A prolific British historian explores the makeup of the motley crew—both “Saints” (Puritan separatists) and “Strangers” (economic migrants)—who ventured by sea to a foreign American land four centuries ago.
Whittock (When God Was King: Rebels & Radicals of the Civil War & Mayflower Generation, 2018, etc.), an engaging writer who uses (sometimes overly) exclamatory prose, discusses the lives of 14 of these extraordinary characters, out of the original 130 Mayflower travelers, each in their own chapter. Throughout, the author emphasizes the stunning hardship of that first voyage as many of the English separatists, then living in the Netherlands, left everything behind to plunge into the unknown. Moreover, the crew was originally headed to Virginia on a different ship whose chronic leaking forced them to delay for months before setting out in the Mayflower, and then they were driven by severe storms back up the Atlantic coast to present-day Plymouth in November 1620. Fully half of the total died within a year in America, unable to survive the cold and meager provisions of the first winter. Whittock examines each of his chosen’s backstory and upbringing in England, such as the Puritan leader William Bradford, radicalized as a teenager and one of the community in Leiden, who, with his wife, left their small son to sail to America—tragically, as his wife died shortly after arrival. The author’s female stories prove especially poignant—e.g., Susanna White, the mother of the first child born in America; and Mary More, the orphaned, indentured 4-year-old servant and child of an adulterous father; she died shortly after arrival, probably from neglect. Whittock also includes a fantastic biography of so-called Squanto (Tisquantum), who had been kidnapped by Englishmen earlier in his life, spoke English, and was returning to his native land, which was denuded of population due to the devastation of European-spread disease.
Stories full of faith and struggle lose none of their mythological quality.