Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War by Nathaniel Philbrick

The Pilgrims sailed to America on the Mayflower in 1620. Mayflower tells the story of the voyage but mainly concerns what happened after the Pilgrims landed. The story ends in 1676 with the conclusion of King Philip’s War between the English and the American Indians (also known as Indians and Americans). 

I didn’t know that the Pilgrims were supposed to land near the Hudson River, not in Massachusetts (that famous meal might have been in Hoboken, New Jersey). I also didn’t know that the Pilgrims landed on Cape Cod and spent a month there before settling in Plymouth. Or that most of them died of starvation and disease. Or that there was a second ship (the Fortune), the arrival of which doubled the population of Plymouth. Or that the Puritans considered marriage to be a civil ceremony, not a religious one, since the Bible doesn’t mention ministers conducting weddings. 

I did know that many of the Pilgrims lived in Holland before coming to America and that they came to America seeking religious freedom for themselves, not for other people. They wanted everyone to practice religion as they did. 

I kept wanting to tell the Indians to be careful. It is surprising to read how much the Indians did for the Pilgrims, how many Indians converted to Christianity, and how many of them were willing to fight with the Pilgrims against other Indians. If only they had known that they were going to be overrun by their new neighbors. But that result was probably inevitable, since America was such a tempting target for colonization by the English, French, Spanish and Dutch. 

The book is unnecessarily long and contains too much detail, too many names, and too many comings and goings. The most interesting character in the book is Benjamin Church, who is considered the unofficial founder of the US Army Rangers. He was an Indian fighter who learned from the Indians and treated them with respect and compassion. 

The Pilgrims were lucky to survive. It might have been better if they hadn’t, since the Indians (the Americans) were in some ways more honorable and civilized than they were. (5/23/11)

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