Nathaniel Philbrick became an internationally renowned author with his National Book Awardwinning In the Heart of the Sea, hailed as spellbinding by Time magazine In Mayflower, Philbrick casts his spell once again, giving us a fresh and extraordinarily vivid account of our most sacred national myth: the voyage of the Mayflower and the settlement of Plymouth Colony From the Mayflower's arduous Atlantic crossing to the eruption of King Philip's War between colonists and natives decades later, Philbrick reveals in this electrifying history of the Pilgrims a fiftyfiveyear epic, at once tragic and heroic, that still resonates with us today Instead of the story we already know, it becomes the story we need to know.This story had very little to do with the voyage of the Mayflower or even the Mayflower Compact but is indeed an in depth Story of Courage, Community, and War Growing up I had learned the popular version of the story of the Pilgrims They left Europe seeking religious freedom and after a difficult voyage on the Mayflower settled in New England where they struggled to survive and the Native Americans came to their aide There was a celebration with the Pilgrims and Native Americans that we now recognize as Thanksgiving and celebrate every November.Plymouth Colony consisted ofthan just Pilgrims They were joined on the Mayflower by others who were not part of their religious group The Strangers Half of the colonists died the first year and another ship brought additional colonists to Plymouth who were not Pilgrims Although the Pilgrims came to New England seeking religious freedom they were not very tolerant of others as the Quakers learned Individuals were executed for crimes that were a violation of their beliefs.I have heard stories of how Native Americans were decimated by disease brought over from Europe but didn't realize the scope or how soon this happened I also did not know about the many different tribes that lived in New England One of these was the Pokenokets whose sachem (chief) was named Massasoit who formed and allegiance with the Pilgrims in order to enhance his position with respect to rival tribes Another Native American who appeared to be supportive of the Pilgrims was named Squanto and acted as a translator but he was motivated by his own Machiavellian schemes Clearly the Native Americans were not just passive dupes to exploitation and domination by Europeans.I had never heard of King Phillip's War This was a 14 month conflict that nearly wiped out both the colonists and Native Americans Phillip was the European name given to Massasoit's son and the reason he was called King Phillip was due to the fact that he apparently equated himself with King Charles There was plenty of arrogance and stupidity on both sides and one has to wonder whether the war was inevitable.If there is a hero in this story I think it would be Benjamin Church, principal aide to Plymouth’s governor, Josiah Winslow Throughout the conflict he appears to have recognized that the Native Americans were humans and not savages He was an advocate to use some of the tribes as allies He was also against selling Native Americans into slavery.This was an eye opening account of what life was really like in the earliest days of New England It was brutal and we should be thankful that colonists and Native Americans did not totally wipe each other out due to their arrogance and stupidity. I have to admit, I am one of those naïve Americans that has walked around in a bit of a fantasy land when it comes to the history of Plymouth and the Pilgrims From grade school, I knew they desired freedom to worship their religion without persecution In order to do so, they faced a difficult journey aboard the Mayflower prior to landing on the shores of New England There’s a giant rock on which they must have set foot after disembarking from the ship I know the Pilgrims struggled to survive and the Native Americans came to their rescue They celebrated the First Thanksgiving with the Native Americans, a holiday which we now sit down to every November in order to indulge and give thanks Well, that’s it in a nutshell, right? Or so I believed! Nathaniel Philbrick, however, has set me straight and enlightened me waythan I could ever have imagined! Mayflower is extremely well researched and undeniably wellwritten However, it is quite dense with very detailed information regarding muchthan the voyage of the Mayflower and the original settlement of Plymouth colony Philbrick takes us beyond those years through the next couple of generations and presents a factual account of the violent and bloody wars fought between the New Englanders and the Native Americans The first Thanksgiving most certainly did not end in a ‘happily ever after’ situation There were numerous conflicts, various alliances between the New Englanders and Native Americans, and treachery I was often quite shocked to learn of the behavior exhibited by some of the Pilgrims’ descendants It wasn’t very pretty and not something I feel proud to claim as part of my American heritage Speaking of heritage, Philbrick tells us that In 2002 it was estimated that there were approximately 35 million descendants of the Mayflower passengers in the United States, which represents roughly 10 percent of the total U.S population Philbrick, however, does tell us the good with the bad and we also learn of some of theupstanding descendants Little tidbits of facts like this were what I enjoyed most about the book It helped me slog through some of thetextbooklike sections when I knew I might find a little nugget of information I could perhaps read aloud to my husband – or maybe even share with the family at our Thanksgiving gathering in a couple of weeks from now I may hesitate to share this view though Fiftysix years after the sailing of the Mayflower, the Pilgrims’ children had not only defeated the Pokanokets in a devastating war, they had taken conscious, methodical measures to purge the land of its people Perhaps we will have to seriously indulge a bit before smashing the myth all to bits! My favorite little chronicle was one which involved Captain Benjamin Church, principal aide to Plymouth’s governor, Josiah Winslow During one of the final skirmishes of King Philip’s War, several Native Americans were taken as captives When Church asked one of the older captives his name, he was answered with ‘Conscience’ Philbrick tells us that Church replied, Conscience, then the war is over, for that was what they were searching for, it being much wanting Indeed! I found this to be a worthwhile read, although a bit dry throughout the middle to last sections of the book Last year I read Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex and found it to be immensely entertaining and quite effortless It read much like fiction, and so I expected much of the same with Mayflower However, in my opinion, this waslike the sort of nonfiction book from which I previously steered away – one which presents copious facts and dates to the extent that I feel like I am back in school Some readers that enjoy a myriad of detail will quite enjoy this History buffs should have no complaints since Philbrick has done his job well here Since I did enjoy parts of this book and am grateful to be considerablyeducated on the topic of the Pilgrims and King Philip’s War, I have rated Mayflower 3.5 stars. “For sixtyfive days, the Mayflower had blundered her way through storms and headwinds, her bottom a shaggy pelt of seaweed and barnacles, her leaky decks spewing salt water onto her passengers’ devoted heads There were 102 of them – 104 if you counted the two dogs…Most of their provisions and equipment were beneath them in the hold, the primary storage area of the vessel The passengers were in the between…decks – a dank, airless space about seventyfive feet long and not even high five feet high that separated the hold from the upper deck…A series of thinwalled cabins had been built, creating a crowded warren of rooms that overflowed with people and their possessions: chest of clothing, casks of food, chairs, pillows, rugs, and omnipresent chamber pots There was even a boat – cut into pieces for later assembly – doing temporary duty as a bed.” Nathaniel Philbrick, MayflowerWhen it comes to American history, we have a tendency towards reduction We cherish the myth over the reality; the bombastic over the subtle; the simple over the complex In modern media terms, we prefer the soundbite to the whole speech On the Fourth of July, for example, we aren't thinking about competing mercantile interests, unpaid FrenchandIndian War debts, or the Townsend Acts Not at all Instead, as we get hot dogdrunk and light off fireworks, we're probably imagining a guy with a wig and a tricorne hat saying something about freedom.History iscomforting that way It's easier It leavestime for drinking and nurturing feelings of superiority towards France Our earliest history, the first European settlements, can be boiled down to one image: the Pilgrim Picture the Pilgrims with me: grim, black coated men with stiff white collars and funny hats with buckles They grip their blunderbusses while their doughy, sexless wives grip their elbows In the brush, something is skulking It might be a sly turkey An Indian A witch A lost and disoriented Cotton Mather It doesn't matter The Pilgrim has that blunderbuss, and it's full of justice Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower is the story of how it really went down Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving It's probably not the story you heard in grade school (Though I give you credit for recognizing that the story you heard in grade school was a lot of mashed potatoes and gravy) Like all works of revisionism, Philbrick's book is both enlightening and a little disappointing I love history as much as anything, which is accompanied by a secret pleasure at puncturing historical myths But even I have to admit it's sometimes nice to be left with our illusions In this case, the illusion being that white men and Indians were able to come together in mutual cooperation Even though untrue, it's a fine notion A retroactive ideal to strive for going forward The reality, of course, is that the white men took the Indian's corn, took their turkey, then shot them (metaphorically) when they turned around Later, they shot them for real And kept shooting until Wounded Knee, near the dawn of the 20th century But back to the Pilgrims The story starts with the voyage of the titular ship: The Mayflower was a typical merchant vessel of her day: squarerigged and beak bowed, with high, castlelike superstructures fore and aft that protected her cargo and crew in the worst weather, but made beating against the wind a painfully inefficient endeavor Rated at 180 tons (meaning her hold was capable of accomodating 180 casks or tuns of wine), she was approximately three times the size of the Speedwell and about one hundred feet in length.Philbrick, who wrote the splendid whaling book, In the Heart of the Sea, once again tells a fastpaced, informative story, filled with interesting little factoids that make you go, hmm For the most part, he does the same here Unfortunately, he is hampered by a dearth of sources The famous voyage of the Mayflower – which gives the book its title – is told in only a few pages This is due to the fact that the inveterate diarist William Bradford himself only devoted a couple paragraphs to the subject Without primary accounts to research, Philbrick has no choice but to move on It's an instance of sourcematerial driving the narrative Of course, the lack of primary sources is not Philbrick's fault He has not – to my knowledge – ever started a fire that burned a library full of Pilgrim diaries But nonetheless, it hampers any telling of this story By necessity, he must rely on Bradford a great deal, which gives a onesided view of what happened Famous events such as the signing of the Mayflower Compact are told through his eyes, without the benefit of corroboration We are left to hope that Bradford wasn't totally full of stuffing Once the Mayflower has dropped anchor and the Pilgrims gone to shore, the story picks up steam, helped by a widening circle of characters For instance, we get to meet Benjamin Church, who later became a famous chronicler of King Philip's War We are also introduced to the irascible Myles Standish, one of the livelier actors of this drama:Myles Standish was officially designated their captain A small man with a broad, powerful physique and reddish hair, Standish also had something of a chip on his shoulder He seems to have been born on the Isle of Man off the west coast of England, and even though he was descended from the house of Standish of Standish, his rightful claim to ancestral lands had been, according to his own account, surreptitiously detained from me, forcing him to seek his fortune as a mercenary in Holland Well educated and well read (he owned a copy of Homer's The Iliad and Caesar's Commentaries), he appears to have conducted himself with a haughty impulsiveness that did not endear him to some of the settlers, one of whom later claimed that the Plymouth captain looks like a silly boy, as is in utter contempt.The centerpiece of the book is the first Thanksgiving Once upon a time, Thanksgiving was a creation of Abraham Lincoln, building on a proclamation by George Washington, who was looking for a bright side during the Civil War Today, Thanksgiving is a time of football, overeating, and letting your extended family know how much they have let you down The original seedling for Thanksgiving was a celebration of the Pilgrims being rescued from the brink with the help of the Wampanoag Indians Massasoit and Squanto.Countless Victorianera engravings notwithstanding, the Pilgrims did not spend the day sitting around a long table draped with a white linen cloth, clasping each other's hands in prayer as a few curious Indians looked on Instead of an English affair, the First Thanksgiving soon became an overwhelmingly Native celebrationMost of the celebrants 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.This thanksgiving was the culmination of a great deal of sacrifice, risk, luck, and shrewdness We often view Massasoit as having saved the Pilgrims from starvation; what we don't often dwell upon is the fact that the Pilgrims chose Massasoit as an ally, and in doing so, became a power player in the region The First Thanksgiving occurs just over a hundred pages into Mayflower There are well over two hundred pages left After the turkeys are eaten, the wine is drunk, and the drunk uncles are pushed out of the crudelybuilt log cabins, Philbrick takes the burnished image of interracial cooperation/gluttony and tears it to pieces What follows is treachery and war Anyone buying this book to read in preparation of the holiday should know that Philbrick is not interested in holidays (On the other hand, if you like me – enjoy horrifying your relatives with cruel historical fact, then get your wallets ready) The Mayflower/Pilgrims/Thanksgiving angle is quickly left behind The final two thirds of the book are devoted to Pilgrim/Indian politics and King Philip's War.This is certainly interesting stuff King Philip's War was an incredibly brutal, underacknowledged affair Proportionally, it was one of the bloodiest conflicts on American soil (1 out of 65 English and 1 out of 20 Indians were slain) Four of Massasoit's children died in the war (Massasoit himself was already dead) In the end, King Philip was shot, drawnandquartered, and beheaded His head was displayed in Plymouth for 20 years Happy Thanksgiving! Pass the drumsticks Philbrick is an extremely talented historian and storyteller He has become one of those guys whose books I always read, but – for whatever reason – have never entirely loved Here, as hard as he tries to breathe life into this story, there's a coldness and distance to it This is a function of the material,so than the author So much of the Pilgrim tale is supposition: what might have happened With a lack of primary accounts, a historian is left with the skeleton of an event Moreover, even where they exist, contemporary accounts are often of limited value They are not visceral and immediate; they don't allow us to feel the history Rather, they often had a dual purpose, and being informative was a secondary concern (for a great discussion of Benjamin Church and the literature of this period, see Richard Slotkin's Regeneration Through Violence) I was very excited to read this book but I was ultimately disappointed This is an extremely readable, often entertaining account of a poorlydocumented period With its complex intertribal politics and collection of vaguelyknown characters, I doubt you can do much better My disappointment probably hasto do with humanity itself, and its violent nature, than Philbrick’s retelling of it It is a fine thing to believe in Thanksgiving, to imagine people coming together to help each other, to see cultural divides bridged with food and drink and merriment The reality is that the mythological Thanksgiving was a brief interlude in a grim tale of death and dismemberment Thus, when your family starts tearing itself apart over politics this Thanksgiving, you can find a quiet corner, drink a bottle of wine, and rest assured that it is closer to historical reality than is comfortable. Spoiler Alert: The Mayflower lands in Plymouth! Rocks fall, all the Native Americans die.(One of the most interesting things about Mayflower is how little of it actually dealt with the ship itself The Pilgrims are settled (well, “settled”), and the Mayflower headed back to England to fall into disrepair and be sold for scrap by page 80 More than half the book is spent on King Philip’s War and the events that lead to it, which actually concerns the two generations after the Mayflower’s passengers.)Philbrick won a ton of awards with this one (like, say, the National Book Award), all deserved He takes an excellent look at a period in time frequently overlooked – American history tends to cover 1620, and then make its way to 1770 and the Revolutionary War in the next chapter (with a slight layover in 1692 for the Witch Trials).It’s incredibly well written, with an excellent balance between the big picture and individual narratives He’s liberal with anecdotes, which keeps the book from ever getting dry or boring He quotes contemporary and first person accounts, but not excessively – this is a book to be read for pleasure, not to be used as a resource I laughed out loud a couple times, and physically shuddered as well He reached that allimportant goal of bringing his subjects to life.Philbrick also does a good job of presenting a balanced version of events (Especially considering that most contemporary sources were, at best, biased, because history, as we all know, is written by the victors.) He’s quick to point out the mistakes on both sides – the rash, racially motivated attacks made by the white settlers, and the never ending litany of missteps made by the Pokanokets, especially “King” Philip.A few quick observations:I would very much like to slap Increase Mather across the face (Preferably so hard that Cotton feels it, too.) What an enormous tool.These people were crap at naming their children Everyone was John, Mary, William, or FEAR Or Cotton No wonder they were all a little wacked.I love the irony of having a huge, gluttonous holiday celebration in honor of the Pilgrims, who regularly arrested and punished people for having big holiday celebrations They would put us all in the stocks.Is there any worse story than Thomas Granger’s? He will always (and I mean always – it’s already been 350 years) be known for being convicted of bestiality – and executed for it That’s embarrassing.And, finally: How pissed is Miles Standish right now, what with how many times he was called short in this book?