by Verity Ahlin
Boston has no shortage of rich history and distinguished institutions dedicated to preserving that history. Simply walking down Newbury Street will land you at one of these institutions, and may inspire you to investigate your own family heritage. The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), established in 1845, is a longstanding Bostonian institution that, along with their online repository American Ancestors (americanancestors.org), is dedicated to preserving and promoting the study of familial history in America.
With the execution of their “2020” project, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower, they have successfully planned a variety of events that cater to those wishing to not only learn more about Pilgrim history, but also their own genealogical roots.
“2020” is a project produced by American Ancestors and NEHGS that very thoughtfully showcases some of the more intangible facets of Pilgrim culture. According to Ryan J. Woods, Senior Vice President and COO of NEHGS, the project includes a variety of “programs, publications, exhibitions, and tours that will touch on the key themes of exploration, innovation, religious freedom, self-governance, immigration, and Thanksgiving as we honor and learn from the enduring legacies of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag.” I was particularly intrigued by the 2020 Four Nation Concert Series, so I bought a ticket!
On February 13, I had the pleasure of attending the first concert in this series, Pilgrims’ Progress: Music of the Plimoth Colony Settlers 1590-1650, featuring Seven Times Salt, held at NEHGS on Newbury Street in Boston.
Using reproductions of 17th century instruments, the members of Seven Times Salt make up a classic “English Consort,” a four person ensemble consisting of traditional wind and string instruments. In addition to being an enjoyable musical experience, the musicians made sure to explain important historical context for their song choices.
Seven Times Salt kicked off their performance with popular songs from England in the years 1590-1608, before the Mayflower set sail. Next, the musicians explained some of the lesser known history of the Pilgrims’ stay in the Netherlands, playing songs from the region in the years 1608-1620. Seeking religious freedom, Pilgrims lived in the Netherlands prior to their emigration to America. After spending over a decade in the Netherlands, many Pilgrims still sought freedoms that they were not receiving from the Dutch. When they left for America and finally ended their arduous journey on the Mayflower, the Plimoth colonists came with diverse tastes in music, such as psalms, rounds, part-songs, and dance tunes. Seven Times Salt presented these varied musical genres in their final portion of the concert, which focused on Plimoth in the years 1620-1645.
After the performance, the musicians from Seven Times Salt answered questions from the audience followed by a reception, where participants could learn more about the “2020” project as well as NEHGS and American Ancestors.
In addition to the concert series, NEHGS provides interested participants opportunities to learn more about the Mayflower voyage and the early days of American history through talks, tours, and even essay contests for students in grades 5-8 and 9-12. While I can only speak to the concert I attended, I can testify that this program is a successful act of user outreach. Whether it be through experience, study, or participation, everyone can find something that strikes their imagination with the “2020” project.
The professionals at American Ancestors and NEHGS clearly value and care for this rich aspect of American history, and by putting on performances that people enjoy, they create a thirst for further understanding. Once that thirst is established, NEHGS provides the tools for additional study; encouraging users to explore their own history.
The project is currently on-going, and I highly recommend attending one of their events to see how this history comes to life for yourself.
Upcoming dates in the 2020 Four Nation Concert Series are as follows:
- May 14, 2020: The Beggars’ Songbook: Revolt in the Spanish Netherlands, Historical and Musical Illustration of the Pilgrims’ 10-Year sojourn in the Netherlands, featuring Long & Away.
- August 13, 2020: Wampanoag Nation Song & Dance, featuring Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers.
- November 19, 2020: The Immigrant Experience to America, featuring Promised Land.
If you would like to attend part of this concert series, participate in another aspect of the “2020” project, or explore your own heritage, I recommend visiting their website: https://mayflower.americanancestors.org/.