Written by: Nathaniel Philbrick
Published By: Penguin Books
Reviewed by Dorothy Doremus
Ah, the tale of the first Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims, after the long journey from England, set foot on Plymouth Rock where they meet Squanto who befriended them. After which, they all sit and have a feast of turkey with all of the trimmings and give thanks. If this is your idea of how the first Thanksgiving was, you will be extremely disappointed.
Mayflower is far from your teachers’ story of a loving and peaceful holiday. It begins with the journey of the Pilgrims who left the shores of Holland in search of the Hudson Valley. Having discovered that religious freedom was out of reach in their own country, they chartered the Mayflower in hopes of finding that freedom in a new land. It took the better part of two months to reach the New World and most of the crew was sickening fast. Captain John Smith knew he was north of the Hudson Valley, but couldn’t wait to make landfall. He decided that getting the ship ashore was what needed to be done.
Once again, the Pilgrims were in peril. They didn’t have food and winter was fast approaching. They raided Indian storage piles and stole food and tools. But the stolen food was not enough to sustain the colony and half the population died in the first year.
Interestingly, I was always taught in school that Squanto was a friend of the Pilgrims who wished to make the rest of the Indian tribe their friends as well. In actuality, Squanto was a fraud. He was captured and sent to Spain and England as a slave and later returned to the colonies. Squanto was an interpreter for the English, but it was discovered that he was really pitting the two parties against one another.
Over the first fifty years, even with plotters such as Squanto, all was quite peaceful and then it all went horribly wrong. Some of the Indians began to adopt Christianity as a religion which didn’t sit well with the sachem. That was not the only think that caused problems – greed played a role as well.
As I read Mayflower, I foolishly found myself waiting for that feast. I mean, why would our history teachers ignore true history, preferring a sugarcoated version of the situation over facts? Well, this book does anything but sugarcoat things. It includes everything from Massasoit, the brave Indian leader to Benjamin Church’s killing of King Phillip. The book is a page turner and really makes you understand the interesting balance between cultures and why that balance was so fragile. I truly understand why this was a New York Times Bestseller and I will never look at the story of the Pilgrims through rose-colored glasses again.