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. New Englanders treasured the journal as the first American history book. However, during the Revolutionary War in the 1700s, Bradford's manuscript disappeared. Its last known location was 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, an American historian learned by chance that it was in the library of the Bishop of London. It was a thrilling discovery for many Americans. They expected an immediate return of the manuscript, which was labeled "property of the New England Library," but that didn't happen. The Bishop of London sent a copy and kept the original in England. For the next 40 years, the U.S. petitioned, appealed, and negotiated for the manuscript's return, with no luck.
Inspired by efforts to reclaim the manuscript, Mayflower descendants in New York organized in 1894. Two years later, descendants in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania formed similar societies. In 1897, these four state societies met in Plymouth, Massachusetts, to create the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. That same year, England finally returned the Bradford manuscript to Boston with great fanfare.
For the first time, many 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 knowing if 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 30 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 and elected Lewis Neff 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 valuable Oklahoma land and oil titles. In his volunteer work for the Society, he established many new Mayflower ancestral lines. Indeed, a significant number of descendants owe their proof of lineage to his research. Neff went on to organize societies in Arkansas, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, South Dakota, Nevada, Hawaii, and Delaware.
Today there are fifty-three Member Societies (formerly State Societies), including the 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 member applications. Each Member Society manages its local affairs. All societies meet each year for a general congress, and every three years, the general congress meets in Plymouth.