J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, November 28, 2019

A Dinner in “Plymouth, the great mausoleum”

On 24 Dec 1770, the Old Colony Club of Plymouth met to celebrate Forefathers’ Day, a tradition that went back a whole year but which commemorated an event a century and a half earlier.

The club first proclaimed Forefathers’ Day in 1769 to celebrate the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth. That had occurred on 11 Dec 1620 according to the Julian Calendar that the English then used. Club members knew that the British Empire had skipped eleven days to catch up to the Gregorian Calendar in 1752, so they calculated that landing must have happened on 22 December in the new system. In fact, it had happened on 21 December; the Julian Calendar had been only ten days behind in 1620.

Forefathers’ Day remained on 22 December, except when it didn’t, as in 1770. In that year the date fell on a Saturday, and the club decided that propriety demanded putting off their celebration until after the Sabbath.

One part of the 1770 celebration was an address by Edward Winslow, Jr. Another was a song written by local schoolteacher Alexander Scammell (shown here) to the tune of “The British Hero” (which I haven’t been able to identify). The lyrics were:
All hail the day that ushers in
The period of revolving time,
In which our sires of glorious fame
Bravely through toils and dangers came,

Novanglia‘s wilds to civilize
And wild disorder harmonize:
To plant Britannia’s arts and arms,—
Plenty, peace, freedom, pleasing charms.

Derived from British rights and laws
That justly merit our applause,
Darlings of Heaven, heroes brave,
You still shall live though in the grave,—

Live, live within each grateful breast,
With reverence for your names possessed;
Your praises on our Tongues shall dwell,
And sires to sons your actions tell.

To distant poles their praise resound;
Let virtue be with glory crowned;
Ye dreary wilds, each rock and cave,
Echo the virtues of the brave.

They nobly braved their indigence,
Death, famine, sword, and pestilence;
Each toil, each danger they endured,
Till for their sons they had procured

A fertile soil profusely blest
With Nature’s stores, and now possessed
By sons who gratefully revere
Our fathers’ names and memories dear.

Plymouth, the great mausoleum,
Famous for our forefathers’ tomb!
Join, join the chorus, one and all,
Resound their deeds in Colony Hall!
The Old Colony Club broke up just a few years later under the political pressure of the Revolution. Winslow moved to Nova Scotia and later helped to found the new colony of New Brunswick. Scammell became an officer in the Continental Army.

Other organizations in Plymouth later took on the celebration of Forefathers’ Day, including the Pilgrim Society behind the Pilgrim Hall Museum, the revived Old Colony Club, and the Mayflower Society.

This year marks the sestercentennial of the first Forefathers’ Day celebration in Plymouth. The Pilgrim Society and Old Colony Club together are hosting a dinner on Saturday, 21 December. Tickets are available here. I have the honor of being this year’s after-dinner speaker.

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