Mayflower

I just finished Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower, which I picked up in the Atlanta airport last Monday.

It’s about much more than the voyage of the Mayflower, telling the story of Plymouth Colony (which was more than the village) from its origins in the Nottinghamshire village of Scrooby through King Philip’s War. It tells of the differences between Plymouth and the Puritan colonies later established in Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, and New Haven, and the differences between all of these and Roger Williams’ “infidel” colony in Rhode Island. But the heart of the story is of war, and the shift over a generation from the relatively good relations between the first generation of Pilgrims with Massasoit’s Wampanoags, to the bloody war that burst out between their sons.

This is family history to me. My ancestors James Chilton and his daughter Mary came on the Mayflower; she married John Winslow, brother of Plymouth governor Edward, who came in 1621. John would manage Plymouth’s trading post on the Kennebec River in Maine, and they later would move to Boston. Another ancestor, Abraham Wheeler, one of the early settlers of Lancaster, MA, was killed by an Indian in King Philip’s War. Another, Robert Treat, was governor of the Connecticut Colony; his son, Robert, was commander of the Connecticut forces in the “Great Swamp Fight”–he lost 4 of his 5 captains and 80 of his 300 men in the battle (a casualty rate of 30%).

Philbrick gives us a fascinating and detailed account of a world that has been reduced to caricatures of the First Thanksgiving.