MAYFLOWER by Nathaniel Philbrick

I read Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower out loud, a compliment in itself, since the sentence structure and clarity of the narrative voice made this a positive experience. The book has won several awards in addition to being a New York Times Bestseller. The extensive research that went into this book over the ten-year period during which it was written is evident from the size of the bibliography.

 

Several things struck me about the early settlers as depicted: how unprepared they were, the mistakes they made, their dependence on their religion and their dogged perseverance.  That they survived at all, seems in retrospect, a miracle. I was also quite take with the difference between the history of this period as taught me in the lower grades and the real evidence related in this version of history. In particular the cultural clash and resultant misunderstanding between English settlers and the Native Americans was never taught without bias. The fact that there were “praying Indians” helping the settlers was overlooked as was the fact that many of the English were intent on genocide with its subsequent gain of Indian lands. Also the protracted conflict referred to as Philip’s War was never touched even though it lasted for years and caused losses in the range of 10% of the English population and possibly as much as 50% of the Native Americans. Another surprise was the extent to which large factions of the Native Americans actually fought with the English against other tribes.

 

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning how our nation began. However I do this with a warning that the last half of the story is heavily loaded with information about the blood bath involving not only men, but also women and children. One of the settlers who rose to prominence in almost every chapter toward the end was Benjamin Church. He was involved in most conflicts, seemed to be everywhere, and had great influence on the course of the historical events of this period, yet I don’t remember him having been mentioned in any of my childhood history texts.

 

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