The New England Society in the City of Brooklyn is a group of men and women who gather to celebrate their New England heritage. This celebration takes form in several ways. One is through the awarding of supplementary scholarships to students from Brooklyn who attend colleges and universities in New England. Another way is through the awarding of prizes for excellence in the study of history to graduating seniors in any of Brooklyn’s public, private, and religious high schools. Still another way New England is celebrated by the Society is through social gatherings such as a poetry reading following informal dinner, a formal (black-tie) dinner close to Thanksgiving, and a reception for scholarship winners and their families, held as close as practicable to December 21, the anniversary of the Pilgrims’ landing.
Originally the New England Society was formed by some of the many New Englanders who helped build Brooklyn into a city. Along the many waterways and newly dredged marshes in the low-lying areas of early nineteenth century Brooklyn were built docks, and near the docks industrial facilities. Soon items manufactured in Brooklyn could be transferred just a few feet to barges bound up the Hudson to the Erie Canal, or to ocean-going vessels headed for foreign ports. Within just five decades during the middle of the nineteenth century Brooklyn was transformed into a hub of American industrial production and international trade. The City of Brooklyn became the third-largest city in America.
New Englanders were among many who gained much from this economic miracle, but they felt a unique loss. The rocky soil from which New England farmers extracted a living, the villages and towns where they gathered to trade and worship, and the ports from which their brothers set out for fish and whale oil – all of this constituted a culture that those who came to Brooklyn felt was their unique heritage. And, so, many of them came together to form a New England Society to celebrate this heritage – at first tentatively in 1847, and later more permanently when the Society that survives today was incorporated in 1880.
Since 1880, the City of Brooklyn (thirsty for Manhattan’s better-developed water resources) has become one of the boroughs in the City of New York. The very name New England Society in the City of Brooklyn seems anachronistic. But the Society, which initially supported widows and orphans of past members, is anything but anachronistic, as it helps to recognize students from all backgrounds and to support some of them in college. Members themselves – no longer just men – come from a variety of backgrounds. They are part of the national back-to-the-city movement; and, as William Lee Younger noted a quarter of a century ago in his history of the Society, they follow in the footsteps of their New England predecessors and are leaders in their professions and trustees of the foremost hospitals, civic organizations, cultural institutions, religious organizations, colleges, and schools.