Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Summer Reading: Philbrick's Mayflower

There's nothing like reading a book set in the location where you are reading. And it also helps to be FROM that region and know it well. And so while in Rhode Island this summer I opened up Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower reluctantly finished it a couple of weeks and some 400 pages later. Normally, my big summer book is an absorbing novel, and I was surprised to find this 2007 work just as engrossing as any novel I could have read. Philbrick's narrative, you-were-there style, informed by solid research and scholarship, puts you at ground level with the Mayflower Pilgrims, the native peoples they found around them,, and what happened between 1620 and 1675, when King Philip's war was over and the native population of what is now southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island was a weak remnant.

We've learned over recent decades that a lot of our "founding myth" was based on partial truths and sentimental images from the late 19th century. But it turns out there's a lot more to be known, for those able and willing to go to the sources or to read this book. Most of those things we learned as children are, to some extent, true, but the fuller picture is much more real and interesting than the paper cutout images of the First Thanksgiving.

I came away with a newly animated landscape map in my mind and a new admiration for the determined Philip and of Benjamin Church, one of the much under-celebrated early colonists.
Iamges are present-day views of Wampanoag territory on the shores of Rhode Island.

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