Monday, July 31, 2006

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick

I have just finished listening to an eleven-disc recording of Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick, read by George Guidall. I think the title is misleading, for the story goes far beyond the Atlantic crossing by the Pilgrims in the famous ship in 1620, far beyond the early years of settlement in New England. It includes history of the second generation of settlers and a lengthy battle-by-battle account of King Philip's War of 1675-1676. "Plymouth" or "The Pilgrims and the Natives of Massachusetts" would have been more informative titles. The publishers probably thought "Mayflower" would be a more marketable name.

The strength of the book is its account of the lives of settlers, natives, and descendents. Philbrick has drawn on many contemporary accounts, such as Governor Bradford's and Benjamin Church's manuscripts and transcriptions of native oral histories. The author restores to the story many unflattering details excised from mythical accounts of the Pilgrim colonists and their Indian friends. Envy, greed, and betrayal fuel the action, which is full of murder, beheadings, and dismembering dead enemies. Philbrick suggests that with more noble actions the outcome and the resulting heritage could been different. Many opportunities for peace were lost.

What may surprise many readers of Mayflower is learning that Plymouth authorities sold many Indians into slavery, shipping them to the tropics and claiming their land. Philbrick also points out that the colony bankrupted itself in the conduct of King Philip's War; Plymouth was an economically depressed community for the next hundred years.

In the Epilogue, the author gives a brief history of Plymouth Rock and the glorifying and sanitization of the Pilgrim story.

The battle descriptions with slogging through swamps and woods are a little tedious, but the book as a whole is an interesting account of early European settlement of the New World. Every public library should have this book.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War. New York: Viking, 2006. ISBN 0670037605

11 compact discs. New York: Recorded Books, 2006. ISBN 1419390031


EHT said...

Interesting. I saw something on the History channel late, late last night that was discussing how European Christians were elated that North/South America had been found so that they could truly go out into ALL the world and tell the good news. They felt that once that was done then Jesus would return. When the Natives resisted their efforts the settlers at Plymouth began to take the land.

Anonymous said...

is much said in there about King Philip's family, or, by any chance, about the Starkweather & Stanton families? I'm doing some research... If you could email me, actually, I would be very appreciative! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

and then i forgot to give you my email: anthropoet at excite dot com.