by Gail Adams
In 1769 a club was formed to honor the settlers of New Plymouth. In Thacher's History of Plymouth, Boston, 1835, he states "...seven respectable individuals, inhabitants of Plymouth, instituted a social club...which they called the Old Colony Club for the purpose of solemnizing the anniversary of the arrival of our forefathers."
The attention of the group was focused on Plymouth Rock by Deacon Ephriam Spooner. He had been a boy of six back in 1741 when Elder Thomas Faunce made his famous proclamation about Plymouth Rock. Faunce became concerned when he heard a wharf was to be built around a huge boulder. He protested as he spread the story that this was the very rock on which the Pilgrims had landed.
Thomas Faunce was the son of John Faunce who came to Plymouth in 1623 in the Anne. Thomas was born in 1647 when many Mayflower passengers were still living. This was a story told to him by folks who were actually there! He Grew up amidst "first-comers."
Deacon Spooner related the story to the Old Colony Club that at the age of 95 Elder Faunce was driven to town in a open wagon and taken to Plymouth Rock. He told the people gathered there how he had talked to John Howland and his wife, John Alden, Giles Hopkins, George Soule, Francis Cooke and Mrs. Cushman, born Mary Allerton. All of these, he said had told him that upon that rock they stepped ashore. He also said that John Winslow's wife (Mary Chilton) came there on her 75th birthday and laughed as she stepped on the rock and said she was the first woman to step on it. Finally he admonished them with "And ye children of my blood, I charge you to remember how, year by year, while God lent me strength, I brought you here on Forefathers Day and set your feet upon the rock, and told you what mighty things the Fathers had done for you... then come ye forward, sons and grandsons and set your feet upon the rock once more in my sight, and never forget this day, you nor your children's children, to the last generation."
The club decided to memorialize the landing with an annual celebration of Forefathers Day, honoring the landing of the "first-comers." The celebration was held December 22, 1769 and was first referred to as "Old Colony Day." With the newly adopted Gregorian calendar the Club added 11 days to the landing instead of the correct 10. For over a century Forefathers Day was celebrated a day late.
As the Revolution approached the Old Colony Club was disbanded as its members were evenly split with loyalists and patriots. The 1774 celebration was conducted by a group of Liberty Boys. From about 1776-1790 Forefathers Day celebrations were abandoned.
In 1793 interest in Forefathers Day was revived. The Reverend Chandler Robbins referred to the settlers for the first time as "Pilgrims." It was also at this celebration that the "Mayflower Association and Agreement" was referred to as the "Mayflower Compact."
On April 15, 1875 the Old Colony Club was revived by a group of men who were met at Pilgrim Hall. The Old Colony Club collects old photographs, paintings and memorabilia. They commemorate Forefathers Day on December 22 as did the original Old Colony Club. the public is welcome at their yearly celebration which includes a sunrise cannon volley on Coles Hill.
Forefathers Day was made a legal holiday in Massachusetts in 1895 but they use the correct date of December 21.
May famous Americans have spoken at Forefathers Day celebrations including John Quincy Adams and Daniel Webster. John Howland, fifth in line from the Pilgrim, was present at the Bicentennial in 1820 when Daniel Webster gave his address.
Why not mark your calendars for your own Forefathers Day celebration. This is a day for us alone – the descendants of the passengers of the ship Mayflower!