The New England Society in the City of Brooklyn was a social, historical, and charitable organization established in response to the growing population of New Englanders in Brooklyn, N.Y. Census records indicate that, by the 1870s, there were more men descended from New England families living in Brooklyn than in Boston, MA. Incorporated in 1880, the Society continues to function as of 2010. Its seven original founders included Hiram W. Hunt, William Burrage Kendall, Calvin Edward Pratt, Ripley Ropes, Benjamin D. Silliman (1805-1901, also the Society's first President), Charles Storrs, and John Winslow (1825-1898), all prominent and influential members of the social, cultural, religious, and commercial life of Brooklyn. The founders' original objectives were "to encourage the study of New England history and for such purpose to establish a library, and also for social purposes, and to promote charity and good fellowhship among its members." After its First Annual Festival in December of 1880 (given to commemorate the 1620 landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, MA), which was attended by such figures as United States President Rutherford B. Hayes, former President Ulysses S. Grant, and famed Brooklyn preacher Henry Ward Beecher, the Society quickly gained national attention. Membership, which was exclusive to male Brooklyn residents of New England descent, was highly sought throughout the 1880s, reaching its largest in 1884 with a total of 425 members. Along with its annual festivals, regular activities of the Society included annual dinners, meetings, receptions, and lectures, as well as less formal "semi-social meetings" (featuring music and dancing), which were all highly anticipated events held at such Brooklyn institutions as the Long Island Historical Society (now the Brooklyn Historical Society), the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the Brooklyn Art Association. Unlike the Society's annual festivals, which were exclusively attended by men until 1896, women were invited to receptions and meetings as early as 1881, and these events were looked upon as family affairs.
Membership to the Society began to decrease in the 1890s, owing largely to the deaths of many elderly members. In an effort to revitalize its membership, the Society began soliciting Brooklyn New Englanders to apply for membership. Despite lower attendance, annual events also continued to be held throughout the 1890s, and the Society persisted into the new century. In 1902 and 1903 the Society made contributions to two public patriotic projects, the first of which involved donating two stained glass windows (made by the Church Glass Decorating Company of Brooklyn) to the rebuilding of the First Church (or First Parish) in Plymouth, which had previously burned down. These windows, showing Oliver Cromwell and John Milton in representation of Civil and Religious Liberty, are still in the church today. The Society's second contribution was a financial donation toward the building of the Prison Ship Martyr's Monument in Brooklyn's Fort Greene Park, which was built to commemorate the Americans who died in the British prison ships of Wallabout Bay during the Revolutionary War. In 1907, the Society also made plans to publish an historical work about Captain John Smith's contribution to the development of New England. The work, Forerunners and Competitors of the Pilgrims of New England, was published in 1912 as a two-volume set. Less advantageous to the Society's progress was the unearthing of an administrative finanical scandal that the Society was careful to keep from public knowledge. In 1910, it was discovered that former clerk Herbert Owen, working under the supervision of Treasurer Franklin W. Hooper (1851-1914), had embezzled $930 from the Society. Upon learning of the theft, Hooper, the Director of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, paid the amount back out of his own pocket, but a special investigative committee questioned whether the Society was obligated to reimburse him, determining that, as Owen was working under Hooper's supervision, Hooper could be considered partly responsible for the stolen amount. Insulted, Hooper resigned from his position as Treasurer, and later in 1911 was ultimately awarded a sum of $700 by the Society.
The activities of the Society slowed when the United States entered World War I in 1917, but less than a year after the armistice of 1918, the Society became active once more. Though it reinstituted its annual social events, the post-war activities of the Society focused more heavily on its patriotic and charitible missions. In June 1919 the Society donated a memorial tablet to St. Mary's Church in Ealing (nine miles from London, England) in honor of John Holmes Tooker, an Englishman who had raised funds for the American widows and orphans of the Revolutionary War, and also restored Tooker's tomb in an adjoining churchyard. The Society also donated $100 to the British Orphans Fund to assist children orphaned by World War I, donated a sum of $2,600 to the First Church in Plymouth, MA for the tercentenary celebration of the landing of the Pilgrims, and contributed funds towards the New England collections of the Brooklyn Public Library and the Long Island Historical Society. In 1929, the Society entered a new realm of charitible service: at the suggestion of Judge George Albert Wingate, the Society paid the tuition of Clarence G. Keefe, a blind student attending Tufts University in Massachusetts. This act would prove to have vital implications for the future direction of the Society.
The mid-20th century presented a wealth of obstacles to the continued existence of the Society, including the Great Depression of the 1930s, World War II in the 1940s, and Manhattan's dominant role in the transformation of New York City into one of the world's financial and cultural meccas throughout the 1950s and 1960s. This latter development resulted in several of the Society's members' lives revolving more around Manhattan than Brooklyn. Despite several recommendations throughout the mid-20th century from members of the board that the Society merge with its sibling association in Manhattan (the New England Society in the City of New York), the majority of the Society's members repeatedly elected to remain independent, and the Society would yet again persist, continuing to hold social events, donate funds to several patriotic causes, and contribute funds to the study of New England history at several Brooklyn cultural institutions. It was its role as a benefactor for deserving college students, however, that would become the Society's most renowned function. As a result of secure financial assets brought on by an increase in membership during the 1970s, by 1983 the Society had paid the tuition of nine Brooklyn and Long Island students at several colleges and universities throughout the New England region. As of 2010, despite membership being lower than in previous decades, the Society continues to carry out its honored traditions.
- Younger, William Lee.
The New England Society in the City of Brooklyn: Centennial Handbook. Brooklyn, NY: New England Society in the City of Brooklyn, c1984. Accessed August 19, 2010. http://www.newenglandsociety.org/NewEnglandSocietyHistory.pdf
From the guide to the New England Society in the City of Brooklyn records, Bulk, 1880-1916, 1880-1981, (Brooklyn Historical Society)