Since the Mayflower Pilgrims’ first Meetinghouse was built at the top of Leyden Street in Plymouth, MA in 1621, a place of spiritual ministry has continued to this day. Presently, the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Plymouth worships at this centerpiece of the Plymouth, MA cultural district.
The National Pilgrim Memorial Meetinghouse is the fifth spiritual structure built on this location and, in 2014, was added to both the National Register of Historic Places and the List of Massachusetts’ Most Endangered Resources. When the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (GSMD) became aware that the congregation was having trouble with the increasing maintenance and restoration of the building, it approached the congregation about donating the Meetinghouse to GSMD as a place to fulfill its educational mission.
Since the General Society of Mayflower Descendants was founded in 1897, the same year the present structure was built at the top of Leyden Street, families of descendants – our families – have made regular pilgrimages to this spot. In fact, our Member Societies have helped to furnish this structure with Tiffany stained-glass windows from the New York and New Jersey Societies, objects in the sanctuary from Rhode Island, as well as many other contributions through the years.
To save the building they love, the First Parish Church congregation has agreed to donate it to GSMD upon the condition that funds be put in place to permanently maintain it, and that they be allowed to continue scheduling their services there.
The General Society of Mayflower Descendants and First Parish Church signed a Joint Venture Agreement, which led to the Charitable Trust, during Congress 2017.
Along with the Meetinghouse, GSMD will be given all the church records from modern times back to 1620, written by William Bradford, William Brewster, Robert Cushman, and many others. There are references and stories of our Mayflower ancestors going back to Leiden, information that simply must be curated and properly maintained permanently. There is no group better to do this than the actual descendants of the Mayflower Pilgrims!
Our decision to restore the building and create a fund to support this beautiful structure and its records will be one of the most important legacies of The Mayflower Society. The First Parish Church and GSMD have created a Charitable Trust that will place the deed to the Meetinghouse into the trust. Upon raising $3,000,000, First Parish church will resign from the trust leaving the deed to our society, making GSMD the new owner responsible for restoring and preserving this memorial to our ancestors.
We have been given until September of 2020 to raise $3,000,000 but our responsibility to finance and care for the Meetinghouse will continue. The congregation chose our society because they knew we would show the same love and reverence they feel toward this spiritual place. They know we will not let the Mayflower Pilgrim story be forgotten. As our center of education, GSMD will bring the world to the Meetinghouse, the very place where the Mayflower Pilgrims built their life on this continent.
Restoring the Meetinghouse and making it the center of our Mayflower Pilgrim education mission is the best possible legacy the General Society of Mayflower Descendants could leave in 2020, to honor the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage.