Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War

Written by Nathaniel Philbrick
Review by Bethany Skaggs

In this revisionist, popular history, Philbrick takes on Plymouth, the Pilgrims, and King Philip’s War. Unlike the harshness of life at Jamestown, the comfortably familiar view of Plymouth is one of friendly Indians, pious Pilgrims, and mutual cooperation. Utilizing William Bradford’s seminal Of Plymouth Plantation, letters, and other primary sources, Philbrick recounts how the Pilgrims managed to coexist peaceably with the Pokanokets due to the moderating influences of Bradford and Massasoit, only to have everything come crashing down a generation later because of Massasoit’s equivocating son, Metacom (aka Philip), and the antagonistic, confrontational later generation of Pilgrims. Philbrick skillfully illustrates the English exploitation of tribal rivalries to gain Indian allies, ultimately the only factor allowing them victory in this most bloody of conflicts. Particularly interesting is the portrait that emerges of Squanto, the quintessential friendly Indian that Americans learn to love in kindergarten. This Squanto is devious and crafty, playing the English and Pokanokets off one another with only one goal in mind: making himself the absolute ruler of the Pokanokets.

Philbrick’s style is accessible, and his research thorough. His goal isn’t to tear down well-loved mythology – just to present the established view, and how it differs from primary sources. He has accomplished this and produced an interesting, readable history.