Book: Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick
I’ve always had great admiration for pioneers. It truly takes a huge amount of courage to do things no one has ever gone before. I also have a great admiration for New England, as my three trips there this year alone attest. So it was inevitable that I should come across and read this book about New England’s pioneers, the Pilgrims and their decendants.
In his informative yet very accessible book, Mr. Philbrick traces the origins of the journey that resulted in the 1620 landing in what became Massachusetts. This journey began years before 1620 and included a lengthy time in Holland. This I already knew. I also knew that there were 102 passengers aboard the Mayflower and I had heard about another vessel, the Speedwell, that had some connection to the Mayflower voyage. What I didn’t know was that those 102 passengers were not all the Pilgrims seeking religious freedom. The Pilgrims were also called the Leideners (after the place in Holland where they had stayed for several years), while the others were called the Strangers. These Strangers sought only land and a fresh start with no religious motivation. These few facts were only the beginning of what I didn’t already know.
Mr. Philbrick traces the voyage of the Mayflower, the search for a landing site (which of course was not actually Plymouth Rock) scouting for Native peoples, the building of Plimouth Plantation (the replica of which I had the pleasure of visiting three years ago), and the ever-changing and tenuous relationship between the colonists and the various Native American tribes, including the actions and interactions of Samoset and Squanto. He takes his story to a generation or two beyond the Mayflower-ites, narrating at length about what became known as King Philip’s War.
Relying heavily on primary sources, particularly from William Bradford (passenger on the Mayflower), Benjamin Church (grandson of Mayflower passenger Richard Warren) and Mary Rowlandson (daughter of a prominent Lancaster citizen and wife of a minister), Mr. Philbrick acknowledges the bias of his information while trying to do justice to both the colonist and Native points of view. Certainly, much of the history in textbooks throughout the years is tainted by agenda—either to extoll the contributions of the early settlers and demonize their Native enemies or to condemn the settlers’ treatment of those who were already here when they arrived. Mr. Philbrick clearly tries to take the high road, reporting on the strengths and failings of colonists and Native Americans alike.
I’ve read 10 histories/biographies this year, and in most of them I could easily detect the author’s bias—something that, in my opinion, has no place in a history or biography. In a recent conversation with my brother (who also reads many histories and biographies) we commented on and mourned the prevalence of author bias in these types of works. I should have mentioned and recommended this book to my brother. He has a taste for American history, and I believe he would agree with me that author bias or agenda was missing. Very refreshing indeed.