Mayflower descendants live among us

  • A statue of the Native Sachem (leader) Massasoit looks out over the traditional point of arrival of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower in 1620, in Plymouth. AP PHOTO/DAVID GOLDMAN

  • Orange native Vivian Eliza Nichols, right, was welcomed last month into the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (commonly known as the Mayflower Society). She joined her mother, Orange resident Ann Reed, left, and uncle Arnold Fallon Jr., who became members in 2020. They are direct descendants of Mayflower passenger Francis Cooke. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/24/2021 4:14:43 PM
Modified: 11/24/2021 4:14:27 PM

The Mayflower set sail for the “New World” on Sept. 6, 1620, with 102 passengers thirsting for religious liberty and a better life. Little more than half of them survived that harsh first winter in New England and they might have all perished were it not for the help of Indigenous peoples teaching them food gathering and other survival skills.

Today, the General Society of Mayflower Descendants — commonly called the Mayflower Society — estimates there are 10 million Pilgrim descendants across the United States and 35 million worldwide.

The society, based in Plymouth, reportedly has 32,000 active members in chartered member-societies around the world and 3,900 members in Massachusetts, which makes up at least 10 percent of membership. The North Quabbin region boasts 23 members. One of those individuals is Orange native Vivian Eliza Nichols, who was welcomed as a member last month in a stroke of serendipitous timing, as 2021 marks the 400th anniversary of the colonists’ three-day feast with the local Wampanoag tribe.

“I am a patriotic and liberty-minded individual and have always been fascinated by the history of real people. I believe it is important to keep stories from the past from being lost from our memories. I am honored to be the first in our family of my generation to be inducted,” Nichols, who now lives in Grafton, wrote in an email. “One of the reasons I wanted to join was so that our story could continue to be told throughout the years and generations to come. I am also interested in continuing to learn more about the history of our family and our country, and in meeting others with a connection to this significant moment in time.”

Nichols, 34, said she was inspired when she learned her mother, Ann Reed, who has lived in Orange since 1987, and uncle Arnold Fallon Jr. joined the Mayflower Society last year — the 400th anniversary year of the ship’s arrival from England. The family has proved its direct descent from passenger Francis Cooke, who was born in 1583 and died in 1663, a considerably long life for that time period.

Reed, who grew up in Troy, N.Y., with twin brother Arnold, said being a Mayflower descendant fills her with pride and duty.

“It really touches my heart and really invokes a sense of reasonability to carry on the memory … but also (the) preservation of freedoms that are so precious. … I believe I would have done the same thing, except that I would have complained half the way,” she said with a laugh. “I fully believe in the story of the three-day party that the pilgrims and Native Americans enjoyed at that so-called ‘First Thanksgiving’ and a big part of what informs me of that is just knowledge of human nature and commonsense — people respond to a potluck. I’m sure children played, from both camps, and I’m sure people ate too much and drank too much. I don’t think people are different the world over, I really don’t.”

The Society has four members in Orange, five in Athol, two in Erving, one in Petersham, one in Royalston, two in Wendell, six in Barre and two in Hardwick.

Lea Filson, former governor-general of the Mayflower Society, said the organization has processed more than 100,000 descendants since its formation in 1897. There are now chartered member societies in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, Australia and seven European nations. Filson, a descendant of eight people in five families aboard that ship, said the number of society applications quadrupled in 2020 — the 400th year anniversary of setting sail. She said 2,500 descendants are processed in a typical year.

More information about the General Society of Mayflower Descendants is available at themayflowersociety.org.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.




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