Mayflower: A Voyage to War Hardcover – 5 Jun 2006
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‘Philbrick's account brings the Plymouth Colony and its leaders, including William Bradford, Benjamin Church and the bellicose, dwarfish Miles Standish, vividly to life. More importantly, he brings into focus a gruesome period in early American history. For Philbrick, this is yet another award-worthy story of survival.’ Publishers Weekly
‘Nathaniel Philbrick breathes fresh life into this familiar tale…as a lively account of the Pilgrims' flight from England to Holland and then to New England, “Mayflower” could hardly be bettered.’ Times Literary Supplement
About the Author
Nathaniel Philbrick is a historian and broadcaster who has written extensively about sailing. He is director of the Egan Institute of Maritime Studies on Nantucket Island, and a research fellow at the Nantucket Historical Association. He has lived in Nantucket with his wife and two children since 1986.
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From then on I was right bored.
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He tells two essential tales separated by the moral corrosion of 50 years. The first, often inspiring in its fortitude, sees a young corduroy worker called William Bradford help lead his Puritan flock from exile in the Netherlands to the promise of Plymouth Rock. These settlers die in huge numbers from starvation and disease. Only a friendship forged with the Pokanoket Indians and their chief, Massasoit, gives them hope, then prosperity. But the one, over time, kills the other.
In the beginning, the Indians trade and prosper as partners. Too soon, though, the market in furs changes and they have nothing left to sell except their land, which means the ability to feed themselves. Gradually, they become hungrier, poorer, more desperate while the second generation of Mayflower pilgrims and the sons of the 'Strangers' who came with them - religious asylum seekers and economic migrants thrust together on a single ship - look on with mounting scorn. Massasoit's son, Wamsutta, is chief now and vows that no more land will be sold. He dies in suspicious circumstances and his young brother, Philip, seeks a policy that may see his tribe survive. But the white men see no point in helping him. They stumble into the slaughter called 'King Philip's War'.
What follows is sometimes unbearably tragic. In 15 months - from May 1675 to August 1676 - Plymouth Colony sees 8 per cent of its men fall in battle, almost double the Civil War killing rate. And a Native American population that once totalled 20,000 counts 2,000 lost in battle, 3,000 dead of sickness and starvation, 1,000 shipped away as slaves and 2,000 more doomed to wander far afield in search of a new home. The casualties and the aftermath are brutal.
Worse, brutality consumes both sides as they struggle for supremacy. Take the 'Great Swamp Fight' that later American writers hailed as 'one of the most glorious victories ever achieved in our history'. But 200 English troops, out of a thousand, are dead or wounded; and perhaps 600 men, women and children from the Narrangansett tribe are burnt to death in the remnants of the fort they built as security against being dragged into the Pokanokets' war. English 'intelligence' wasn't up to deducing that, however. It predicted an attack which never came and mindlessly drove what was left of the Narrangansett to take King Philip's side.
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We are in an echo chamber of horrors here. Who do the English, with their old flintlock guns and creaking European battlefield routines, remind you of? Where did the Indians get the guns they used to such surprising effect? (Yes, from English arms dealers). Who does the bedraggled figure of Philip himself, left roaming the wilderness with only handful of supporters by his side yet still possessing a famed power to inspire, bring to mind somewhere on the Hindu Kush?
Philbrick develops none of these parallels himself, but his gift for understanding, for shrewd humanity, makes the process natural and inevitable. This is more than a small, forgotten war in the first days of America's development. It is a case study in folly, fear and ignorance.
The Native Americans helped the earliest of the pilgrims survive. They became wise friends, not enemies. Forgetfulness pushed them to extremes and almost annihilated them, yet, in the decisive encounters that finally destroyed this rebellion, it was other, loyal Indians who tipped the balance. Read the lessons and wince. Maybe today, on one estimate, there are more than 35 million descendants of those Mayflower pilgrims living in America. It's good that they can read this enthralling, scholarly book and know where they came from: with pride, but also, like all of us, with the pain of self-recognition.
- 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)
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