Looking Back: Remembering the 300th Anniversary of the Mayflower

Introduction: In this article – as part of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower – Mary Harrell-Sesniak writes about how the event was celebrated 300 years ago, in 1920. Mary is a genealogist, author, and editor with a strong technology background who has written and collected some of the funniest, quirkiest, or most touching sayings about genealogy that she’s encountered in her career as a family historian. Please attribute this article if sharing.

No, your eyes are not playing a trick on you – that title is not a mistake. This is officially the 400-year anniversary of the Mayflower, when the brave Pilgrims and others set sail across the ocean and landed at Plymouth. With such a momentous event though, I thought it would behoove us to see how it was celebrated in 1920, some 300 years after the famous landing.

Illustration: “Thanksgiving at Plymouth” by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, 1925
Illustration: “Thanksgiving at Plymouth” by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, 1925. Credit: National Museum of Women in the Arts; Wikimedia Commons.

Known as the tercentenary celebration of the arrival of the Mayflower, the reports from 1920 just might give some ideas to enhance this year’s quadricentenary celebrations this month.

An article about celebrating the 300th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower, Beaumont Enterprise newspaper article 1 February 1920
Beaumont Enterprise (Beaumont, Texas), 1 February 1920, page 26

World in Flux

Just like today, the world was in flux in 1920. In addition to a pandemic, our ancestors had just experienced a devastating world war. Not surprisingly, some plans for celebration were canceled, including a world’s fair – as this article noted:

“It was originally planned to hold a world’s fair in honor of the anniversary, but the war has changed public taste and the country at large is in no mood for so expensive and useless a fete.”

An article about celebrating the 300th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower, Beaumont Enterprise newspaper article 1 February 1920
Beaumont Enterprise (Beaumont, Texas), 1 February 1920, page 26

Celebrities and Dignitaries

Despite the cancellation of the world’s fair, some celebrations continued, complete with overseas guests such as Georges Nivelle, delegate of the French government.

An article about celebrating the 300th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower, Twin Falls Daily News newspaper article 8 November 1920
Twin Falls Daily News (Twin Falls, Idaho), 8 November 1920, page 2

Overseas Celebrations

Not every festivity was in the U.S. Overseas embassies coordinated with local dignitaries and American visitors. For example, Plymouth, England, held a pageant and celebrated with entertainment and historical, literary and religious ceremonies over an 11-day period.

An article about celebrating the 300th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 2 September 1920
Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 2 September 1920, page 8

Honor the Pilgrims

Don’t forget to explore GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for stories about the Pilgrims – and also look for evidence of your own roots. You never know; you might just find that ancestors were so proud of their Mayflower roots that it was mentioned in earlier newspapers!

How Do You Plan to Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Given the current risk of infection, I have my own thoughts – and I invite you to leave comments of your own.

  1. Please remember what you are thankful for, and don’t risk spreading the disease.
  2. Why not be creative? Pre-tape small presentations by children and family that can be shared via social media or on video chat. If you are meeting in person, have a mask or decorated sneeze guard contest.
  3. If you are gathering in person, consider “separate but equal” tables or one table with sneeze guards. Two tables facing each other keep family and friends socially distanced to some degree.
  4. Try not to share food dishes, bottles or pass the bread. We recently hosted an outdoor socially-distanced-and-masked birthday get-together of four people and provided small prepackaged shrimp cocktails so nobody had to share.
  5. If asked what someone can bring, suggest disinfecting wipes and sprays.
  6. Please be thankful if you have the ability to give. The suffering in this country is great and many are making choices as to whether to pay a bill or provide food – and others are dependent upon homeless shelters.
  7. Lastly, don’t forget the many religious people who pray for you or the medical staff and first responders who may be serving their community on Thanksgiving Day.

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