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Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War (2006)

by Nathaniel Philbrick

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,4851071,740 (3.87)266
From the perilous ocean crossing to the shared bounty of the first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrim settlement of New England has become enshrined as our most sacred national myth. Yet, as author Philbrick reveals, the true story of the Pilgrims is much more than the well-known tale of piety and sacrifice; it is a 55-year epic. The Mayflower's religious refugees arrived in Plymouth Harbor during a period of crisis for Native Americans, as disease spread by European fishermen devastated their populations. Initially the two groups maintained a fragile working relationship. But within decades, New England erupted into King Philip's War, a savage conflict that nearly wiped out colonists and natives alike, and forever altered the face of the fledgling colonies and the country that would grow from them. Philbrick has fashioned a fresh portrait of the dawn of American history--dominated right from the start by issues of race, violence, and religion.--From publisher description.… (more)

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» See also 266 mentions

English (104)  French (1)  All languages (105)
Showing 1-5 of 104 (next | show all)
I read this alongside the version abridged for a YA audience, which my children and I read together, to prepare for a trip to Plimoth Plantation. I was very impressed at Philbrick's ability to present the story of the European colonization of New England and the near-extermination of the Native population in a manner that expressed empathy for both the Pilgrims and the Natives. Philbrick's position is that, after fifty years of peace and cooperation, multiple missteps, misunderstandings, and a change in philosophy among the children of the Mayflower Pilgrims led to a situation in which war was inevitable.

Some rather scattered items of interest from the book:

-"Winslow explained that these Native men, women, and children had joined in an uprising against the colony and were guilty of 'many notorious and execrable murders, killings, and outrages.' As a consequence, these 'heathen malefactors' had been condemned to perpetual slavery." John Locke in his 1689 Two Treatises of Government used this same rationalization for slavery of an entire race, using the situation in the New World as an example. When I first read this, I thought Winslow and his fellows had used John Locke as a reason for the enslavement of Native Americans, but based on the dates, it seems to be the opposite.

-Despite being the "fathers of our country," and themselves escaping religious persecution in England, the Pilgrims didn't believe in religious liberty. "As far as they were concerned, King James and his bishops were wrong, and they were right," and as long as they were making the rules in the New World, everyone had to follow them, regardless of their religious convictions. We see echoes of this element of Puritanism in our culture even in the twenty-first century.

-Of the next generation's difference in philosophy from their parents': "No longer mindful of the debt they owed the Pokanokets, without whom their parents would never have endured their first year in America, some of the Pilgrims’ children were less willing to treat Native leaders with the tolerance and respect their parents had once afforded Massasoit." This is a reminder of how forgetting history influences the context of our present situation, which, of course, is relevant during all periods of history.

-I knew that there were massacres of Native populations, but what surprised me was how much Bradford's graphic description of the massacre of the Pequots in Connecticut and his connection of that killing to the praise of God sounds like human sacrifice: "'It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same,' Bradford wrote, 'and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the praise thereof to God.'"

-Philbrick asserts that part of the reason that the English and the Native population couldn't understand one another's perspective was because there was essentially no intermarriage between the groups and therefore no children to "provide them with a genetic and cultural common ground." Considering the US's historical bias against miscegenation, I'm not sure such children would have been enough to bind these groups together.

-The way the stories had always been presented in my history classes, it seemed always to have been "the Indians" against "the colonists/Pilgrims/English." But Philbrick's history makes it clear that the Native tribes and subgroups were distinct entities, and they assumed that the different groups of colonists were as well. It was the colonies' joining forces against the entire Native population that made what would have been a regional/local disagreement into a race war (which echoes again in the work of John Locke). This is a paradigm shift so huge and yet so obvious that I still feel a little disoriented.

-The central Massachusetts town where I live is nearly seventy miles from Plymouth, and yet the fighting during what's known as King Philip's War extended all the way out here. Even more surprising, the fighting actually extended all the way out to Hadley and Northampton in western Massachusetts. I had no idea the war covered essentially the entirety of modern-day Massachusetts.

-Executions of Native leaders who had surrendered took place on Boston Common. And now there's a wading pool and a carousel and sunbathers and, to my knowledge, no plaque or monument making note of this atrocity.

-During King Philip's War, nearly 8% of men in Plymouth Colony died, nearly double the rate during the Civil War. This is shocking, but "overall, the Native American population of southern New England had sustained a loss of somewhere between 60 and 80 percent." That's men, women, and children lost to war, sickness, starvation, and slavery during fourteen months. That flabbergasts me.

-Philbrick notes: "In 2002 it was estimated that there were approximately 35 million descendants of the Mayflower passengers in the United States, which represents roughly 10 percent of the total U.S. population." I wonder if this percentage is higher in New England because it seems like every third person I meet claims to be descended from passengers on the Mayflower.

Those are my rather disjointed thoughts about parts of this history. I knew there was a fair amount of bloodshed across the state where I currently live, but reading the details of essentially just fourteen months of it (with some from during the fifty years preceding the war) really put things into perspective. I think about the violence under the foundations of cities like Boston and Providence, and I wonder if there's any part of the United States that isn't blood-stained. I also think about Europe and how many centuries of war and violence are under people's feet there, and I find it easy to lose faith in the better angels of our nature. ( )
  ImperfectCJ | Jun 28, 2020 |
A vivid account of the Pilgrims plight at settlement and the First Nations encounter with the newcomers. A splendid account of the early history of America especially for those unfamiliar with America's beginnings. ( )
  Biggaz | Aug 24, 2019 |
This is a remarkable history book covering the early colonial period. I plan on re-reading this one again because it was moving and Philbrick went to great lengths to be fair. ( )
  KateSavage | Mar 29, 2019 |
Fascinating history as I research my early American ancestry. Gruesome, frightening, sad - reflects the best and worst of human nature and brings this time of exploration alive. I am convinced now that I have a genetic connection to some of the characters portrayed, but then I might - whether or not it is true.
  joannajuki | Feb 15, 2019 |
As usual Philbrick delivers on the true story of Pilgrims and their interactions with the neighboring Indian Tribes. What begins as a hopeful co-existence between the Pilgrims and the natives deteriorates as new the new generation takes over and scores of new settlements spring up. ( )
  ArtRodrigues | Jan 30, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nathaniel Philbrickprimary authorall editionscalculated
Guidall, GeorgeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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We all want to know how it was in the beginning.
Chapter 1
They Knew They Were Pilgrims

For sixty-five days, the Mayflower had blundered her way through storms and headwinds, her bottom a shaggy pelt of seaweed and barnacles, her leaky decks spewing salt water onto her passengers' devoted heads.
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Nathaniel Philbrick's The Mayflower and the Pilgrims' New World (2008) is a young adult adaptation of this title, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War (2006). Please distinguish between the two Works. Thank you.
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How did America begin?
This simple question launches acclaimed author Nathaniel Philbrick on an extraordinary journey to understand the truth behind our most sacred national myth: the voyage of the Mayflower and the settlement of Plymouth colony. As Philbrick reveals in this electrifying new book the story of the Pilgrims does not end with the First Thanksgiving instead it is a fifty-five year epic that is at once tragic and heroic, and still carries meaning for us today.

The account begins in the cold and dripping confines of the Mayflower, where 102 passengers tensely await the conclusion of an arduous, two-month voyage. The Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth Harbor during a period of crisis for the Native Americans as disease spread by European fishermen devastated their populations. Initially the two groups - the Wampanoags, under the charismatic and calculating leader Massasoit, and the Pilgrims, whose pugnacious military officer Miles Standish was barely five feet tall - maintained a fragile working relationship. But within decades, New England erupted into King Philip’s War, a savage conflict that nearly wiped out English colonist and natives alike, and forever altered the face of the fledgling colonies and the country that would grow from them.

Philbrick evokes the drama of the voyage, the eerie emptiness of coastal New England in the fall of 1620, and the large and small decisions that determined how everything would unfold for centuries to come with a vigor and incisiveness that will startle anyone who thought they knew the story of the Pilgrims. But above all, he surprises us with the human story beneath the myth. These are characters whose names have become legend - William Bradford, Edward Winslow, Miles Standish, Massasoit, and Squanto - but whom Philbrick brings to life as flawed, heroic, temperamental, and shrewd. We also meet figures who are lesser know, though we live their legacy every day; Benjamin Church, the Plymouth-born frontiersman who used his knowledge of his Indian neighbors to help the English to a bloody victory; and Massasoit’s son Philip, a tortured, enigmatic leader who reluctantly led his people into the war that would bear his name.

That crucial half-century, from 1620 to 1676, began in peril, ended in war, and contaminated the seeds of what would come to define America. Philbrick salutes the real courage of the Puritan true believers, willing to risk all for their religious convictions, as well as the generosity and sophistication of the Native Americans.
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