Thursday, March 24, 2016

Mayflower: A Study of Courage, Community, and War, by Nathaniel Philbrick (author), George Guidall (narrator)

Recorded Books, ISBN 9781419390036, 2006

The Pilgrims of Plimoth Plantation are part of the founding mythology of the US. But what most of us know, or at least remember, is Plymouth Rock, Thanksgiving, the Puritans, and then the Revolution. Maybe we remember that King Philip's War is a thing that happened, but we may be a bit hazy on the details. Probably we remember Squanto, the friendly Indian who taught the Pilgrims to grow corn.

Philbrick brings in all marvelously to life.

And in doing so, he restores the richness, complexity, and ambiguity of the real world.

The arrival of the Pilgrims wasn't the first contact New England Indians had with Europeans--and those earlier contacts had brought diseases the Native Americans had no previous encounter with. What had been a thickly settled region was now startlingly empty, with many whole villages wiped out diseases that killed so many there weren't enough healthy people to care for the sick. There was, in fact, room for the Pilgrims--if they could learn to live with their neighbors, and their neighbors could learn to live with them.

Philbrick gives us the fascinating tale of how, for fifty years, the Pilgrims and the local Indian tribes, most notably the Pokanoket, under the leadership of Massasoit, built an often uneasy but mutually beneficial working relationship that benefited all the groupings involved. We see the ways the Indians and the English influenced each other, learned from each other, and helped each other.

And then we see how it all broke down, first under Massasoit's older son, Alexander, and then his younger son, Philip--as well as the sons and grandsons of the English founders, including Josiah Winslow, William Bradford, Benjamin Church, and others--engaged in a cascading series of poor decisions, failures of diplomacy, and failures to communicate.

All the peoples and cultures involved were more complex and interesting than the standard version, and that includes the Pilgrims, the Massachusetts Bay colony,and the different Indian tribes.

Highly recommended.

I bought this book.