The Oklahoma Society formed in 1947 to preserve the memory of our Pilgrim ancestors. We are a charitable and educational organization. We distribute historical and genealogical books to state libraries, present educational material and programs to schools, and sponsor Pilgrim heritage programs for the public. Members and friends fund our society with tax-deductible contributions.
Our society meets twice each year. Our fall Compact Luncheon commemorates the Mayflower Compact signing, and our spring Anniversary Luncheon honors our founding. We have approximately 254 active members and have inducted 1,012 members since 1947.
In the 1600s, Pilgrim William Bradford wrote a personal journal of the Mayflower voyage and early years of Plymouth Colony. It was treasured as the first American history book. Then, during the Revolutionary War in the 1700s, the manuscript disappeared. It was last seen in the tower of Boston's Old South Church, which British soldiers took over, gutted, and used for horse riding practice.
No one expected to see the manuscript again, but in 1855, a Massachusetts historian learned by chance that it was in England, in the Bishop of London's Library. It was a thrilling discovery for Americans. They expected an immediate return of the manuscript, which was labeled "property of the New England Library." Yet the Bishop of London only sent a copy; the original remained in London. For the next forty years, the U.S. petitioned, appealed, and negotiated for the manuscript's return, with no success.
Inspired by efforts to reclaim the manuscript, Mayflower descendants from New York met and organized in 1894. Two years later, descendants formed similar organizations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. In 1897, these state organizations met in Plymouth, Massachusetts and formed the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. That same year, England finally returned the Bradford manuscript to Boston with great fanfare.
For the first time, Americans learned details about the men, women, and children who sailed on the Mayflower. They began to appreciate the significance of the voyage. They also became interested in whether they descended from any of the passengers. Soon, other states started organizing societies.
The Oklahoma Society received its charter on January 11, 1947. As the Pennsylvania Society celebrated its 50th anniversary at Philadelphia's Independence Hall, Lewis E. Neff, of Tulsa, presented a petition signed by thirty Oklahoma descendants to the Board of General Assistants. On May 29, 1947, the Oklahoma Society held its first meeting at the Mayo Hotel in Tulsa. Lewis Neff was elected as the first governor.
Mr. Neff had extensive genealogy experience. In his profession as an attorney, he traced Native American ancestry to determine ownership of Oklahoma land and oil titles. In his volunteer work for the Society, he established many new Mayflower ancestral lines. Indeed, a great number of descendants owe their proof of lineage to his research. Neff also organized societies in Arkansas, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, South Dakota, Nevada, Hawaii, and Delaware.
Today there are 53 Member Societies (formerly State Societies), including all fifty U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Canada, and Europe. The General Society, headquartered at the Mayflower Society House in Plymouth, Massachusetts, approves all membership applications. Each member society manages its own affairs. All societies meet each year for a general congress, and every three years, the general congress meets in Plymouth.