Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and Warby Nathaniel Philbrick
From the perilous ocean crossing to the shared bounty of the first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrim settlement of New England has become enshrined as our most sacred national myth. Yet, as bestselling author Nathaniel Philbrick/i>
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From the bestselling author of In the Heart of the Sea -- winner of the National Book Award -- the startling story of the Plymouth Colony.
From the perilous ocean crossing to the shared bounty of the first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrim settlement of New England has become enshrined as our most sacred national myth. Yet, as bestselling author Nathaniel Philbrick reveals in his spellbinding new book, the true story of the Pilgrims is much more than the well-known tale of piety and sacrifice; it is a fifty-five-year epic that is at once tragic, heroic, exhilarating, and profound.
The Mayflower's religious refugees arrived in Plymouth Harbor during a period of crisis for Native Americans as disease spread by European fishermen devastated their populations. Initially the two groups -- the Wampanoags, under the charismatic and calculating chief Massasoit, and the Pilgrims, whose pugnacious military officer Miles Standish was barely five feet tall -- maintained a fragile working relationship. But within decades, New England would erupt into King Philip's War, a savagely bloody conflict that nearly wiped out English colonists and natives alike and forever altered the face of the fledgling colonies and the country that would grow from them.
With towering figures like William Bradford and the distinctly American hero Benjamin Church at the center of his narrative, Philbrick has fashioned a fresh and compelling portrait of the dawn of American history-a history dominated right from the start by issues of race, violence, and religion.
For sixty-five days, the Mayflower had blundered her way through storms and headwinds, her bottom a shaggy pelt of seaweed and barnacles, her leaky decks spewing salt walter onto her passengers' devoted heads. There were 102 of them -- 104 if you counted the two dogs: a spaniel and a giant, slobbery mastiff . . . . They were a most unusual group of colonists. Instead of noblemen, craftsmen, and servants -- the types of people who had founded Jamestown in Virginia -- these were, for the most part, families: men, women, and children who were willing to endure almost anything if it meant they could worship as they pleased . . . .
It was a stunningly audacious proposition. With the exception of Jamestown, all other attempts to establish a permanent English settlement on the North American continent had so far failed. And Jamestown, founded in 1607, could hardly be counted a success . . . . Between 1619 and 1622, the Virginia Company would send close to 3,600 settlers to the colony; over that three-year period, 3,000 would die.
In addition to starvation and disease, there was the threat of Indian attack. At the university library in Leiden [the town in Holland where the Puritans had lived] were sensational accounts left by earlier explorers and settlers, telling how the Indians "delight to torment men in the most bloody manner that may be; flaying some alive with the shells of fishes, cutting off the members and joints of others by piecemeal and broiling on the coals." How could parents willingly subject their children to the risk of such a fate?
In the end, all arguments for and against emigrating to America ended with the conviction that God wanted them to go.
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By Nathaniel Philbrick
Viking AdultISBN: 0-670-03760-5
Chapter OneThey Knew They Were Pilgrims
For sixty-five days, the Mayflower had blundered her way through storms and headwinds, her bottom a shaggy pelt of seaweed and barnacles, her leaky decks spewing salt water onto her passengers' devoted heads. There were 102 of them-104 if you counted the two dogs: a spaniel and a giant, slobbery mastiff. Most of their provisions and equipment were beneath them in the hold, the primary storage area of the vessel. The passengers were in the between, or 'tween, decks-a dank, airless space about seventy-five feet long and not even five feet high that separated the hold from the upper deck. The 'tween decks was more of a crawlspace than a place to live, made even more claustrophobic by the passengers' attempts to provide themselves with some privacy. A series of thin-walled cabins had been built, creating a crowded warren of rooms that overflowed with people and their possessions: chests of clothing, casks of food, chairs, pillows, rugs, and omni-present chamber pots. There was even a boat-cut into pieces for later assembly-doing temporary duty as a bed.
They were nearly ten weeks into a voyage that was supposed to have been completed during the balmy days of summer. But they had started late, and it was now November, and winter was coming on. They had long since run out of firewood, and they were reaching the slimy bottoms of their water casks. Of even greaterconcern, they were down to their last casks of beer. Due to the notoriously bad quality of the drinking water in seventeenth-century England, beer was considered essential to a healthy diet. And sure enough, with the rationing of their beer came the unmistakable signs of scurvy: bleeding gums, loosening teeth, and foul-smelling breath. So far only two had died-a sailor and a young servant-but if they didn't reach land soon many more would follow.
They had set sail with three pregnant mothers: Elizabeth Hopkins, Susanna White, and Mary Allerton. Elizabeth had given birth to a son, appropriately named Oceanus, and Susanna and Mary were both well along in their pregnancies.
It had been a miserable passage. In midocean, a fierce wave had exploded against the old ship's topsides, straining a structural timber until it had cracked like a chicken bone. The Mayflower's master, Christopher Jones, had considered turning back to England. But Jones had to give his passengers their due. They knew next to nothing about the sea or the savage coast for which they were bound, but their resolve was unshakable. Despite all they had so far suffered-agonizing delays, seasickness, cold, and the scorn and ridicule of the sailors-they had done everything in their power to help the carpenter repair the fractured beam. They had brought a screw jack-a mechanical device used to lift heavy objects-to assist them in constructing houses in the New World. With the help of the screw jack, they lifted the beam into place, and once the carpenter had hammered in a post for support, the Mayflower was sound enough to continue on.
They were a most unusual group of colonists. Instead of noblemen, craftsmen, and servants-the types of people who had founded Jamestown in Virginia-these were, for the most part, families-men, women, and children who were willing to endure almost anything if it meant they could worship as they pleased. The motivating force behind the voyage had come from a congregation of approximately four hundred English Puritans living in Leiden, Holland. Like all Puritans, these English exiles believed that the Church of England must be purged of its many excesses and abuses. But these were Puritans with a vengeance. Instead of working for change within the established church, they had resolved to draw away from the Church of England-an illegal act in Jacobean England. Known as Separatists, they represented the radical fringe of the Puritan movement. In 1608, they had decided to do as several groups of English Separatists had done before them: emigrate to the more religiously tolerant country of Holland.
They had eventually settled in Leiden, a university town that could not have been more different from the rolling, sheep-dotted fields of their native England. Leiden was a redbrick labyrinth of building-packed streets and carefully engineered canals, a city overrun with refugees from all across Europe. Under the leadership of their charismatic minister, John Robinson, their congregation had more than tripled in size. But once again, it had become time for them to leave.
As foreigners in Holland, many of them had been forced to work menial, backbreaking jobs in the cloth industry, and their health had suffered. Despite the country's reputation for religious tolerance, a new and troubling era had come to Holland as a debate among the leading theologians of the day sparked civil unrest and, on occasion, violence. Just the year before, a member of their congregation had almost been killed by a rock-hurling crowd. Even worse, a Dutch treaty with Spain was about to expire, and it was feared Leiden might soon be subjected to the same kind of siege that had resulted in the deaths of half the city's residents during the previous century.
But their chief worry involved their children. Gradually and inevitably, they were becoming Dutch. The congregation had rejected the Church of England, but the vast majority of its members were still proudly, even defiantly, English. By sailing to the New World, they hoped to re-create the English village life they so dearly missed while remaining beyond the meddlesome reach of King James and his bishops.
It was a stunningly audacious proposition. With the exception of Jamestown, all other attempts to establish a permanent English settlement on the North American continent had so far failed. And Jamestown, founded in 1607, could hardly be counted a success. During the first year, 70 of 108 settlers had died. The following winter came the "starving time," when 440 of 500 settlers were buried in just six months. As it turned out, the most lethal days in Jamestown were yet to come. Between 1619 and 1622, the Virginia Company would send close to 3,600 settlers to the colony; over that three-year period, 3,000 would die.
In addition to starvation and disease, there was the threat of Indian attack. At the university library in Leiden were sensational accounts left by earlier explorers and settlers, telling how the Indians "delight to torment men in the most bloody manner that may be; flaying some alive with the shells of fishes, cutting off the members and joints of others by piecemeal and broiling on the coals." How could parents willingly subject their children to the risk of such a fate?
In the end, all arguments for and against emigrating to America ended with the conviction that God wanted them to go. The world, they believed, was on the verge of the millennium-the thousand-year rule of the saints predicted in the book of Revelation. In 1618, a comet appeared in the skies over Europe, signaling, many thought, the final, apocalyptic battle of good against evil. And, in fact, what became known as the Thirty Years' War would rage across the Continent as Protestant and Catholic forces reduced much of Europe to a burning, corpse-strewn battleground. So far, England had avoided this conflict, and as all God-fearing English Puritans knew, their country had been earmarked by the Lord to lead his forces in triumph. Instead of Europe, perhaps America, a continent previously dominated by the Catholic powers of Spain and France, was where God intended to bring the reformed Protestant Church to perfection. All Englishmen had heard of the atrocities the Spaniards' hateful hunt for gold had inflicted on the Indians of America. England, it had been predicted by Richard Hakluyt, the chronicler of British exploration, would do it differently. It was the Leideners' patriotic and spiritual duty to plant a godly English plantation in the New World. "We verily believe and trust the Lord is with us," they wrote, "and that He will graciously prosper our endeavors according to the simplicity of our hearts therein."
Their time in Leiden, they now realized, had been a mere rehearsal for the real adventure. "We are well weaned from the delicate milk of our mother country," they wrote, "and inured to the difficulties of a strange and hard land, which yet in a great part we have by patience overcome." Most important, however, they were "knit together as a body in a most strict and sacred bond."
They were weavers, wool carders, tailors, shoemakers, and printers, with almost no relevant experience when it came to carving a settlement out of the American wilderness. And yet, because of the extraordinary spiritual connection they had developed as exiles in Leiden and even before, they were prepared for whatever lay ahead. "[I]t is not with us as with other men," they confidently insisted, "whom small things can discourage, or small discontentments cause to wish themselves home again." Or, as one of their number, a thirty-year-old corduroy worker named William Bradford, later wrote, "they knew they were pilgrims."
Taking Bradford's lead, we refer to them today as the Pilgrims, a name that is as good as any to describe a people who were almost always on the move-even after they had supposedly found a home in America. If not for Bradford's steady, often forceful leadership, it is doubtful whether there ever would have been a colony. Without his Of Plymouth Plantation, certainly the greatest book written in seventeenth-century America, there would be almost no information about the voyage with which it all began. For William Bradford, however, the true voyage had begun close to twenty years before.
Bradford was born in the tiny farming town of Austerfield, Yorkshire, deep in northern England, where the closest thing to a wilderness was the famed Sherwood Forest to the south. The Great North Road from London to Edinburgh (actually more of a ribbon of mud than a proper road) passed nearby, but few from Austerfield had ever ventured far from home.
Although he came from a family of prosperous, land-rooted farmers, Bradford had experienced more than his share of dislocation and loss. By the time he turned twelve, he had lost not only his father, his mother, and a sister, but also the grandfather who had raised him. Soon after moving in with his two uncles, he was struck by a mysterious ailment that prevented him from working in the fields. Bradford later claimed that his "long sickness" had saved him from "the vanities of youth, and made him the fitter for what he was afterwards to undergo." Most important, his illness gave him the opportunity to read.
Lonely and intelligent, he looked to the Bible for consolation and guidance. For a boy in need of instruction, the Geneva Bible, translated in the previous century by a small team of English ministers and equipped with helpful notes and appendices, was just the thing. There was also John Foxe's Book of Martyrs, a compelling, tremendously popular account of the Protestants martyred by Queen Elizabeth's Catholic predecessor on the throne, "Bloody Mary." Foxe's insistence that England was, like Israel before it, God's chosen nation had a deep and lasting influence on Bradford, and as Foxe made horrifyingly clear, to be a godly Englishman sometimes required a person to make the ultimate sacrifice.
At issue at the turn of the seventeenth century-and long before-was the proper way for a Christian to gain access to the will of God. Catholics and more conservative Protestants believed that the traditions of the church contained valid, time-honored additions to what was found in the Bible. Given man's fallen condition, no individual could presume to question the ancient, ceremonial truths of the established church.
But for the Puritans, man's fallen nature was precisely the point. All one had to do was witness a typical Sunday service in England-in which parishioners stared dumbly at a minister mumbling incomprehensible phrases from the Book of Common Prayer-to recognize how far most people were from a true engagement with the word of God.
A Puritan believed it was necessary to venture back to the absolute beginning of Christianity, before the church had been corrupted by centuries of laxity and abuse, to locate divine truth. In lieu of time travel, there was the Bible, with the New Testament providing the only reliable account of Christ's time on earth while the Old Testament contained a rich storehouse of still vital truths. If something was not in the scriptures, it was a man-made distortion of what God intended. At once radical and deeply conservative, the Puritans had chosen to spurn thousands of years of accumulated tradition in favor of a text that gave them a direct and personal connection to God.
A Puritan had no use for the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer, since it tampered with the original meaning of the Bible and inhibited the spontaneity that they felt was essential to attaining a true and honest glimpse of the divine. Hymns were also judged to be a corruption of God's word-instead, a Puritan read directly from the Bible and sang scrupulously translated psalms whose meaning took precedence over the demands of rhyme and meter. As staunch "primitivists," Puritans refused to kneel while taking communion, since there was no evidence that the apostles had done so during the Last Supper. There was also no biblical precedent for making the sign of the cross when uttering Christ's name. Even more important, there was no precedent for the system of bishops that ran the Church of England. The only biblically sanctioned organizational unit was the individual congregation.
The Puritans believed that a congregation began with a covenant (a term they took from the Bible) between a group of believers and God. As a self-created and independent entity, the congregation elected a university-trained minister and, if the occasion should arise, voted him out. The Puritans also used the concept of a covenant to describe the individual's relationship with God. Ever since the Fall, when Adam had broken his covenant of works with God, man had been deserving of perpetual damnation. God had since made a covenant with Christ; upon the fulfillment of that covenant, God had offered a covenant of grace to just a small minority of people, known as the Saints.
The Puritans believed that the identity of the Saints had long since been determined by God. This meant that there was nothing a person could do to win salvation. But instead of being a reason to forsake all hope, what was known as predestination became a powerful goad to action. No one could be entirely sure as to who was one of the elect, and yet, if a person was saved, he or she naturally lived a godly life. As a result, the Puritans were constantly comparing their own actions to those of others, since their conduct might indicate whether or not they were saved. Underlying this compulsive quest for reassurance was a person's conscience, which one divine described as "the voice of God in man."
A Puritan was taught to recognize the stages by which he or she might experience a sureness of redemption. It began with a powerful response to the "preaching of the word," in which God revealed the heights to which a person must aspire if he or she was to achieve grace. This was followed by a profound sense of inadequacy and despair that eventually served as a prelude to, if a person was destined to be redeemed, "saving grace." From this rigorous program of divine discipline a Puritan developed the confidence that he or she was, in fact, one of the elect. For William Bradford, who had lost almost everyone he had ever loved, this emotionally charged quest for divinity would lead not only to the assurance of his own redemption but to the family he had never known.
Bradford was just twelve years old when he became uneasy with the way God was worshipped in Austerfield. Like just about every village in England, Austerfield possessed a small stone church built soon after the Norman Conquest in the eleventh century. But the Austerfield church, known as St. Helena's, was-and is-unusual. Over the door is a primitive stone carving from a much earlier era depicting an open-mouthed snake. One can only wonder whether this weird, almost runic figure first suggested to the young Bradford that the Puritans were right: the Church of England had been poisoned by "that old serpent Satan." He must seek out a congregation of like-minded believers and worship God as the Bible instructed.
In Scrooby, an even tinier town than Austerfield a few miles down the road in northern Nottinghamshire, he eventually found what he was looking for. In an old manor house, just a few decades from being demolished, lived the town's postmaster, William Brewster. It was here that a group of Separatists gathered every Sunday to worship in secret under the direction of two ministers, one of whom was the young John Robinson.
Excerpted from Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Nathaniel Philbrick is the author of the New York Times bestseller In the Heart of the Sea, which won the National Book Award for nonfiction; Sea of Glory, which won the Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Naval History Prize; he New York Times Bestseller Mayflower which was a finalist for both the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History and the Los Angeles Times Book Award; The Last Stand, Why Read Moby-Dick?, and Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution. He lives on Nantucket. His new book Valiant Ambition: George Washignton, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution will be published in Ma 2016.
- Nantucket, Massachusetts
- Date of Birth:
- June 11, 1956
- Place of Birth:
- Boston, Massachusetts
- B.A., Brown University, 1978; M.A., Duke University
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Nathaniel Philbrick writes a provocative and revealing story about our country's beginnings. He not only shows us the truth behind some of our most treasured myths regarding our country's beginnings, but reveals a fifty year epic that is filled with tragedy and heroism. From the drama of the initial voyage of the Mayflower to King Philip's War fifty years later the author shows us the human story behind the historic events. He brings to life characters whose names have been legend. He also addresses many disturbing issues regarding race, economic opportunity, religious freedom and war. A must read for history buffs or anyone who just likes a ripping good tale.
Excellent read, copious amounts of information. The author does an excellent job at laying out the facts of what really transpired in those early days on this continent. I was impressed, ashamed, and in awe of the colonists. Not your elementary story of Thanksgiving.
I listened to this book on CD . Having it read to me by the excellent narrator was a special treat. I love reading history, especially early American history. This book gives insights into the Pilgrims' and Puritans' lives in the 17th century, their ever changing relationships with the native population and the human strengths and weaknesses that shaped our country's history. Often I was amazed at how many parallels there were to modern time politics and how in many ways human behaviour has not changed in 400 years. A fascinating book.
I read this book mostly to find out more information on my ancestor John Howland, but I ended up learning more about this early American settlement than I did in school. I always thought that once the Pilgrims landed and had the first Thanksgiving that was it. I was wrong, I didn't know about all the struggles that they were put through, how much they suffered when they arrived. If you like American History, you should definitely pick this title up.
Damn, I thought the indians were invented by Hollywood and pilgrims were anybody that John Wayne didn't remember their first name. Finally, we get the full story via Philbrick -- and what a story. Imagine you are a native American and you are looking out to sea when a ship appears bearing a bunch of white people who will be elbowing you off your land in a couple of decades. I'm surprised the indians didn't get rid of these 'interlopers' immediately. Seriously, though, this book tells us more about the start-up of America than most of what we learned in school. It puts a human face on the early settlers as well as the natives -- neither much diffferent than they are today. In other words 'human.' Anyone who thinks they know our early history should not miss this telling -- a fine piece of work.
By far one of the most interesting historical books I've read recently. Everyone knows the traditional "Thanksgiving Day scenerio", this gives the reader a true picture of the real relationship between the Pilgrims and the Native Indians. It was an eye opener and I'd highly recommend it!
I got this book for my birthday and i was sceptical, once i gave it a try i cold not put it down
Like many of the best history novels, this one is a personal discovery by the reader into our past. It enlightens you into the pure humanity of those who have since been mythologized. These were people, with their faults, but also their ideals. Sometimes it's important to be reminded that not all of the historical figures from our past were menacing crusaders, but simply humans in search of a better life.
This book has been called "revisionist history". Maybe so, but it is a very good attempt to consider all of the characters and situations influencing the first 55 years of the first long term European settlement in what has come to be known as New England. Mr. Philbrick delves into the motivations and beliefs of all of the parties involved and generally, but not always, uses great restraint in his judgement of their actions. To his credit, he goes out of his way to temper his editorial comment to be meaningful when considered against the beliefs, customs, and histories of the people involved, pointing out how they may have justified or rationalized actions that played out across the region, changing it forever. Growing up in the region that this epic drama played out in, and having a great interest in the time period covered in the book, I was impressed with his research and continuity of story abilities. He fleshed out a lot of situations I had heard about, and also introduced me to significant conflicts and periods that I had never heard of but which were germaine to the story. Fascinating history.
I was disappointed in this book. Thought I'd get a picture of the MAYFLOWER's *journey*. And after that I was looking for settlement information, how they lived and created their new communities, personal commentary on everyday life. Instead, the book was filled with the usual political-military minutiae of history books: leaders, battles, maneuvers, battle detail--who did what to whom. I did like the balance of responsibility between Native Americans and the English settlers. The only place I really became interested was when the woman captive related her observations. I found this book to be a tedious read.
As a meer boy of 14 I thought that it would take me weeks to read this book. It took me about a week to get to page 90, but, then I really got into it and I couldn't put it down. Two days later I was finished. I thought that it read like a novel. All aspects of this book, especially with the action parts, were masterfully written. I just thought that the name of the book shouldn't of been called Mayflower because it was only mentioned breifly. Other than that, I thought it the best non-fiction book that I've ever read.
Nathaniel Philbrick has presented the Mayflower saga in a facinating and humbling account of fortitude, bravery and wretched indignation that can only be seen as the real story. How sad it is that we can so quickly forget that survival can depend on our relationships with others. There is no doubt that overwhelming numbers ensured our continuance on this continent and sealed the fate of the 'true native Americans'. Perhaps the lessons of the Bradfords and the Churches aren't outdated and might have some meaning today if we had sense enough to embrace them. Mega cudo's to an author who ranks in my top 2 : Philbrick and King
Forget the history you were taught in the fifth grade about the Pilgrims. Disavow yourself of notions of English emigrants seeking religious liberty for all. Purge yourself of the anecdotal fraternity among black-suited Puritans and wampum-clad Native Americans. Nathaniel Philbrick, in Mayflower, provides a well-researched and extensive history of what really happened in New England between 1620, when the Pilgrims "borrowed" the Indians’ winter supplies of corn, and 1676, when the last warriors were executed, pacified or sold as slaves. His chronology of two cultures adapting to each other is thorough and insightful. While the Wampanoag, Narragansett, Pequot and other nations had their legends, it’s instructive to see in Mayflower how today’s Americans’ myths derive from the discovery of William Bradford’s “Of Plymouth Plantation,” publication of Longfellow’s “The Courtship of Miles Standish,” and President Lincoln turning Thanksgiving into a gluttonous holiday. (The Wampanoag may be getting their revenge through government approval a casino in Marlborough, Mass.) Philbrick’s thesis isn’t to denigrate the English in early America as much as it is to chronicle the mistakes that led to hostilities between tribes and settlers. “There are two possible responses to a world suddenly gripped by terror and contention. There is [one] way: get mad and get even. But as the course of King Philip’s War proved, unbridled arrogance and fear only feed the flames of violence.” Philbrick’s history lesson was as true in 1676 as it is now.
A very good look at the entire time period of which the Mayflower was a part. America was a varied and complex place with the many different types and varieties of Native American tribes, along with the many types and varieties of colonists. Good information on some of the individuals involved and good coverage of King Philip's war.
This book tells the Mayflower story in a way you never studied in school. Philbrick writes about the Pilgrims and the Indians whose names you knew--but he develops their relationships, inter-dependency, and rift (culminating in war) in a whole new way. This history is very REAL--with issues not unlike today. It is a page-turner, something not often said about historical non-fiction.
Fantastic, eead like a novel, but thoroughly researched. The best book on the market about this topic
Very tough read. I found I wasn't the only person who had to take notes with all the names, info, tribes, etc. I loaned it to a friend and got it back with all their notes in it.
MORE LIKE A DETAILED TEXT BOOK
Well-written and detailed with excellent notes
Little about The Mayflower, much about the settlng of New England states. If you are from the area of Boston, you will probably find some interesting points regarding local folklore, legends and such. For the rest of us, not so much. Very disapointing from an author who gave us such an epic sea faring adventure as Heart of theSea.