A Brief History of the New Hampshire Mayflower Society

By Dean Dexter

Governor, Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of New Hampshire, 2008-2011

The Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of New Hampshire began when 38 New Hampshire residents, all members of other state societies, but mainly the Massachusetts Society (founded in 1896), gathered at the home of Mrs. Elizabeth Folsom on August 15, 1930 in historic Exeter, the state's Revolutionary era capital and one of New Hampshire's first settlements.The General Society of Mayflower Descendants, based in Plymouth, Massachusetts, had granted a charter to the organization just days earlier, on August 5th.

Mrs. Folsom became the Society's first governor and had the honor of being issued New Hampshire Member Number One. She served six years as governor and later as deputy governor. Notice of her passing is recorded in the 1953-1954 Directory as occurring on September 10, 1955. The last N.H. Charter Member, Mrs. Elizabeth Folsom Smith (State No. 30), passed away in 1982.

Today the New Hampshire Society numbers nearly 500 members, many of whom reside out of state, including such unlikely places as Colorado, Texas, Arizona, Hollywood, California - even Tokyo, Japan! Imagine Squanto or Myles Standish or William Bradford looking down the ages to see the diversity of their progeny? Indeed, the New Hampshire Society hosted Deerfoot (Paul Weeden) a direct descendant of the great Chief Massasoit and a member of the Pokanoket tribe, at its Spring 2003 meeting in Concord, only to learn that Deerfoot, himself is also a descendant of William White, a Mayflower passenger, and a member of the Massachusetts society! How curious and interesting are the twists and turns the blood-lines of our ancestors take as they flow down through the centuries.

The New Hampshire Society may be small compared to some state societies, but at the time of its founding, it was identified as the largest society to organize at that time, according to the General Society office. With just 38 members, that was perhaps still a commentary on how difficult it was in those days to prove one's ancestry going back some 300-plus years. Only libraries in the larger cities had the resources to accommodate a search for one's ancestors, often necessitating difficult travel for research. Who but the wealthy had the time for such a luxury? Life in New Hampshire until the 1950s was primarily an agricultural, blue collar society. A majority of people either earned their living by farming or, if they lived in a town or city, through merchandizing or manufacturing in a mill at humble wages. There were no fax machines, no internet, no books like "Genealogy for Dummies" available for average people to "prove" a relationship to a second cousin residing two towns over, let alone someone who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620.

U.S. Congressman Foster Stearns (R-N.H.), third governor, Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of New Hampshire, 1938-1940

Yet, the N.H. Society grew steadily with excellent, careful leadership. General Conrad E. Snow, the second governor (1936-1938 - State No. 52), was a prominent attorney who distinguished himself during and after World War II in many roles, including service in the Office of High Commissioner for Germany in 1950, and chairman of Clemency and Parole Board for Japanese War Criminals, 1952-56. General Snow served as an officer in the N.H. Society for 44 years until his death in 1975. Foster Stearns (1938-1940 - State No. 80) of Hancock was elected to the U.S. Congress during his term at the society's helm and remained an active member until his death in 1956.

Among the general membership have been such distinguished New Hampshire names as U.S. Ambassador to Spain, Mexico and Argentina, and Assistant Secretary of State and Defense Robert C. Hill of Littleton (Isaac Allerton - State No. 276), U.N. diplomat and Probate Judge William Wardwell Treat of Stratham (Stephen Hopkins - State No. 635), and astronaut, Admiral Alan B. Shephard, Jr. of East Derry (Richard Warren - State No. 273), the first American to fly in Space and a Moon explorer for the Apollo 14 mission.

2011 U.S. Postage stamp issued to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Commander Alan Shephard's Mercury flight.

U.S. Ambassador Robert C. Hill, State Number 276, and Mrs. Hill (Cecelia Gordon Bowdoin) at The Boulders, their Littleton, New Hampshire home, 1974 - Dean Dexter photo, all rights reserved.

Two New Hampshire society governors, Edward Fuller Holden and Shirley Thivierge, have served as Membership Chairs for the General Society.

There have been military officers, clergymen, teachers, business and professional people, homemakers, medical doctors, store clerks and laborers - any walk of life one can think of - who have served in leadership or simply enjoyed the fellowship of membership in the Society. These were, and are, people dedicated to keeping alive the memory of the sacrifices Mayflower passengers suffered in such a difficult and primitive land, after a harrowing voyage across the sea. The principles of freedom, religious liberty, and the inalienable worth of the individual (to say nothing of an appreciation for high adventure) to which these "Saints and Strangers" gave their lives, are at the foundation of the New Hampshire society.

At the November 1931 meeting, the tradition of the Roll Call of Ancestors began where the names of Mayflower passengers are read and those in attendance stand. It recent years, Warrens have narrowly beat out the Bradfords and a good natured rivalry is alive among the two clans. Also, the Society's die cut (logo) was ordered, a facsimile of which is in use, appearing on the cover of this publication and other materials.

In 1932 the Society voted to commission a bronze plaque commemorating the Mayflower to be placed in the State House. On November 21, 1936 N.H. Governor Styles Bridges permitted society use of the Executive Chambers at the State House for the Fall Meeting, at which time the plaque was presented by Foster Stearns. The tablet can be seen on the first floor back wall hallway, past the Hall of Flags. Celebrated Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morison spoke, and children dressed in Colonial costumes were present during the ceremonies. In 1970, the society voted to rededicate the State House plaque.

Historian Samuel Eliot Morrison (1887-1976) spoke at the plaque dedication at the N.H. State House

Plaque Honoring the Mayflower voyage, NH State House, first floor back hallway, State Street entrance.

The tablet reads in part: Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing and gave being to all things that are, and as one small candle may light a thousand so the light here kindled had shone unto many, yes in some sort to the whole nation." - From the writing of Gov. Bradford.

The following decades saw twice a year luncheon meetings held at various fine restaurants, hotels and country clubs throughout the state. Society activities were mostly given to historical programs, providing Pilgrim oriented and other patriotic materials to schools, and making donations for the preservation of various state and national historical documents and resources, including monies to support the Winslow House, headquarters of the General Society at Plymouth, Massachusetts.

In 1954 the records show a "…Miss Marion Carter offered her twenty-one room home in Lebanon, N.H. as a gift to the Mayflower Society in the State of New Hampshire or a combination of historical societies." All that is noted following the aforementioned sentence is this terse statement: "Offer was declined."

Society Governor, the Reverend Franklin Thompson and his Board of Assistants, likely saw nothing but trouble ahead with such a "gift" as by 1955 the Society reported a mere "$167.15 on hand and $299.77 savings." Not much to support and maintain this kind of real estate. However, the records make no further mention of the proposal.

In 1976, under the administration of Governor Walworth Johnson, a former N.H. state senator and Dover mayor, the Society's newsletter The Shallop was born and is published twice a year, and mailed to members around the world. The first editor was Frederick W. Cole of New London.

In 1984, long-time member Ethyl Mae Kennard Gerrish of Dover (Edward Doty - State No. 380) bequeathed a generous sum from her estate to the Society, whereupon the officers established a Memorial Scholarship fund for undergraduate and graduate students. Through the years Society members have continued to donate to the fund, making the New Hampshire Society's Scholarship program one of the keystone's of the organization's mission. Both members and non-members are eligible to receive scholarship awards. A plaque listing of donors is who contribute $1000 or more to the fund, have their names engraved on a Memorial Scholarship plaque, displayed at Society meetings.

In addition to The Shallop newsletter, available by email, downloading online, or via U.S. mail, the Society's webpage, http://nhmayflower.org, is a popular resource for internet users interested in learning about the Society's programs, history and qualifications for membership. After Board of Assistance member Ralph Thivierge helped introduce the membership to the value of Internet communication, the Society's website was completely redesigned, upgraded and re-launched in 2005, and updated thereafter, through the generous efforts of John Forest, Jr., a Mayflower Society supporter and husband of member Julie (Johnson) Forest, and others.

As the New Hampshire Society held its 75th Birthday celebration in Concord on November 5, 2005, dining on a traditional Thanksgiving meal, the members looked forward to the challenges of the next 75 years and beyond. The world has changed much since the 1930s when it was in the throes of a Great Depression and the N.H. Society sought to help preserve historical documents and other artifacts at a time when such expenditures were luxuries many libraries and historical associations could not afford.

Today the challenge is to communicate and keep alive the kind of human values and a vision beyond comfort, indulgence and self that caused a small band of men, women and children to go out into the fearsome unknown to seek a New World, a better life. It's what everybody still wants in some way or another, despite the relative prosperity and distractions that surround our modern lives.

As members of a lineage society, we have had nothing to do with choosing such wonderful and interesting ancestors. They are perhaps more alive to us, than to some, because of the sense of closeness we have developed by hearing and thinking about them as family, distant as they are. What we do with that, how we embrace their example and present it for future generations to consider worthy, is our duty, and is the great challenge before us. - November, 2005; Updated May, 2009; November, 2009; February-March, 2010.

Dean Dexter served as governor of the NH Mayflower Society from November 8, 2008, to November 12, 2011