Category Archives: American History

ICYMI: NEHGS in 1920

[Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 3 July 2020.]

Façade of 9 Ashburton Place, NEHGS headquarters in 1920.

During this 175th anniversary year, I wondered how we marked an earlier NEHGS milestone, one hundred years ago. To learn about the state of the Society in 1920, I looked at Boston newspapers online and NEHGS Proceedings and a scrapbook in our R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

On Thursday, 18 March 1920, NEHGS celebrated its 75th anniversary of incorporation—to the day—and recognized the 300th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims. From 2 to 6 p.m. that day, the Society welcomed the public to an open house at “its spick and span headquarters,” then located at 9 Ashburton Place in Boston, near the Massachusetts State House. Guides greeted the visitors and introduced them to the Society and its collections. Tea was served. Continue reading ICYMI: NEHGS in 1920

Churchill’s Mayflower line

Sir Winston Leonard (Spencer-) Churchill (1874-1965)

Last year I made a post teasing about an upcoming article I had written that showed, with the assistance of Y-DNA evidence, a Mayflower descent for Prime Minister Winston Churchill (among other notable figures). The journey began in 2017 when I was at the National Genealogical Society Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. When at our booth, we get a chance to meet lots of genealogists, members of American Ancestors and non-members alike. It is always a fun chance during some down time to discuss problems or recent findings. Continue reading Churchill’s Mayflower line

Those phrustrating Phelpses

The reason I have not been active on Vita Brevis recently can be laid at the feet of the Phelps family of Salem. Five members of the family will “soon” be published together as the Phelps Cluster despite their complete refusal to cooperate. Here is a little of what I have untangled so far.

The story has been that widow Eleanor Phelps (husband unknown) came to Salem with her three “minor” sons prior to 1639, when she and her second husband Thomas Trusler joined the Salem church. The Phelps boys have been deemed minors because they do not appear in Salem records until 1645 and 1655, and the implication was that the boys all grew up in Salem. However, that claim is complicated by the record of Henry Phelps arriving in Salem by ship about 1645. This and other circumstantial evidence suggest the boys were older, and that none of them came with their mother. Continue reading Those phrustrating Phelpses

Outdoor classroom: Part Two

It was a glorious late October day in Plymouth. If only that could be said without qualification but, alas, we are still in the midst of Covid … mandatory face mask zones and digital signs warning of fines for scofflaws. But the sun was shining and a fresh breeze wafted in from the harbor as I resumed my lessons in the outdoor classroom, determined, as I have been all year despite the restrictions, to make the most of the Mayflower quadricentennial.

There has been something of a silver lining with the virus in that the explorations that might have taken me farther afield have kept me close to home. Continue reading Outdoor classroom: Part Two

Presidents without posterity

After our recent presidential election, and following up on my recent post regarding some interesting facts about presidential descendants, this post relates to our presidents who do not have any descendants. There are actually quite a few in this category – almost one out of four. While only one president never married (James Buchanan), several presidents had no children, or their children died young or as adults, and in one case a president’s descendants died out after several generations.

Presidents with no living descendants:

Continue reading Presidents without posterity

Monumental plans: Part Two

One of the earliest designs for the Pilgrim Monument. Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy Salvador Vasques, My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection

Fifteen years after the second effort to build a monument in Provincetown had been abandoned and three years after Plymouth dedicated its National Monument to the Forefathers, there was another initiative to commemorate the First Landing of the Pilgrims at Provincetown. On 29 February 1892, a group of civic-minded citizens – James H. Hopkins, James Gifford, Artemas P. Hannum, Moses N. Gifford, Howard F. Hopkins, Joseph H. Dyer, and their associates and successors – were made a corporation, the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association (CCPMA), by an act of the Massachusetts Legislature. Later that year an appeal for funds was circulated to the general public and a request for funding was made to the Massachusetts Legislature. Not only did CCPMA members see their mission as building an appropriate monument to commemorate the arrival of the Mayflower at Provincetown, they were determined, too, to recognize other significant events in Provincetown’s Pilgrim history, including the Signing of the Mayflower Compact, the birth of Peregrine White, and the death of Dorothy May Bradford. Continue reading Monumental plans: Part Two

Presidential generations

President John Tyler. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

The news of the recent death of Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr., aged 95, grandson of 10th U.S. President John Tyler (1790-1862), leaves just his younger brother, Harrison Ruffin Tyler, aged 91, as the last grandchild of a president who was born during the administration of George Washington, and whose term in office began twenty years before the Civil War. I’ve always been fascinated when hearing that John Tyler had two living grandsons and would occasionally confirm their longevity. The reason President Tyler has such extended generations is due to a second marriage at fifty-four years old, in the last year of his presidency, which resulted in seven children born between 1846 and 1860, the youngest when Tyler was seventy years old. Continue reading Presidential generations

Monumental plans: Part One

Plymouth Rock canopy, ca. 1880. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

What does it take to build a monument, a lasting legacy, to the First Landing of the Pilgrims in Provincetown? Determination and persistence and, of course, money, not to mention years of territorial squabbles and skirmishes. Finally dedicated in 1910, Provincetown’s Pilgrim Monument has a story that may be said to have begun ninety years earlier across the bay in Plymouth.

Pilgrim Hall, Plymouth, ca. 1860. Stereograph, courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

With its roots in the Old Colony Club, founded in 1769, the Pilgrim Society was formally organized in Plymouth in 1820, the bicentennial of the Landing of the Pilgrims. Its mission was to perpetuate the memory of the Mayflower Pilgrims, specifically with the goal of building appropriate monuments, the first of which was Pilgrim Hall, whose cornerstone was laid in September 1824.[1] Continue reading Monumental plans: Part One

Summer spots: Part Three

“World’s End” in Hingham

Finishing up this series on places my family enjoyed during our socially distant summer, I move now from the North Shore to the South Shore, to “World’s End” in Hingham. This Trustees property was designed by the well-known landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in 1890 at the request of owner John Reed Brewer, with the intention of creating a 163 home residential subdivision. While the drives were cut, the development never came to fruition, and the land, consisting of four coastal drumlins extending into Hingham Harbor (with views of the Boston skyline), has been preserved as a setting for recreation since 1967, after the land was donated by John’s grandson, the poet [John] Wilmon Brewer (1895-1998). Continue reading Summer spots: Part Three

Who am I?

Redwood grove, courtesy of the National Park Service.

My surname comes down to me from a ten-generation line of Grovers, all of whom have lived in America. The first in this line is Edmund Grover (1600-1682), who emigrated from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony some time between 1628 and 1633.[i] His ancestry in England is not known with certainty, so ten generations is all that can be claimed. But ten generations are enough to say that I am thoroughly a Grover. Biologically speaking however, Edmund’s bloodline has been diluted at each generation by spouses who have contributed equally to who I am. I carry Edmund’s surname, but only a vanishingly small percentage of his blood. Continue reading Who am I?