The story begins by introducing the Puritans, a small, persecuted religious group that would soon become the Pilgrims. For the Puritans no European country was safe for them. Everywhere they went informers turned them in and the authorities broke up their religious meetings. However, on the other side of the Atlantic was the New World, a place where the Puritans could hope to worship in the way they wanted.
The Puritans may have wanted to leave their homeland because of religious persecution but, before long they realized that money was also a factor that had to be considered. It took money to make the voyage to the New World, and while there were investors who were willing to raise the money, they demanded a return on their investment. So the Puritans became part of a a company called The Adventurers. The Adventurers promised to give the Puritans what they needed for their voyage as long as they sent goods back to England.
After months of sailing on the ship Mayflower, the Puritans arrived in the New World. The Cape Cod area where the Puritans arrive was desolate. In fact, there were not even any Indians there to meet them. Nathaniel Philbrick does an excellent job of portraying the bleak, empty landscape of the New World. The hills were covered in fallow fields where Indian farmland had once been. Here and there abandoned villages moldered away, their bark huts slowly falling apart.
Once the Cape Cod area was home to thousands of Indians who farmed the land, fished the waters for cod, and traded among themselves. But years ago when explorers from the other side of the Atlantic first arrived they brought a deadly weapon with them: small pox and other infectious diseases that the Indians had no immunities to.
By the time the Puritans arrived more than three fourths of the Indian population had already been decimated by disease. The bones of these unfortunate Indians lay unburied. In many cases entire villages had been destroyed, leaving no survivors to care for the dead.
In this strange and slightly frightening landscape the Puritans would have to try to stay alive themselves, not an easy thing to do, especially considering the time of year when they arrived. In the first six months many died from disease themselves. But with the help of local Indians conditions slowly improved until the Puritans were able to make a living without Indian help.
I was fascinated by the way “The Mayflower and the Pilgrims' New World” showed the Pilgrims gradual degeneration as they lost their focus on spiritual values and became distracted by the possibilities of wealth. Before long the Puritans also became involved in power struggles with the local Indian tribes.
The Puritans wanted land, and many of the local Indian tribes wanted weapons and the help of the Puritans in subduing the other tribes. The extensive Indian deaths due to disease had left a major power vacuum that each Indian tribe wanted to fill, and they wanted to do so with the help of the Puritans.
“The Mayflower and the Pilgrims' New World” is not a simple retelling of the traditional story about Pilgrims and Indians sitting down together to celebrate the First Thanksgiving. Neither does this story lean toward either of the two extremes of showing the Indians as vicious brutes or completely innocent victims.
Rather Nathaniel Philbrick’s book takes a balanced approach to the story, showing the power struggles between the Indians and the Pilgrims. Each group had their own conniving leaders with plans for self-advancement.
I really enjoyed Nathaniel Philbrick’s fresh look at the story of the Pilgrims, and especially his powerful ending which shows the ultimate culmination of the Puritan’s effect in the New World. Fifty-six years after the Mayflower landed in the New World, another ship named the Seaflower left the New World. This ship was full of Indians that would be sold as slaves to plantation owners. “The Mayflower and the Pilgrims' New World” shows the chain of events that led from the landing of the Mayflower to the departure of the Seaflower.
I definitely recommend “The Mayflower and the Pilgrims' New World,” by Nathaniel Philbrick because of its historical details and impartial look at history.
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Historical Books by Nathaniel Philbrick: