Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War - Nathaniel Philbrick I think were it not that I've been so spoiled by some amazing history books lately, I'd be rating this five stars. It's certainly the perfect book to read right before American Thanksgiving. The Mayflower, as every American schoolchild has been taught, is the name of the ship that brought the "Pilgrims," a group of religious dissenters, to America to establish one of the earliest English colonies. While still on board the male settlers signed the "Mayflower Compact" revered as a precursor to the American Declaration of Independence. There were 102 passengers who took that 65-day voyage--half of them wouldn't survive the winter--yet there are over 35 million of their descendents alive today--about ten percent of America's population. And the Pilgrims wouldn't have survived without the help of the surrounding Native population. We celebrate the harvest feast they held together with Thanksgiving every year--a holiday Philbrick writes "would have probably baffled and appalled the godly Pilgrims." After all, by Philbrick's account, these are people who cancelled Christmas--or at least tried. This is about a lot more than what the title "Mayflower" might suggest though. It's not just about the voyage or the original settlers. It's more an account of Amerindian/English relations in the first half century or so of the New England Puritan colonies, stretching from the landing in 1620 to "King Philip's War" ending in 1676. Philbrick does as best he can to include the perspective of the Natives, despite the fact that just about every extant account we have was written by the English colonists. He used what "archeologists, anthropologists and folklorists" could contribute to enhance the documentary record. He says the beginnings of this book was inspired by a Nantucket Native American symposium he attended and counts himself in debt to those attending in helping with his research. And certainly such Indian figures such as Squanto, Massasoit--and his son "King" Philip of the Wampanoags--come across as, or even more, vividly as such figures among the Pilgrims as Miles Standish or William Bradford. Philbrick struck me as fair to both sides of the conflicts. As he put it: My initial impression of the period was bounded by two conflicting preconceptions: the time-honored tradition of how the Pilgrims came to symbolize all that is good about America and the now equally familiar modern tale of how the evil Europeans annihilated the innocent Native Americans. I soon learned that the real-life Indians and English of the seventeenth century were too smart, too generous, too greedy, too brave--in short, too human--to behave so predictably. It's a great story both in substance and style that flew by--a real page turner. At least for anyone interested in American History. As Philbrick himself complains, we Americans tend too quickly to fly past the territory between the Plymouth Landing and the American Revolution. There's plenty in that period of over 150 years that shaped what we are as a country to be so blithely ignored. Philbrick does Americans a service in bringing some of that history to light. It's well-written, well-researched and sourced, and accessible to the layman.