members, chiefly recently elected Lois Rilling, hosted the annual SMDPA picnic in the gardens at Lancaster's "Conestoga House." Once again Colony members served as SMDPA delegates at the Triennial Congress: Joan Miller, Bob Heinsohn and Stacy Wood, the latter being elected SMDPA Deputy Governor General there. At the September SMDPA Board meeting, former Western Colony Regent Patricia Anne G. Hill was appointed to fill an empty Assistant slot caused with Bob Heinsohn was appointed to fill the Registrar's seat. By his appointment, Bob became the third Susquehanna Colony member to become a State Society officer. Debra Miller, Bob, David, Alice, Lois, and Joan made up the entire review committee for selecting the winner of the past year's SMDPA Mayflower Scholarship award.
In the past two years, Alice Boucher and Joan Miller—joined this year by Lois Rilling and Debra Miller—have met on numerous occasions, working on ways to best bring the story of our Pilgrim ancestors to the school children of Pennsylvania. Alice has donated a number of books to school in her area and suggested that other members do the same. She has also obtained cassette tapes that teach dialects of our Pilgrim ancestors. In the Spring, representing both SMDPA and our Colony, they, along with Colony Governor Dave Hunt, went to the Western Colony meeting to discuss educational programs in that area.
Finally, certainly a highlight of the first 15 years of the Colony was the May 2005 meeting at the home of Mary and John King in New Freedom, York County. Mary prepared an outstanding repast that was both a visual and gastronomic success. With no business conducted, it was an occasion to socialize with prospective members and to enjoy each others company.
It is obvious that our Susquehanna Colony, with its small beginnings only 15 years ago, has not only become a powerhouse in the State Society's educational programming, but also as a major force on today's Board of Assistants.