On my way out the door to Charleston last weekend, I picked up best selling author Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower that had been sitting in my stack of Books to Read for the last two years, waiting for that opportunity when I would be captive on a cross country flight. We had heard family legends about ancestors on the Mayflower and several years ago Patty tracked down some family lines.
I was ill prepared for what a page turner this book would be. I mean, how many times can one listen to another story about the Pilgrims and our national origins? I thought this was a book I would have to drudge through, but I couldn't put this book down until the last page. And so, reader, hang in with me until the last line here.
The first half of the book tells us about the pilgrimage from England through Holland to America, settling at Plymouth out of necessity in the middle of December 1621 rather than the Hudson River area as planned. A central figure is a young man named William Bradford whose wife, Dorothy, very likely committed suicide by going over the edge of the Mayflower in Provimcetown Harbor just before the group landed at Plymouth. Only half of the passengers were Pilgrims and even before setting foot on land the group realized their survival depended on getting along with each other and thus was born the Mayflower Compact, acknowledged by John Adams as the forerunner of documents establishing American democracy.
Anyway, on to my story about William, now alone without any family in a strange land where half the passengers didn't survive the first winter, and William was elected to the job of leading this intrepid group. And lead them he did - through starvation, fortifying the town against hostile Indians, working with Captain Miles Standish and Squanto among others, and building peaceful relations with nearby Indians with whom they shared that first Thanksgiving, all these keeping the settlement from meeting the same fate as Jamestown. When the settlement was starving William changed the share and share alike method of farming to everyone will reap what they sow approach, the forerunner of American capitalism. He was re-elected as Governor of the colony thirty times. Two years after the Mayflower a young widow he had known in Holland came over on the Anne and they were married.
On the Mayflower was another Pilgrim, Richard Warren, who came to Plymouth alone, leaving behind his wife and and their five children. Elizabeth and the girls joined Richard in Plymouth two years later, also on the same boat as Alice, and their daughter had a son, Benjamin Church, who is the main character of the second half of the book. Benjamin was something of a maverick and when the Indian wars broke out in 1675, he broke ranks with the traditional way of English fighting to become the prototypal American frontiersman. You'll have to read the book to understand how this happened - it reads like a Rambo action thriller.
About Benjamin Church, Philbrick writes,
The great mystery of this story is how America emerged from the terrible darkness of King Philip's War to become the United States. A possible answer resides in the character of the man who has been called American's first Indian fighter, Benjamin Church...Out of the annealing flame of one of the most horrendous wars ever fought in North America, he forged an identity that was part Pilgrim, part mariner, part Indian, and altogether his own. That so many characters from American history and literature resemble him - from Daniel Boone to Davy Crockett to Rambo - does nothing to diminish the stunning originality of the persona he creates...What makes his story so special is that he shows us how the nightmare of wilderness warefare might one day give rise to a society that promises liberty and justice for all... There is the Church way. Instead of loathing the enemy, try to learn as much as possible from him; instead of killing him, try to bring him around to your way of thinking. First and foremost, treat him like a human being. For Church, success in war was about coercion rather than slaughter, and in this he anticipated the welcoming, transformative beast that eventually became - once the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were in place - the United States.
This book is a must read for offspring of Raymond and Alice Nute.
William Bradford is one of our great grandfathers, an eighth to be precise, and Benjamin Church a grand uncle.