They Knew They Were Pilgrims

This week's review examines the early days of the Plymouth Colony. How did agreements, battles, and treachery between the Pilgrims and Native Americans shape definitions of "American liberty"?

They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty

Turner, John G. Yale, 2020
447p index, 9780300225501 $30.00

They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty book cover

Published in time to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival in New England, this book explores the well-known story of the English Separatists, their sojourn in the new Dutch Republic, the Mayflower Compact, the Wampanoag communities that lived in the area claimed by the Plymouth Colony, the first Thanksgiving, and the emergence of what historian Perry Miller famously termed the “New England mind.” Yet the story is far more complicated and fascinating, as Turner (George Mason Univ.) demonstrates, detailing how Puritans debated the meaning of liberty, which rarely meant liberty of conscience, but more often political liberties for free Englishmen. It was the absence of liberty that defined freedom for Pilgrims: they chafed at their own bondage (seven years of daily labor, except for the Sabbath) to the “Adventurers” who financed the Pilgrims’ dangerous journey across the Atlantic. Other forms of bondage and slavery targeting Native Americans, convicts, and Africans were never questioned and rarely mentioned. Turner ends with the fitting story of the fate of Plymouth Rock, the granite boulder that was moved, split in half, reunited, and heralded by 19th-century mythmakers as a symbol of American freedom, democracy, and perseverance.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels.
B. B. Pfleger, California State University Los Angeles
Subject: Social & Behavioral Sciences – History, Geography & Area Studies – North America
Choice Issue: Mar 2021

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