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4.3 out of 5 stars
Mayflower: A Voyage to War
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 31 July 2007
I wasn't sure what to expect from 'Mayflower'. It had been rated as one of the best books of the year by a number of book sellers, but sometimes reading an historical novel can be quite dry and boring- who knew it could be this interesting!

To begin with, I am certain so much of what is written in this book is unknown to most people. The story of the Pilgrims has become so commonplace and hackneyed that I don't think many of us even realize what the Pilgrims were really trying to accomplish by immigrating to North America. This book puts to rest any misconceptions, romantic notions or misperceptions about this group of people called the Pilgrims. It attests to the brutal nature of the world during that time and the sometimes-horrible things a people must do to survive. The fact that any of the Pilgrims actually lived through their first few winters on this continent is truly amazing and speaks to their strong stock.

'Mayflower' begins by documenting the decisions faced by these people in England to start their lives over again in a totally different "world". Freedom of religion was their most overriding reason for wanting to begin anew. They needed a place to live and worship free from persecution. The horrific voyage and their landing on the North American shore are all laid out very vividly, and there are side stories and anecdotes about the people and their families, making it possible to have a real connection to the story. In writing about the Native American tribes in the area surrounding Plymouth Colony, it is obvious Nathaniel Philbrick has done his homework. He speaks in excruciating detail about these tribes, their leaders and particularly about their wartime strategies and nomadic ways. In addition, the relationship between the Pilgrims and the natives was so adversarial, it belies the tradition we know of the "Thanksgiving Meal". I also think most people do not realize that the Pilgrims abused their relationship with the natives and took advantage of them. It certainly shocked me, and I found myself thinking they were bloody thugs, not the cute little stovepipe hat/golden buckle wearing saints they are often depicted as. 'Mayflower' is not glamorous or enchanting, nor is it a homey and heartwarming story, it's a gritty, harrowing, bloody, real-world view of a group of people who had a hand in developing a country known as the United States of America.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 18 October 2007
" Wherever they first set foot on the American continent, it wasn't Plymouth, and it certainly wasn't Plymouth Rock. The first Thanksgiving (in 1621) was indeed attended by Indians as well as Pilgrims, but they didn't sit at the tidy table depicted in Victorian popular art; they "stood, squatted, or sat on the ground as they clustered around outdoor fires, where the deer and birds turned on wooden spits and where pottages -- stews into which varieties of meats and vegetables were thrown -- simmered invitingly."

- Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

How many of us grew up with myths about the Pilgrims and about the first Thanksgiving? We all believed that the Pilgrims and the Indians sat at a beautiful table laden with turkey, cranberries and all of the fixings. Not only was that not the case, they certainly didn't set foot on Plymouth Rock.

Philbrick puts these myths to rest. And he tells us about the beginning of our new country and what was the basis for its foundation. Our myths contained stories about Massasoit and Squanto, Bradford and Winslow and, of course, Miles Standish.

One of the major accounts in the book was that of the King Philip's War. We learned that it really did not have to be. Both sides could have developed solutions which respected the goodness in each other as well as the differences.

We learned about how the Indians were shipped off to foreign places during this war and were separated from all of their families and tribes....never to be heard from again (having been made slaves). Only a few ever made it back like Squanto, for example.

Philbrick discusses why the war occurred after so many years of peace and why the descendants of Massasoit and of Bradford and Winslow came to see things differently than their fathers; losing sight of the faith and the respect for the individual that their forefathers had long revered. They also blocked out the memory of how they all needed one another to survive.

The Mayflower Compact, we learn, is one document that laid the foundations for the country that America was to become. Yet, our forefathers had to live through a nightmare of a war (of their own making) where both sides suffered tremendously. It took many years after the war ended to ever recoup even a portion of what was lost.

Philbrick's book is a story of courage, community and war on both sides as well as a story of how our forefathers lost sight of what the Indians had done for their ancestors and their fathers and what was owed to these people. In doing so, they also lost sight of the need for diplomacy and how to work together to come up with solutions that would be good for both the settlers as well as the Indians.

MAYFLOWER has won many awards and the book deserves all of them. What I have come away with deals first with the myth. This was unraveled for me so that I could understand and gain knowledge of the facts of these early settlements. I learned what worked, what didn't work and why the peaceful compact fell apart. I also learned that we can gain a lot from understanding our past and that we do not have to make the same mistakes over again.

Nathaniel Philbrick has given us hope that our future does not always have to resemble our past. He wrote, "When violence and fear grip a society, there is an almost overpowering temptation to demonize the enemy. But some on both sides refused to succumb. They were the ones whose rambunctious and intrinsically rebellious faith in humanity finally brought the war to an end, and they are the heroes of this story."

During the times that we face now, our heroes can continue to be those leaders and citizens who strive to focus on the faith in humanity and celebrate our differences as well as our similarities finding solutions rather than reasons to turn away from each other.

Four Stars: B+ (Recommend Highly)

Bentley/2007
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 5 October 2007
The story of the Pilgrims is a familiar one. Struggling for religious freedom, a small group of Puritans left their homes and traveled to the New World where they hoped to build a new life. Arriving in New England, they were saved from hunger and the cold of winter by friendly Native Americans. They celebrated by starting the tradition of Thanksgiving. Actually, that isn't quite the way it happened. First, less than half the passengers of the Mayflower were Puritans. And it wasn't really religious freedom they were struggling for but rather the ability to force everyone to follow their religion. Ultimately, the Pilgrims did make friends with the Native Americans but it was not an easy change for them to accept the "heathen" and not all tribes in the area were friendly.

But this book is not simply about those first few years in the New World. Just one generation after the arrival of the Pilgrims, just 100 years before Lexington and Concord, the bloodiest war in the history of North America was fought. King Philip's War saw the slaughter of 15% of the Native Americans in New England with many more sent off to the Caribbean into slavery. The Pilgrim population was also decimated (one in ten white men died) leaving the Pilgrims poorer and less able to defend themselves ultimately forcing them to ask for a Royal Governor to protect them.

This book is the story of how the children of the Pilgrims ignored the lessons learned by their parents and turned against the Native Americans who had saved the Pilgrims from starvation and how by doing so, they ultimately ruined themselves. Philbrick tells the story clearly and looks at events from the side of the settlers as well as the Native peoples. The narrative takes us through the period of peace, acceptance, and accommodation between the original Pilgrims and the Native Americans to a period where the Pilgrims looked upon the Native Americans as their inferiors. Native Americans sell their land to buy guns in order to make war. The children of the Pilgrims arrest and sell into slavery Native Americans on the slightest provocation or evidence. And both sides are drawn into the inevitable war that no one really wanted. Philbrick makes the story fascinating by bringing to life many of the characters on both sides. Whether it is 1620 when the Pilgrims are just landing or 1675 when the war breaks out, Philbrick makes the story highly readable by making the story about the lives of real people.

The book is not without flaws. The pictures are of mostly poor quality and unless you are familiar with the geography of New England it is difficult to follow the movement of the various peoples during the war. However, Philbrick does a nice job of showing how the events of the 17th century were critical in creating the United States that we know today. Overall, this was a very good book that is well worth being on your reading list.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 8 February 2007
An excellent account of the first half century plus of the settlement of New England. We start with the Pilgrims leaving Lincolnshire for Holland seeking freedom to worship God according to their consciences. We learn of life in Holland and the hazardous decision to cross the ocean. Here their sufferings began. The ocean voyage was bad enough but being tricked by the captain of the second boat was among the other hazards.

As is well known, survival oh a hostile coast was only possible thanks to the co-operation of the friendly local inhabitants. It was a miracle that they survived the first winter. These people were like Cromwell, providentialists, who believed that God was watching over them by his providence. I do not think the author shares their faith but he writes with a sympathetic understanding of it including how the next generation lacked the vital faith of their fathers so later Puritans had the Half Way Covenant rather than requiring credible profession faith from church members.

Philbrick writes well. The book reads like an adventure story at times, especially during the hostilities of King Philip's war when the proportion of the population lost was far higher than any other war on U.S. soil. We also hear that the settler's victory was in part due to the help they received from Praying Indians, converts from the missionary work of John Eliot. The author is thankfully free from the modern trend of political correctness which would view Native Americans as saints and Pilgrims as rapacious colonisers. This is a fair treatment of the good and bad in both communities.I found it a moving read, especially when one read what William Bradford wrote late in life.

Fear not, poor soul, in God still trust,

Fear not the things thou suffer must;

For, whom he loves, he doth chastise,

And then all tears wipes from their eyes.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
As I read Nathaniel Philbrick's brilliant "story of courage, community, and war" in 17th century New England, I recalled one of Charles Darwin's observations, "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." That certainly proved true of those who established or later joined Plymouth Colony as well as of the natives who eventually found themselves at war with them. Of special interest to me is what Philbrick has to say about Benjamin Church, a carpenter turned Indian fighter whose maternal grandfather had sailed on the Mayflower. Church seems to embody the best of both groups: courage, decency, cunning, integrity, resourcefulness, and probably most important of all, being "responsive to change." Unlike so many others who have also examined 17th century New England, Philbrick does not think in terms of "heroes" and "villains," although he leaves no reader in doubt about Church's heroism.

I was also grateful to learn so much about King Philip's War. According to Philbrick, "When Philip's warriors attacked in June of 1675, it was not because relentless and faceless forces had given the Indians no other choice. Those forces had existed from the very beginning. War came to New England because two leaders - Philip and his English counterpart, Josiah Winslow - allowed it to happen. For Indians and English alike, there was nothing inevitable about King Philip's War, and the outbreak of fighting caught almost everyone by surprise."

Frankly,I previously had the same "conflicting preconceptions" of the period that Philbrick acknowledges in the Preface: "the time-honored tradition of how the Pilgrims came to symbolize all that is good about America and the now equally family modern tale of how the evil Europeans annihilated the innocent Native Americans." After reading this book, I understood and appreciated that "the real-life Indians and English of the seventeenth century were too smart, too generous, too greedy, too brave - in short, too human - to behave so predictably."
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I've always enjoyed Nathaniel Philbrick's books; he has a way of turning complicated history into an engaging narrative, and this book on the Pilgrim Fathers is no exception. He sets out to implode a fair few of the myths that have grown up around the origins of America, exploring the somewhat darker side of the original Pilgrim settlers, from their early dogmatism to the steadily-increasing militarism, the friendly relations with the Indians degenerating into the later demonization and slave-trade. Whilst he's at it, he also shatters the myth of the famous Plymouth Rock.

His account of the Mayflower voyage and the early years of the Plymouth settlement is the real high point of this book. Whilst he does well to set out how the Pilgrims' rigid dogma and belief in their own divine providence set them on the path to war with the Indians, I did find the jump from the early years of the colony to the outbreak of King Philip's War more than fifty years later a bit of a gulf. A bit more material about the other settlements and colonies would have been useful; to go from a narrative almost exclusively focused on one small settlement to the events of a region-wide war is somewhat jarring with little context in-between.

Still, it's a good point, and Philbrick strikes a balanced authorial tone, managing to write with sympathy about both sides of the conflict. He avoids falling into the trap of depicting the Indians as either noble savages or simply savages, just as the Pilgrims themselves are more than just deluded Europeans or religious fanatics.
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on 13 October 2012
Every American knows the story of the Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving. A group of Puritans escaping religious persecution set sail for America and land on Plymouth Rock. Unprepared for life in New England, most die the first winter from cold and hunger. Only when Squanto and his Indian friends show the Puritans how to plant corn are they able to survive and flourish in the New World. Together, the Pilgrims and Indians celebrate the harvest that forever is remembered as the First Thanksgiving. Imagine my shock, then, when I read Nathaniel Philbrick's book and discovered that hardly any of this is actually true. The first landing of the Pilgrims was not at Plymouth Rock, but across the bay in Provincetown Harbour. Squanto was not just a benign helper, but a politically ambitious player. These revelations and more make "Mayflower" an important and worthwhile read.

I only wish that Philbrick had spent more time discussing the lives of the Mayflower voyagers, both on the journey and in the colony. Understanding who these figures were and their relationships to each other, what their day to day lives were like, and how they lived and died, would have made a fascinating study. Instead, the book is primarily a discussion of English-Indian relations through the early years of the colony and culminating in King Philip's War. The Indians are often portrayed as the `noble savage' while the English are the cruel interlopers. Violence on the part of the Indians is always responsive or within acceptable boundaries; violence on the part of the Puritans, always aggressive and excessive. It would have been nice to read a more objective and less apologetic version of history; but Philbrick's "Mayflower" is still interesting and recommended for anyone who wants to know what "really" happened in history.
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on 10 June 2012
Every American knows the story of the Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving. A group of Puritans escaping religious persecution set sail for America and land on Plymouth Rock. Unprepared for life in New England, most die the first winter from cold and hunger. Only when Squanto and his Indian friends show the Puritans how to plant corn are they able to survive and flourish in the New World. Together, the Pilgrims and Indians celebrate the harvest that forever is remembered as the First Thanksgiving. Imagine my shock, then, when I read Nathaniel Philbrick's book and discovered that hardly any of this is actually true. The first landing of the Pilgrims was not at Plymouth Rock, but across the bay in Provincetown Harbour. Squanto was not just a benign helper, but a politically ambitious player. These revelations and more make "Mayflower" an important and worthwhile read.

I only wish that Philbrick had spent more time discussing the lives of the Mayflower voyagers, both on the journey and in the colony. Understanding who these figures were and their relationships to each other, what their day to day lives were like, and how they lived and died, would have made a fascinating study. Instead, the book is primarily a discussion of English-Indian relations through the early years of the colony and culminating in King Philip's War. The Indians are often portrayed as the `noble savage' while the English are the cruel interlopers. Violence on the part of the Indians is always responsive or within acceptable boundaries; violence on the part of the Puritans, always aggressive and excessive. It would have been nice to read a more objective and less apologetic version of history; but Philbrick's "Mayflower" is still interesting and recommended for anyone who wants to know what "really" happened in history.
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"Mayflower" is the story, not just of a ship and the Pilgrims who sailed on it, but of a Pilgrim people, those who followed them, the Natives with whom they met and interacted and the process they initiated that would mold America for centuries to come.

Author Nathaniel Philbrick tells the story of The Pilgrims and the "Strangers" who traveled with them to the New World, the Pilgrims in search of religious freedom and the "Strangers", the non-Pilgrim passengers of the Mayflower, who came looking for merely a new world in which to live. The life they found was cruel, brutish and short. Most of the immigrants, both the initial and subsequent waves, died in a relatively short time. Their salvation was cooperation with Indians who befriended them, taught them how to cope in their new environment and used them for their own purposes. Far from the noble natives of legend, those who allied with the English, who populated the original Plimouth Plantation that grew into the Massachusetts Bay Colony, looked on their interaction as an alliance intended to give them advantages over competing Indian tribes. Eventually the English-Indian intercourse would create a society not quite English and not quite Indian, but a Middle Ground in which each culture would blend into something unique to that place and time.

Much of "Mayflower" is devoted to an exposition of King Phillip's War, an Colonial-Indian war of 1675-1678 in which the English were drawn into Native warfare by entangling alliances which forced them to aid the tribes whom they had befriended. Although little known today, Philbrick points out that, in terms of percentage of the population killed and property destroyed, it was much more devastating to the European-American states that would inhabit America than any subsequent war.

In focusing on the first fifty years of English settlement in North America, this book points out how our nation started on a course of interaction with native cultures that would persist as we conquered the West and may still be with us today. From Massachusetts Bay forward, Euro and Native Americans would use each other for their own purposes, for good and ill. The story of the Pilgrims and Massachusetts Bay would play out whenever advanced cultures would meet less advanced ones, whether in America, The Philippines, Vietnam and, perhaps, even in Afghanistan.

Although the names and the story line are hard to follow because we are so unfamiliar with them, this is an important book to read and understand because it shows how the tree of American history was bent as a twig and grew along the same angle. Whether you are a student of early New England colonial history or American history in general, "Mayflower" fills an important niche in the American Saga.
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on 21 January 2012
Following the group of English separatists, that would become to be known as the Pilgrims. From their exile firstly to Amsterdam, then Leiden, Holland. Their traumatic voyage across the Atlantic to the New world, where they wished to recreate their beloved English lives, but in a land which granted them the freedom to pursue their religious beliefs, without persecution.

Mayflower - A Voyage To War, documents the relationship between the Plymouth Colony, and their Native Indian neighbours. How for over fifty years friendships and allies were made, and each race benefited equally by adopting elements of each others culture.
Through this give and take, peace, all be it very delicate, was maintained until a breaking point, which resulted in King Philip's War - which far exceeded both the Revolutionary and Civil wars, in terms of bloodshed, and in a much tangled tale, saw not only Indian fighting English, but many Indian tribe fighting each other.

After eighteen months or so, the colonists eventually overcame their enemy, who were for the most starving and suffering from exhaustion and disease.
The price for victory was high. Having either killed, imprisoned or sold to slavery a huge percentage of Native Indians ( not to mention the thousands, who simply fled to the north ) the settlers now found themselves with no friendly neighbours and allies, to help protect them against new attacks.
In terms of money, it would be almost a hundred years before southern New England recovered from the huge price of the war. A Royal Governor was sent from England, Plymouth Colony was dissolved and became part of Massachusetts, taxes were raised......and the rest, as they say, is history.

I found this book to be gripping, and at sometimes startling and sad.
Although a very in-depth account, it's very 'readable' and I raced through it.
I'm no academic, just a gal who loves to read history, and maybe learn a little along the way. Although packed with information, there's nothing here to make reading it a chore.

No matter if you're English, American or from wherever, this is a real myth-bustin' bomb of a book ( No turkeys here!) which I highly recommend.
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