“Our”Story: 400 Years of Wampanoag History Exhibit Now in Hanson

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Forefathers Monument and Abraham Lincoln

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Plymouth 400
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Did you know that Abraham Lincoln donated $10 to the construction of the National Monument to the Forefathers?
The National Monument to the Forefathers was commissioned by the Pilgrim Society and formally dedicated on August 1, 1889. While the idea of a monument honoring the Mayflower Pilgrims had been discussed as far back as 1820 (the bicentennial of the founding of Plymouth Colony), it wasn’t until the 1850’s that funds were raised and plans were made.
The monument’s designer Hammatt Billings, a Boston architect, illustrator, and sculptor, originally imagined the National Monument to the Forefathers to be 150 feet tall. However, shortly before his death in 1874 he reduced the size to 81 feet (legend has it that this was due to a lack of funding and resources as a direct result of the Civil War), and his brother Joseph ultimately finished the project.
So why exactly was the monument created in the midst of the American Civil War?
In his biography entitled Accomplished in All Departments of Art, Hammatt Billings of Boston, 1818- 1874, Professor James O’Gorman of Wellesley College states that “the monument was designed to remind all citizens, both North and South, of their collective heritage— Billings’ aim was to give shape to the words of the great orators of his day in the cause of preserving national unity—through the celebration of a shared heroic origin.”
It should be no surprise, then, that Abraham Lincoln donated $10 to the cause.
According to Thomas R. Turner and Jennifer A. Turner’s published report entitled Abraham Lincoln and the Plymouth Forefathers Monument: Researching Lincoln in the Electronic Age, Lincoln received an honorary life membership to the Pilgrim Society for his donation. Upon conducting more research into the subject, however, “A search of the Pilgrim Society archives… failed to turn up any records of Lincoln’s life membership, although two other presidents, John and John Quincy Adams, were listed as life members. Lincoln’s contribution was also quite modest, since had he donated at least $50 he would have received a bronze medal.”