Members of the Brewster family visit historic Brewster’s Neck Cemetery in Preston
November 26 – PRESTON – The descendants of Mayflower’s passenger, the eldest William Brewster, were on the phone a few weeks ago, planning a meeting, a little disappointed that COVID-19 scuttled plans last year for the big celebrations the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landings.
“I looked at the calendar and said, ‘Oh my gosh, we have the original 400th anniversary of Thanksgiving coming up! “said Bill Endicott of Bethesda, Maryland, recalling the phone call with Dr. Russell Bingham of Old Lyme.
About 15 descendants of the Mayflower Brewster celebrate the anniversary with a three-day tour of historic sites, both family and country.
On Thursday, the group gathered for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at the historic homestead, Mumford House in Salem. The 252-year-old house, which has remained in the hands of the Brewster-Bingham families, hosts many family tours and reunions.
Chef Joseph A. Hanson, 37, professional chef at Superfine restaurant in Brooklyn, NY, cooked the 10-hour brine turkey, traditional bread stuffing, squash, and honey squash soup. Anne E. Bingham of Salem made Indian pudding and Anne Bingham Pierson of Old Lyme brought 48 jars of four flavors of jam – quince, marmalade, spearmint and blueberry.
16 other family members joined a Zoom Online session from afar.
The cool November rain on Friday morning didn’t slow family members down, as they loaded into a white van and carpooled to historic Brewster’s Neck Cemetery in Preston’s former Norwich Hospital.
Jonathan Brewster, William Brewster’s eldest son, arrived in the New World a year after the Mayflower landings. He settled in New London in 1648-1649 and soon settled on the east bank of the Thames, a place which became known as Brewster’s Neck, where the Mohegan tribe granted him 50 square miles on condition that he operates a trading post with native residents.
Jonathan Brewster, who died in 1661, and many descendants are buried in the cemetery, with some gravestones dating from the late 1600s and early 1700s.
Russell Bingham inspected the cemetery two weeks before Friday’s tour. He guided visitors to the great Brewster Monument, erected by the family’s descendants in 1855 on the site of Jonathan Brewster’s grave. The monument includes “broken fragments” inlaid from its original gravestone, according to an engraving on the monument.
“This part of the stone was the original gravestone for his death in 1661,” Bingham said, as several family members leaned in for a closer look. The name, Jonathan Brewster, remains legible on the bronze-colored fragment.
“In memory of Lucretia Brewster, member of the Mayflower Company in 1620,” indicates another side of the monument, describing the wife of Jonathan Brewster. “A noble specimen of a kind, enlightened and heroic Christian woman, who died around the year 1671.”
Grabbing umbrellas, family members wandered through the small graveyard and located other readable Brewster Stones. Eloise Bingham Goddard of East Hampton, Mass., And her son, Sameer Hiram Goddard, noticed two simple rounded stones with large capital letters that filled the entire space with some words carried over to the next line. She noted that the name was spelled BRVWSTER on a stone from 1709.
“I want a gravestone like this,” she said, “for people 200 years from now to be looking at it laughing, like we are today.”
After visiting the cemetery, members of the Mohegan tribe joined the Brewster family at the cemetery to talk about history and the future.
Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, the tribe’s development entity, is set to take ownership of 393 acres of the former Norwich Hospital property in Preston after the town completes an environmental cleanup. The tribe is planning a major non-gaming commercial, retail, sports and entertainment complex there.
Mohegan Tribal Councilor Mark Brown said before meeting with the family that Brewster Cemetery and three other historic cemeteries on the former Norwich Hospital property would not be part of the deal. Brown said the tribe would ensure that natural buffer zones protect the cemeteries and that visitor access to the cemetery is maintained.
Brown called Jonathan Brewster “a friend of the Mohegans”.
Members of the Brewster family will continue their Thanksgiving weekend tour on Saturday with a trip to Plymouth, Massachusetts, where the Mayflower Company settled in December 1620 after first landing at the tip of Cape Cod . They will visit a museum that contains Brewster artifacts, visit the replica of the Mayflower II ship and have “a great group lunch,” Endicott said.
The group won’t have time to make it to Provincetown, where a small park and a plaque mark the Mayflower’s first landing spot. He hopes to make it part of a future family reunion.
“We have to get there,” he said.