A Thanksgiving Message from the General Society of Mayflower Descendants

On this November 26, 2015, as you carve the turkey, and look around the table at your loved ones, there are important lessons you can teach both young and old about our American Thanksgiving holiday. 

When the Pilgrims traveled to America on the Mayflower, before coming ashore, they wrote a Compact, or an agreement, on how they would govern themselves. That document inspired the Founding Fathers as they drafted our United States Constitution. The Pilgrims are the first colonists during the Colonial period who practiced self-governance.

The Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians wrote a treaty, once they made contact in New England, that allowed them to live together peacefully for fifty years. Plymouth Colony stood out admirably for its consistent attempt to treat Native Americans fairly in the courts, for paying Natives for land, and for allowing the courts to settle differences between the Pilgrims and Indians.

As you enjoy your delicious meal on our national Thanksgiving holiday, you are repeating a celebration the Pilgrims shared with the Native Americans in 1621, one year after they arrived in America. After gathering a bountiful harvest, a three-day Thanksgiving celebration was enjoyed with 90 members of the Wampanoag Tribe including Chief Massasoit. Their thanksgiving included food, games, and fellowship. 

In honor of the 1621 celebration between the Pilgrims and Native Americans, on October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring the last Thursday in November to be a day of “thanksgiving and praise.” 

Hopefully, discussing the Pilgrim story will create meaningful conversation around your table on Thanksgiving Day. There are some 10 million people in America who are Mayflower descendants so it is important that we not forget this unique American story. The Pilgrim story is about how we became who we are. The Pilgrim story is America’s story.

The General Society of Mayflower Descendants is a lineage society that has some 30,000 members and welcomes anyone who researches and proves lineage to the Mayflower Pilgrims. In addition to genealogy research, our mission is to educate the public as to why the Pilgrims were important, how they helped shape western civilization, and what their story means today. 

Lea Sinclair Filson, Governor General
General Society Mayflower Descendants (GSMD)

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(Founded 1897)

Anyone who arrived in Plymouth as a passenger on the Mayflower is considered a Pilgrim, with no distinction being made on the basis of their original purposes for making the voyage. Proven lineage from a passenger, approved by a Historian General, qualifies one to be a member of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

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More than one hundred years ago, a group of descendants of the Pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower in 1620, saw the need for a national society to honor their memory. The intention was to remember these Pilgrims who established Plymouth Colony.

Today there are tens-of-millions of individuals descended from these brave souls. It is the goal of The Mayflower Society to join together people who share this heritage and to carry on the memory of our Pilgrim ancestors.

The Pilgrims

The group of 102 passengers who crowded aboard Mayflower for the crossing was not homogenous. Many of the passengers were members of the Leiden congregation, but they were joined by a number of English families or individuals who were hoping to better their life situations, or were seeking financial gain. These two general groups have sometimes been referred to as the "saints" and "strangers".

Although the Leiden congregation had sent its strongest members with various skills for establishing the new colony, nearly half of the passengers died the first winter of the "great sickness."

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