The Hereditary Order of the First Families of Massachusetts, founded in 1985 by Roswell Levi Atwood, Ph.D., at Melrose, Massachusetts, was established to commemorate the families of our Puritan ancestors. Because there is a tendency to think chiefly in terms of male ancestors, the Order places equal emphasis upon the wife and mother. Her ceaseless work in the home and the sharing of her husband’s interests in religion and community affairs contributed essentially to maintaining a civilized community in a wilderness surrounded by savage circumstances. The Order honors these women and gives particular attention to the word “families” and to its meaning, both for our forebears and for ourselves.
The Order’s earliest activities included its first Annual Meeting of Membership on June 11-13, 1987, at the Parker House in Boston, Massachusetts. The theme of the meeting was “Arrival Days,” commemorating the arrival of the first of the Winthrop Fleet vessels at Salem in 1630. Attendees enjoyed excellent meals and activities, and a bus trip through Salem to visit numerous historic sites. On January 10-12, 1988, members gathered at Palm Aire Resort and Spa in Pompano Beach, Florida to attend symposiums entitled “Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay-Two Very Different Colonies,” “Puritan Women,” and “Governor John Winthrop.” The general theme of that meeting was “The 400th Anniversary of the Birth of John Winthrop.”
The first Triennial Meeting of the membership occurred on September 15, 1989 at the Hyatt Regency in San Antonio, Texas. The program included sightseeing tours, recreation and a discussion of “Anne Marbury Hutchinson” offered by the late Col. Donald Roderick Perkins. The second Triennial Meeting, scheduled for October 31, 1992, at the Copley Plaza in Boston, Massachusetts, did not occur due to the lack of a quorum of members to attend. The third Triennial Meeting occurred at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston, Massachusetts, on September 23, 1995, at which time the second Governor General, Captain David Judson Gray, was sworn into office. No further meetings of the Order were conducted after 1995.
During the first five years of the Order’s existence, it also produced a publication entitled The Puritan Chronicle, a lengthy newsletter containing customary news, historical articles, and information pertaining to the establishment and growth of the Order.
Dr. Atwood passed away in February 2004. At the time of his death, the Order had established upwards of 700 memberships. Unfortunately, the Order had become inactive by the time Dr. Atwood died.
On Tuesday, October 5, 2004, Alden Atwood, Charles Owen Johnson, and Alexander Bannerman met for luncheon at the Harvard Club in Boston to reorganize the Order. Mr. Atwood, as successor to the Directorship of the Order, appointed Mr. Johnson to the office of Governor General, himself to the office of Deputy Governor General and Mr. Bannerman to the office of Genealogist General. Both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Atwood had established their membership in the Order at its founding. Mr. Bannerman became a member before the reorganization meeting. Prior to the reorganization meeting, new by-laws were adopted, and at the reorganization meeting a plan of action was devised so that within a year’s time, the Order would be able once again to operate effectively. In September 2005, with all legal matters effectively addressed and their initial goals accomplished, the Order began receiving new members.
The Order’s by-laws require that an Annual Meeting be held in New England each year in the autumn. Additional special meetings may be called from time to time as desired.
The by-laws provide that a Governor General may serve only one two-year term and must appoint a successor of the other gender. All other officers and members of the council are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the Governor General.
Since the Order’s reorganization, Annual Meetings have been held in Plymouth, Massachusetts (2005), Boston, Massachusetts (2006), Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts (2007), South Kingstown, Rhode Island (2008), Seekonk, Massachusetts (2009), Wethersfield/Warren Connecticut (2010), Bar Harbor, Maine (2011), Brattleboro, Vermont (2012), Boston, Massachusetts (2013), Guilford, Connecticut, (2014), Warwick, Rhode Island (2015), Burlington, Vermont (2016), Hyannisport, Massachusetts (2017), New London, Connecticut (2018), and Warwick, Rhode Island (2019). Because of limitations imposed by the national health crisis of 2020-2021, no meetings were held. The meetings were resumed in Burlington, Vermont (2022).
New England Hereditary Societies