pilgrim-cornfield.jpgTo put it succinctly, Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick is a good read. If that is all it takes to get you to read the book, then skip this review and go read the book.

We like to think of the Pilgrims as portrayed in the little picture I have included with this post. That picture, however, only presents a small portion of what these people must have been like. Philbrick’s book helps us to understand the Pilgrims a little better. Yes, the Pilgrims who landed in 1620 at Cap Cod (see here) were a neat and very proper people, but they were also a determined people who struggled and suffered greatly for their faith.

Mayflower begins England where, suffering persecution, the Pilgrims are scheming to escape to Holland. Their escape is only partially successful. Their plans go oddly awry, and only the men escape. Fortunately, their women and children were allowed to join them latter.

Eventually, fearing contamination of their religion by the Dutch, the pilgrims decide to form a colony in the New World. One can only imagine what the pilgrims expected, but their daring deserves our respect. The ocean voyage alone entailed great risk. Try to imagine sailing across the Atlantic to an unknown land, populated by a primitive and dangerous people.  Then consider what it must have been like to know that due to unexpected delays in the start of your journey, you would  arrive at your destination with inadequate supplies just before the beginning of winter. That story of survival, by itself, would be enough to make a good book.

Philbrick continues, however, and tells the story of a succeeding generation and of the dreadful tragedy that was King Phillip’s War. While many of us are familiar with the Indian Wars fought in the American West, few appreciate seriousness of the battles between the early colonists and the Indians. Yet in proportion to population, the casualties from King Phillip’s war rank it as the worst in American history. Each side fought ferociously; neither side felt inclined to offer the other either mercy or forgiveness.

The feast we celebrate at Thanksgiving Day reminds us of the bounty of the Lord and a hard won peace the Pilgrims gained with the local Indians. King Phillip’s War, less well remembered, is the story of how men less able and wise cast that peace away.