Mayflower is an account of the 1620 Mayflower voyage and the subsequent ~56 years of English settlements in the New England area of the United States. It includes details about the devastating war between colonists and some of the area’s native tribes known as King Philip’s War. History buffs should like this one.
I read Mayflower as part of the 12 Months of Reading Goodness challenge. June’s challenge was to read a book about an historical event. When I introduced the challenge, I mentioned that a couple of historical events celebrate their 100 year anniversaries this month – the Treaty of Versailles was signed and the US Congress proposed the 19th amendment, which ultimately gave women the right to vote. As the month has unfolded, I’ve been reminded of several other noteworthy events that also reached milestone anniversaries this month, including:
– 75th anniversary of D-Day (how did I not mention D-Day in my original post?!?!)
– 30th anniversary of the protests in Tianenman Square
– 25th anniversary of OJ Simpson’s low speed car chase in the white Ford Bronco (yeah, this one’s a little kitschy, but I’ll bet you remember where you were when it was happening! I was watching it while on a summer internship in the Mojave Desert – long story.)
So, about the book…
I chose Mayflower in order to close a gap in my knowledge of American history. My knowledge kind of starts in 1776. Sure, I know Columbus landed in 1492 and then the Pilgrims came sometime in the 1600s, but 1776 is where it’s at, right? Wrong, Michelle! By the time the Revolutionary War started, English colonists had already been here for 150 years. For a nation with a pretty short history, that’s a long time!
The title of the book is a little misleading because only the first third of the book is about the Mayflower. The Pilgrims were in exile in Holland because
their Puritan faith wasn’t tolerated in England. They were seeking a kind of communal, faith-based utopia where they could worship as they pleased. They thought they could create that in New England. What struck me most about the journey, besides the courage it must have taken, was how poorly planned and executed it was. These weren’t adventurers or frontiersmen – these were tradesmen with their wives and kids moving to a wilderness. Their lack of experience had tragic results. The journey was severely delayed, which meant that they used a lot of provisions before they even set sail. It also meant that they were on a schedule that would have them arriving in the land of Snowmageddon in mid-December. Come on, Pilgrims! They actually landed in the wrong spot. Exhausted and freezing, they planted themselves in the first agreeable place and called it Plymouth Plantation. It wasn’t a great location and the earth wasn’t very fertile, but at least they weren’t on that darn boat anymore. Sadly, by the end of winter, half of the passengers had perished. Those that survived had help from the local Indians. For the next several decades, the settlers and Indians lived pretty peacefully together. (However, as a side note, some of these Pilgrims were quite bloodthirsty!)
This first section was interesting and well-written. I’m assuming it wasn’t longer due to a lack of source material. And, honestly, the length and level of detail were just right.
The rest of the book dealt with war between the Colonists and Indians. This was a little over 50 years after the Mayflower landed. The next generation was running things in the English settlements. They were different than their fathers – they didn’t have the same religious zeal, they lacked gratitude towards the Indians for helping their predecessors survive the first few years, and they were greedy and even more bloodthirsty than their fathers. A land grab and lack of diplomacy led to a falling out between Plymouth Plantation and a local tribe led by a sachem named King Philip. Quickly, other tribes and other settlements were pulled in and it escalated into a bloody, 14 month war, full of massacres, murders of women and children, scalpings, gruesome public executions and other atrocities. All sides acted despicably, but the native tribes were the most affected, experiencing a population decrease of 60-80%. It forever changed New England.
This part of the book was also very interesting to me. It was something I knew next to nothing about. Fortunately, the author makes history very accessible through his writing style and also by sprinkling in anecdotes of people who were there. I found myself thinking, “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!” several times as the relationship between Plymouth and the Pokanoket tribe fell apart. To me, it’s a sign of a good historian when he can elicit an emotional response from a reader. Erik Larson also has that talent. I also appreciated that this author didn’t appear to have an agenda, which is how I like history presented.
I began this post by talking about historic anniversaries. I also want to point out that the Mayflower journey will be having a significant anniversary next year. December, 2020, is the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing in Plymouth. If you’re interested in history, reading Mayflower would be a great way to commemorate that event!
How about you? Did you read about a historical event this month? Please share!
Reminder: July’s challenge is to read a novel by Hemingway.
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